January 21

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?

Jan 21 - 1:18:1770 Pennsylvania Gazette
Pennsylvania Gazette (January 18, 1770).

“Every lover of his country will encourage … American manufactures.”

Benjamin Randolph, one of Philadelphia’s most prominent and successful cabinetmakers, was also a savvy advertiser. He inserted notices in the city’s newspapers, but he also distributed an elegant trade card that clearly demonstrated the influence of Thomas Chippendale’s Gentleman and Cabinet-maker’s Director (1754). Known for his furniture, Randolph also promoted other carved items produced in his shop “at the Sign of the Golden Eagle,” including “a quantity of wooden BUTTONS of various sorts.”

Buttons often appeared among the extensive lists of imported merchandise published in advertisements placed by merchants and shopkeepers. When consumers purchased textiles and trimmings to make garments, they also acquired buttons. At a time when colonists participated in nonimportation agreements to protest the duties on imported goods imposed by the Townshend Acts, Randolph offered an alternative to buttons from England. He made it clear to prospective customers that purchasing his buttons served a political function; doing so signaled support for the American cause. Rather than depend on consumer’s familiarity with current events and popular discourse about the political meaning of goods, Randolph plainly stated, “[E]very lover of his country will encourage [his buttons by purchasing them], as well as all other American manufactures, especially at this time, when the importation of British superfluities is deemed inconsistent with the true interest of America.” Randolph encouraged colonists to reject the “Baubles of Britain,” as T.H. Breen has so memorably named the consumer goods produced on the other side of the Atlantic and sent to American markets. Randolph made a bid not only for support of the items he produced but also others made in the colonies, showing solidarity with fellow artisans as they did their part in opposition to Parliament.

Such efforts, however, did not depend solely on Randolph and other artisans. Ultimately, consumers determined the extent of the effectiveness of producing “American manufactures” through the decisions they made about which and how many items to purchase and which to boycott. Randolph had “a quantity” of buttons on hand, but producing more depended on the reception he received from the residents of Philadelphia and its hinterlands. He would “keep a general assortment of them” but only “if encouraged.” Consumers had to demonstrate that they would partner with him in this act of resistance once Randolph presented them with the opportunity.

April 27

GUEST CURATOR: Samantha Surowiec

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Virginia Gazette [Rind] (April 27, 1769).
To be SOLD … before Mr. Anthony Hay’s door, in Williamsburg … TWENTY LIKELY VIRGINIA BORN SLAVES.”

Since slaves were being sold outside of Anthony Hay’s door, I wondered if he was a prominent figure in Virginia in the 1760s. I learned that Hay was a Scottish immigrant and owned one of the largest cabinetmaking shops in Williamsburg. According to the historians at Colonial Williamsburg, he primarily sold to the middle class and above, catering to their “modern tastes.” These people bought elegant furniture made by Hay and other artisans to show off their status or convey the importance of an event. His shop made the ceremonial chair for the Virginia governor, but his most beautiful works were elaborate tea and china tables designed to impress guests. Around the middle of the eighteenth century, about one-third of stylish furniture was imported from England, but as the colonies used commerce and consumption as acts of resistance in the years before the American Revolution, Virginians bought more and more domestically made furniture. Today, Williamsburg has a reconstructed cabinet shop located where Hay’s business used to reside. It is open to the public to learn more about the history of cabinetmaking.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

For today’s entry, Sam selected an advertisement also included among those from the Slavery Adverts 250 Project. That companion project to the Adverts 250 Project seeks to demonstrate the ubiquity of advertisements for enslaved men, women, and children in eighteenth-century newspapers. From New England to Georgia, slavery was an everyday part of life. Enslaved people lived and labored throughout the colonies. They were also visible in the public prints, the subjects of advertisements that offered men, women, and children for sale or encouraged white colonists to participate in a culture of surveillance of black bodies in order to recognize their descriptions and claim awards for capturing those who attempted to escape from bondage.

This advertisement for “TWENTY LIKELY VIRGINIA BORN SLAVES” demonstrates another aspect of the ubiquity of slavery in eighteenth-century America: the venues where enslaved men, women, and children were sold. W. Mitchell planned to conduct this sale “before Mr. Anthony Hay’s door, in Williamsburg.” Anyone who traversed the street where Hay kept his shop was exposed to this sale, whether or not they wished to engage in a transaction, whether or not they wished to observe. Just as white colonists regularly encountered enslaved men, women, and children, they also regularly glimpsed the buying and selling of them since such business was not restricted to auction houses or other venues specifically for that purpose.

Another advertisement published in Purdie and Dixon’s Virginia Gazette on the same day described a “SCHEME for disposing of … LANDS, HOUSES, and SLAVES” through a lottery. The “Prizes” included several enslaved men, women, and children. Although some were described as parents and children or sister and brothers, the trustees who organized the lottery as a means of settling an estate listed each of them as separate prizes. Almost certainly they would be separated from each other at the time of the drawing. The entire process was just as callous and casual as the sale held in the street “before Mr. Anthony Hay’s door.” The advertisements made these sales all the more visible. Quite likely far more readers became aware of them from the advertisements in the public prints than colonists viewed them when they occurred.

July 25

What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago today?

Jul 25 - 7:25:1766 Virginia Gazette
Virginia Gazette (July 25, 1766).

“Where likewise may be had the mathematical GOUTY CHAIR.”

What was a “mathematical GOUTY CHAIR”? The gouty chair was a precursor to the modern wheelchair (though what made this particular model “mathematical” remains unclear). In Furniture-Makers and Consumers in England, 1754-1851, Akiko Shimbo indicates that it is not exactly certain when gouty stools and gouty chairs first appeared: “the earliest example in published pattern books was Hepplewhite’s Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer’s Guide (first edition, 1788).”[1]

Those who suffer from gout experience painful inflammation of the joints, notably in the hands and feet (and especially the toes), which would indeed make standing or walking difficult. Shimbo further indicates that elite men were especially prone to gout in the eighteenth century; the malady was associated with an increase in luxury. The term “gouty chair” was likely intended “to convey a luxurious and superior image.”[2]

That made the gouty chair ideal for Benjamin Bucktrout, CABINET MAKER, from LONDON,” to promote in his advertisement. Bucktrout arrived in Williamsburg in 1766; his advertisement was the first time his name appeared in any sort of public records in the colony. He seized upon the occasion to make a memorable first impression. Not only did he have the cachet of migrating from London, the cosmopolitan center of the empire, he also promised that he produced furniture “in the neatest and newest fashions.” What better way to demonstrate the fashionable aspects of his work than to construct gouty chairs, a product already linked to luxury and refinement? In highlighting this particular piece of furniture, he signaled to the local elite that he understood their concerns and was prepared to serve them well.

Jul 25 - Gouty Chair
Gouty Chair (Unknown Maker, ca. 1800).  Victoria and Albert Museum.

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[1] Akiko Shimbo, Furniture-Makers and Consumers in England, 1754-1851: Design as Interaction (Routledge, 2015). See chapter 4, “Forming Taste and Style: Consumers’ Needs and Participation.”

[2] Shimbo, Furniture-Makers and Consumers in England. See chapter 4.