February 26

GUEST CURATOR: Samuel Birney

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

feb-26-2261767-massachusetts-gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (February 26, 1767).

“TO BE SOLD A standing Top-Chaise … and a very neat Sulkey.”

The advertisement featured today offered two types of carriages, “A standing Top-Chaise” and “a very neat Sulkey.” As the colonies expanded and populations grew, carriages became an important means of travel within cities and between colonies. Colonists made, bought, and used a variety of carriages, also commonly referred to as chairs, chaises, chariots, gigs, whiskeys, and sulkies.

According to Mary R.M. Goodwin, a chaise, which was interchangeable with the term chair, was a “light open carriage for one or two persons, often having a top or calash; those with four wheelers resembling a phaeton, those with two the curricle; also loosely used for pleasure carts and light carriages generally.” Goodwin consulted William Felton’s Treatise on Carriages, published in London in 1796, to describe sulkies. Sulkies were single seated “small, light four-wheeled vehicle, ‘built exactly in the form of a Post-chaise, Chariot, or Demi-Landau.’” Although some accounts referred to them as two-wheelers, the defining feature of the sulkey was its single person carrying capacity, basically making it a private and personal means of transportation. (For more information about the different kinds of carriages Goodwin mentions, see “Wheeled Carriages in Eighteenth-Century Virginia.”)

Carriages were either privately owned by the wealthy who could afford to purchase either locally built or imported carriages. By the 1760s, sometimes they were operated by local companies that charged for transportation.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

As Sam indicates, affluent colonists imported carriages of all sorts from England, but by the 1760s coachmakers set up shops and advertised their wares in the largest American cities, sometimes noting that they consulted imported pattern books in order to produce carriages of the same style and quality as those available in London and other English cities. For instance, just a few days after today’s featured advertisement appeared in the Massachusetts Gazette, Hawes and Company, “Coach-makers,” inserted a lengthy notice about their services in the Supplement to the South-Carolina Gazette.

Today’s advertisement does not indicate the place of production for any of the conveyances it offered, but it does reveal a significant aspect of the marketplace in the revolutionary era. Just as many colonists acquired secondhand clothing and other goods, a market for used carriages emerged. The previous summer Adino Paddock, who followed “the Coach and Chaise-making Business” at a shop in Boston, advertised that he “always [had] a Number of second-hand Chaises to dispose of, very cheap.” Similarly, Hawes and Company’s advertisement noted that in addition to new carriages they also sold “on the most reasonable Terms, TWO second hand POST-CHAISES, a FAMILY COACH, and several CHAIRS.” Consumers who could not afford new carriages could discover a bargain when considering used ones instead.

The anonymous seller of “a very neat Sulkey” and a “standing Top-Chaise” may have found that maintaining these carriages was no longer practical or affordable. Alternately, the seller may have been in the process of acquiring a new – perhaps more impressive or fashionable – carriage and hoped to apply the proceeds from the sale of the chaise and sulkey to the purchase. If that was the case, the seller presumably was not dealing with Paddock, who pledged that he “will take old Chaises as Part of Pay for new.” These examples reveal that the marketing and financing of cars in twentieth and early twenty-first century resemble techniques launched by coachmakers in the eighteenth century.

 

June 5

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

Jun 5 - 6:5:1766 Pennsylvania Journal
Pennsylvania Journal (June 5, 1766).

“A handsome English made Phaeton, two Curricles in good order, two Chairs &c.”

William Tod, “Coach-Maker from London,” sold several kinds of wheeled conveyances, including carriages, chairs, curricles, and phaetons, to Philadelphia’s elite. Only the affluent could afford to purchase a coach, maintain the horses to pull it, and pay servants with specialized skills to drive the coach and care for the horses. When Tod spoke of “Gentlemans carriages” he was not extending a courtesy title to all possible customers regardless of their status; instead, he knew that his potential customers possessed wealth and renown in the colony.

Even though only a fraction of the readers of the Pennsylvania Journal could afford to purchase some sort of coach, they chose from a broad array of options to suit their tastes and budgets. According to Colonial Williamsburg, more than a dozen varieties of wheeled carriages traveled the streets of Virginia in the eighteenth-century: berlins, calishes, chairs, chaises, chariots, coaches, coaches, curricles, gigs, landaus, landaulets, phaetons, post-chaises, post-chariots, sociable, stage wagons, sulkies, and whiskies. Elite residents of Philadelphia likely purchased a similar array of coaches.

Among those advertised by Tod, a curricle was a light two-wheeled carriage usually drawn by two horses and a phaeton was a four-wheeled open carriage of light construction, with one or two seats facing forward, usually drawn by a pair of horses. Chair and chaise could be used interchangeably with each other and often with a variety of other types of carriages. In offering these definitions in “Wheeled Carriages in Eighteenth-Century Virginia,” Mary R.M. Godwin notes that these definitions come from the Oxford English Dictionary. During the eighteenth-century, however, colonists sometimes differed on the exact specifications that distinguished one sort of coach from another. Variety and innovation meant that names and descriptions had some fluidity. Much as modern consumers customize cars when they purchase them, colonial consumers could work with coachmakers like Tod to design carriages that suited their needs and desires.