March 14

GUEST CURATOR: Luke DiCicco

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

Essex Gazette (March 14, 1769).

“CHOICE green Coffee … also blue and white China Cups and Saucers.”

This advertisement features a series of goods sold by William Vans. His merchandise included green coffee, ground ginger, rum, indigo, and china cups and saucers, all imported from faraway places around the globe. I focused on two of these goods that were extremely popular among the colonists and played an important role in colonial life.

Coffee and tea were both introduced in Europe in the early seventeenth century and became increasingly popular in the colonies in the eighteenth century. When coffee and tea became common drinks, colonists desired something other than normal cups to drink them. According to Beth Carver Wees at the Metropolitan Museum, the colonists decided to buy ceramic and silver vessels. Vans sold imported “blue and white China Cups and Saucers” along with his coffee and tea. In addition, this created business for silversmiths and was viewed as a sign as someone’s wealth if they owned a lot of accessories for drinking coffee and tea. Some of these included covered sugar bowls, cream pots, teakettles, and hot-water urns. People often bought them for the intricate design or for the shiny complexion. The establishment of coffee shops helped colonists pass along information and news, making it a lot easier to gather support when the colonies rebelled against Britain.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

William Vans was not the only purveyor of “blue and white China Cups and Saucers” to advertise in the March 14, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette. Among the vast inventory of goods in stock at his shop, Francis Grant listed “an Assortment of China, Glass, Stone and Delph Ware.” Susanna Renken concluded her advertisement for a “fresh Assortment of Garden Seeds” that named dozens of varieties with a brief note about “a Box of China Ware to sell” at her shop in Boston. Of the nine paid notices that appeared in that issue, one concerned real estate, one outlined legal proceedings to settle an estate, and the remaining seven promoted goods to consumers or commodities to traders. A substantial proportion of advertisers named china among their wares. Colonial retailers both served a market that demanded “China Ware” and sought to incite greater demand for such products.

As Luke suggests in his analysis of Vans’s advertisement, this was possible because both retailers and consumers recognized how certain goods complemented others. Rather than specializing solely in spices and beverages, Vans also sold china cups and saucers for drinking his “CHOICE green Coffee” and “Most excellent Bohea Tea.” Grant hawked “Loaf and Brown Sugar” along with his “Assortment of China.” Consumers did not purchase just tea or just china or just sugar. Instead, they acquired these items simultaneously. Many likely also purchased other accessories to incorporate into their coffee and tea drinking rituals from among the “all Sorts of European Goods” peddled by Vans and the “general Assortment of English and West-India GOODS” advertised by Grant. In other advertisements, Renken offered all sorts of textiles, some of which could have been used to make cloths to adorn the tables where customers drank tea or coffee sweetened with sugar and served in china. The consumer revolution of the eighteenth century occurred not only because of a proliferation in the availability of goods but also because the acquisition of one item often required obtaining other items in order to enhance the experience of consuming any of them. Advertisements in early American newspapers provide a map of the consumption habits of many colonial readers.

November 1

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

Nov 1 - 10:29:1767 Massachusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (October 29, 1767).

“China Ware and Paper, much cheaper than they will come a little while hence.”

In an advertisement placed in the Massachusetts Gazette at the end of October 1767, Caleb Blanchard “Acquaints his Customers in Town and Country, that he has Just Imported … a LARGE and COMPLEAT ASSORTMENT of GOODS, both English & India” that he sold for low prices at his shop on Union Street in Boston. He also listed several other items that he stocked, including cocoa, sugar, tobacco, nutmegs, and cinnamon. Although he had already announced that he charged “the very lowest advance” for his wares, he concluded with another appeal to price. Blanchard proclaimed that he sold “China Ware and Paper, much cheaper than they will come a little while hence.”

Blanchard implied that the prices of china and paper would soon increase, but he did not explicitly state why he was so certain that customers would soon pay more for those particular items. He did not need to do so. Readers of the Massachusetts Gazette “in Town and Country” already knew that that the Townshend Act was set to go into effect in just three weeks on November 20, 1767. Indeed, residents throughout the colonies were aware of the provisions of the Townshend Act, in large part because newspaper printers from Massachusetts to Georgia had published excerpts of the legislation.

Article I of the Townshend Act assessed duties on dozens of different kinds of imported paper, from twelve shillings “For every ream of paper, usually called or known by the name Atlas Fine” to nine pence “For every ream of paper called Demy Second, made in Great Britain” to ten pence halfpenny “For every single ream of blue paper for sugar bakers.” Article II specified that duties on “all other paper” not specifically mentioned should be calculated on the nearest equivalent. Article III defined how many sheets of paper made a quire and how many quires made a ream.

Articles VII and VIII prohibited drawbacks on “china earthen ware.” In other words, merchants could not expect to receive a refund on any taxes they paid for re-exporting imported china. In the end, this would raise prices for consumers since merchants and shopkeepers would pass along the expense to their customers.

Caleb Blanchard did not name the Townshend Act in his advertisement, but that was not necessary to make his appeal to price resonate with consumers. Readers of the Massachusetts Gazette would have been well aware of the impending duties. They would have made the connection on their own. Blanchard depended on public awareness of politics and imperial economic policy in marketing his wares.

July 29

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

Jul 29 - 7:29:1766 New-York Gazette
New-York Gazette (July 19, 1766).

“He also makes Wyer Cages for Parots, Rivets China, and hangs Bells in Gentlemen’s Houses.”

James Byers, a “Brass-Founder, in Smith-street,” advertised that he “MAKES all Sorts of BRASS WORK” and then proceeded to list a vast array of examples, from candlesticks to chambers for pumps to “Brands for marking Casks” (particularly of interest as a means of marking and marketing products). He concluded his advertisement by listing three other services he provided: “He also makes Wyer Cages for Parots, Rivets China, and hangs Bells in Gentlemen’s Houses.”

It was that short list that convinced me to choose Byers’ advertisement to feature today, especially the “Wyer Cages for Parots.” I loved imagining colonial New Yorkers with parrots as exotic pets. I was also intrigued that most of Byers’ interaction with customers took place in his shop or workshop, but on occasion he visited clients’ homes to hang bells. Apparently he was responsible not only for making or selling bells but also for installing systems that allowed visitors to alert residents they were at the front door or means for summoning servants.

I’ll confess, however, that I was initially confused by his claim that he “Rivets China,” but I ended up learning the most from that portion of the advertisement. I have seen museum pieces with rivets, but I chose to overlook them, preferring instead to imagine porcelain in its pristine condition. In researching today’s entry, however, I have realized that this attitude caused me to overlook important aspects of the history of objects and their use by consumers.

I started by seeking a basic explanation of “Rivets China,” which led me to this: “Riveted chinaware is any china (pottery, porcelain and bone chine) that has been cracked and repaired by means of a staple repair.” This is the kind of repair undertaken before epoxies were available.

tea-cup-mended-1400
China cup showing cracks and rivets.  National Trust.

From there I found an article on “Old Repairs of China and Glass” by Isabelle Garachon that appeared in the Rijks Museum Bulletin. Garachon reported that riveting was a “mechanical joining technique … used very widely to repair china and porcelain in the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and is actually still in use in China today.” Riveting throughout the ages has been so commonly practiced, Garachon continued, that a 1963 book on China Mending and Restortation “devoted no fewer than 170 pages to describing all the variations of the riveting method, which had meanwhile developed into a complex art.” Garachon’s article includes several color photos of china repaired by rivets as well as diagrams detailing this method of repairing broken and cracked pieces.

Finally, Andrew Baseman’s blog, “Past Imperfect: The Art of Inventive Repair,” features photos of a variety of items repaired with staples or rivets in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Baseman argues for finding the beauty in the repairs and recognizing how treasured these items must have been for their owners to seek to preserve them after suffering damage.

Byers’ customers likely had different reasons for bringing their broken china to his shop. Some may have wanted to maintain the functionality of housewares they used regularly. Others may have wanted to preserve the aesthetic qualities of pieces on display in their homes. Some may have had sentimental attachments to certain pieces and felt heartbroken when they were damaged. Byers’ advertisement challenges us to think about how consumers used the goods they purchased and the emotional attachments they developed.