GUEST CURATOR: Zachary Dubreuil
What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“CHOICE green Coffee.”
In this advertisement William Vans attempted to sell some items, including “CHOICE green Coffee.’ Green coffee had to do with the beans. Heather Baldus, the collections manager at George Washington’s Ferry Farm and Historic Kenmore, says, “In the 1700s, when you purchased coffee from your local merchant it most likely was in the form of bags of green beans. The burden of turning those beans into the perfect cup of coffee was on the consumer.” When roasting the person doing it had to make sure that the beans were constantly turning so they would not burn. Then the person could use a coffee grinder, which was common and inexpensive in Europe, although most people in the colonies used a mortar and pestle to turn the beans into a powder. Finally, the person would put the amount they wanted with water, either boiling or infusing it. In addition to drinking coffee at home, some colonists went to coffeehouses. Coffeehouses began to pop up in colonial America in the eighteenth century. They were a mixture of a café, tavern, and inn. During the consumer revolution, coffee became a staple drink for early Americans.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
At a glance, William Vans’s advertisement for “CHOICE green Coffee” and other goods appears to be the same advertisement from the Essex Gazette that guest curator Luke DiCicco examined last week, a second insertion that ran in a subsequent issue. For the most part, that was indeed the case, but the notice that ran in the March 21, 1769, edition did feature one notable difference compared to the first iteration. It did not include the place and date on the final line: “Salem, March 13, 1769.” What explains the alteration?
Most likely the compositor exercised discretion in dropping the final line of the advertisement, choosing to do so in order to make it fit in the final column on the last page of the March 21 issue. Six notices comprised that column. In addition to Vans’s advertisement, Benjamin Coats and Susanna Renken each ran advertisements for a “fresh Assortment of Garden Seeds,” Samuel Hall promoted a pamphlet for sale at the printing office, Benjamin Marston of Marblehead offered the Misery Islands for sale, and Peter Frye and Nathan Goodale published an estate notice following the death of Ebenezer Bowditch. All six advertisements ran in the March 14 issue. With the exception of Vans’s advertisement, all of them appeared in the March 21 edition exactly as they had the previous week.
Had the compositor not removed the final line from Vans’s notice, all six would not have fit in a single column. Most likely the compositor had looked for a convenient means of reducing the length of one of the advertisements. Two of them, Vans’s advertisement and the estate notice, included final lines listing place and date, lines easily removed without making it necessary to otherwise reset any type. The estate notice, however, needed the date because it specified that Frye and Goodale would continue to settle accounts at a local tavern “on the last Friday of this and of the five Months next ensuing.” Since such advertisements sometimes ran for weeks or months, the date at the end was imperative. Vans’s notice, on the other hand, did not require the date, facilitating the removal of that line. The compositor most likely made that decision without consulting the advertiser.
While these particulars may seem insignificant, they help to demonstrate the division of authority exercised by colonists involved in the production of newspaper advertisements in the eighteenth century. Advertisers usually generated copy, but compositors determined graphic design elements. In this case, the compositor made a slight alteration to the copy in the service of the format of the entire page on which the advertisement appeared.