GUEST CURATOR: Aidan Griffin
What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Several BARRELS of SOAP.”
Elias Dupee advertised “several BARRELS of SOAP” and other goods for auction in the spring of 1769. This made me think about cleanliness shortly before the start of the Revolutionary War Pretty much everyone smelled. Deprived of our modern cleaning methods, like showering, people in colonial and revolutionary America used much simpler cleaning methods. According to Edward Park, “In America’s colonial days, getting clean meant sponging off, usually with just face and hands.” Bathhouses existed in the colonies, but they were not used for cleaning the body. They were used to cool down from the sweltering hot summers of the southern colonies. Also, washing in the northern colonies during the winter was more or less impossible because there was no heat to keep the cold out, so the cold could freeze the water or make it extremely cold. To learn more about the colonists’ cleanliness, visit “To Bathe or Not to Bathe: Coming Clean in Colonial America.”
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
Serving as guest curators for the Adverts 250 Project has given Aidan and the other students enrolled in my Revolutionary America class opportunities to examine consumer culture in eighteenth-century in greater detail. In readings, research projects, and discussions we have learned about the proliferation of goods during the consumer revolution, the social and political meanings colonists associated with those goods, and acts of political resistance undertaken through nonimportation agreements. Throughout most of our consideration of the many valences of consumer culture, we have taken into account the experiences of consumers on the one hand and shopkeepers, merchants, and artisans on the other, but we sometimes overlook other purveyors of goods, auctioneers like Elias Dupee.
When we take some time in class today to discuss the work that Aidan has completed so far during his week as guest curator, we will spend a few moments discussing the prevalence of vendues (or auctions) in eighteenth-century America. Retailers not always purchase their wares from merchants. Consumers did not always make their purchases from shopkeepers. Instead, as advertisements and other sources readily make apparent, auctions provided an alternate means of acquiring goods and participating in the consumer revolution (as did theft, another frequent subject of notices in the public prints). Dupee’s “New AUCTION-ROOM” was not the only such establishment in Boston in 1769. During the same week that Dupee placed his advertisement, “J. RUSSELL, Auctioneer” ran his own for “the Auction Room, in Queen Street.” John Gerrish also advertised an upcoming auction at “the VENDUE-OFFICE, NORTH END.” Both advertisements appeared in the Boston Evening-Post.
Residents of Boston had many options when it came to auctions. Dupee, Gerrish, and Russell were prolific advertisers in the local newspapers. In the late 1760s their notices appeared more frequently than advertisements placed by most merchants and shopkeepers, in part because conducting auctions allowed them to move merchandise quickly. No sooner did one auction end than these industrious vendue masters placed new advertisements listing the goods available at the next auction. Advertisements for goods incited interest and awareness of consumer culture among colonists. Auctioneers played a vital role in that process, their notices often achieving as much visibility as those placed by merchants and shopkeepers.