What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago today?
“Pink Lutestrings, blue Taffity, white Tabby, Velvets, purple Satten.”
I chose yesterday’s advertisement because it included a visual image, a woodcut of the Sign of the Blue Hand, that helps us to imagine what we might have seen on the streets of a colonial city. Today’s advertisement does not include an image, but it is so descriptive that we can envision the fabrics on display at “the Vendue-House, lower Room, near the Parade,” in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. We can also imagine the garments that many of these textiles eventually became.
Although the list of items for sale seems relatively short compared to other advertisements, it was packed with details that helped potential customers assess the fabrics and distinguish among them. Eighteenth-century readers would have instantly recognized lutestrings and taffity (taffeta) as types of silks, whether they happened to be pink, blue, or striped. Similarly, they would have known the difference in the texture and appearance of tabby weave (also known as plain weave) and satin weave (with a glossy surface and a dull back).
We continue to “speak” a language of textiles (and associate images with them) in the twenty-first century, but not nearly to the same extent as the average colonist did 250 years ago.
In preparing this entry, I was delighted to come across Burnley & Trowbridge Co., a modern enterprise that “specializes in historically accurate fabrics, notions, patterns, research materials, and related items.” They work with historic sites, museums, and re-enactors. Not surprisingly, they’re located in Williamsburg, Virginia.
I enjoyed exploring their website, where I was able to browse images of reproduction textiles similar to those described in today’s advertisement and view a variety of patterns for making historically accurate garments. I was also interested in one of their education endeavors, the Historic Fashion Workshop Series,” which includes hands-on workshops for “Short Cloak, Pelisse, Mantle or Mantelet” and “The Belted Waistcoat.”