May 19

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

May 19 - 5:19:1767 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (May 19, 1767).

“He served his apprenticeship in London, of which city he is a freeman.”

As a standard part of their advertisements, merchants and shopkeepers noted that they sold goods imported from faraway places, especially London. In so doing, they established themselves as conduits who connected their customers to both the quality and fashions associated with goods produced and popularly consumed in the largest city in the British empire. Artisans who made the items they sold in local workshops, however, could not make quite the same claim. Instead, those who had migrated across the Atlantic proudly proclaimed their origins, announcing that they were “FROM LONDON,” as Whiting the saddler did in today’s advertisement.

On occasion, artisans elaborated on the training they had received in workshops in London, demonstrating to potential customers why they should take notice of their origins. Whiting asserted that he was capable of “execut[ing] all the branches of that business in the compleatest manner” precisely because “he served his apprenticeship in London, of which city he is a freeman.” This meant that Whiting belonged to the Worshipful Company of Saddlers, one of the city’s livery companies that originated as trade guilds. These companies oversaw members who practiced their trade; they kept standards high, an early modern version of quality control. To become a member, known as a freeman, an artisan had to serve an apprenticeship under a master of the trade who was already a freeman. Alternately, some joined by patrimony if a parent ad been a freeman or by redemption upon paying a fee. Working within the walls of the City of London required achieving freeman status. This conferred some level of prestige on the artisans, a certain cachet that Whiting suggested could be transferred to those who hired him. Whiting wanted prospective customers to know that he had earned the rank of freeman via servitude rather than patrimony or redemption, that he had honed his skills through an apprenticeship to a master saddler.

Although he was an ocean away from the livery companies that oversaw artisans in the City of London, Whiting called on their privileged position and his membership in their order to advance his own workshop in Charleston. He expected that this would resonate with local residents.

March 25

GUEST CURATOR: Ceara Morse

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

Mar 25 - 3:25:1767 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (March 25, 1767).

“HENRY SNOW, Distiller from London, MAKES and SELLS … FINE Georgia Geneva.”

Henry Snow distilled many different spirits, including “Georgia Geneva,” “Orange Shrub,” and “Mulberry Brandy.” Many of the spirits he distilled could probably be found in local taverns.

Taverns were very important gathering places in colonial and Revolutionary America. An article about the Queen’s Head Tavern (now more commonly known as Fraunces Tavern) in New York City states, “Taverns were centers of community in the 18th century.” They were where people came to stay as well as just come in for a drink and learn of what was going on in the area. Imported spirits sometimes did not come fast enough to keep up with their popularity in taverns and households, thus American produced spirits were needed to help provide taverns and other consumers with the alcoholic beverages they desired. That’s where American products, like Henry Snow’s spirits, came into play. Because it was expensive to even import these goods, the domestic products were that much better.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Henry Snow walked a fine line in his advertisement for a variety of spirits “Distilled and sold at his shop” in Savannah. As Ceara notes, he produced an array of cordials, brandies, and other liquor to compete with imports at affordable prices. Yet he wanted to assure potential customers of the quality of the spirits he distilled. To do so, he adopted a strategy deployed by many artisans who placed advertisements in eighteenth-century newspapers: he indicated his place of origin along with his occupation.

In this case, Snow was not merely a distiller but instead a “Distiller from London.” This imbued him and his products with greater cachet by suggesting connections to the cosmopolitan center of the empire and perhaps even specialized training compared to his local competitors. It also served as a recommendation for the dozen or so different types of spirits he distilled, suggesting that they were among the most popular among consumers in the metropole. Just as tailors implied their familiarity with the latest fashions by stating they were “from London,” Snow hinted that he distilled spirits currently in vogue rather than backwater alternatives to the beverages enjoyed by “gentlemen” on the other side of the Atlantic.

Doing so also meant making assurances about the quality of his locally produced liquors, describing some of them as “fine” or “superfine.” (The layout of the advertisement suggests that the distiller may have intended for “FINE” to describe all of the spirits in the first column and all or most in the second.) As far as Snow’s brandy was concerned, “Any gentlemen who may be pleased to favour him with their orders” could depend on it being “equal to French” brandy. His usquebaugh, however, was an exception. It was merely “little inferior to Irish.” It appears that Henry Snow knew better than to suggest that his whiskey was equal or superior to any produced and imported from Ireland. “Little inferior to Irish” was exceptionally high praise indeed!