January 29

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

Jan 29 - 1:29:1768 New-London Gazette
New-London Gazette (January 29, 1768).

“Choice GENEVA.”

John Armbruester placed an advertisement in the January 29, 1768, edition of the New-London Gazette to inform residents of Norwich and the surrounding area that he distilled and sold Geneva. Advertisers regularly promoted Geneva in eighteenth-century newspapers, either on its own, as Armbruester did, or along with an array of other spirits. Colonists certainly knew what they were being offered, but the name Geneva has largely fallen out of use today. What was Geneva?

The Oxford English Dictionary provides some clarification in its entries for gin and genever. Dutch distillers first produced a variation of gin in the late sixteenth century. This aromatic drink, flavored with juniper berries and a variety of herbs and spices, was known in Dutch as genever, but in English as Dutch gin or Hollands gin (shortened from Hollands geneva). In the middle of the eighteenth century, distillers in London produced a “less coarse, more subtly flavoured gin” that became known as London gin. That variation became the most usual form of the drink. Today consumers enjoy (London) gin in mixed drinks and cocktails, whereas genever (or jenever) is usually drunk neat.

Gin was just gaining in popularity in England at the time Armbruester distilled and sold his Geneva in Connecticut. Either he had not yet learned the process for making gin rather than genever or the demand for gin had not yet increased so significantly that he determined producing it would yield greater revenues. Whatever his reasons, the advertisement made it clear that he did indeed distill genever rather than gin. He favorably compared his “Choice GENEVA” to “that brought from Holland” rather than any produced in London, noting that “This GENEVA is esteemed by good Judges, to be equal.” In his competition with transatlantic rivals, Armbruester assured local consumers that his product was not inferior to any genever they could import from the region where it had originally been distilled two centuries earlier.

November 13

GUEST CURATOR: Mary Williams

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

nov-13-11131766-new-york-journal
Supplement to the New-York Journal (November 13, 1766).

“TO BE SOLD, By THOMAS DOUGHTY, IN DOCK-STREET: CHOICE old Madeira Wine.”

In this advertisement published in the New-York Journal, Thomas Doughty offered a lot of different beverages, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, for sale in his shop on Dock Street. What caught my eye was that Madeira wine was the only drink listed with a description: “old.”

After researching the history of Madeira wine, I discovered that it was created specifically to withstand long travels overseas when it would be shipped to other countries. Steven Grasse, author of Colonial Spirits: A Toast to Our Drunken History, writes, “The idea – and what made Madeira so durable and, in turn, beloved by early Americans – is that the wine is essentially spoiled, professionally and on purpose.”[1] Madeira wine was advertised as being old, because that’s what it was known for: never going bad despite the passing of time.

Madeira wine was a favorite drink amongst colonists. Grasse writes that although Madeira was a more expensive item, it was still very popular in British North America. “Madeira wasn’t cheap. Common people wouldn’t have drunk it – or, at least, not often – but that didn’t stop it from becoming part and parcel of the story of the American Revolution.”[2] Grasse goes on to say that Madeira became a leading import during the Revolution.[3] Madeira was a favorite choice of colonists because it kept constant quality over long periods of time.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

In addition to “Madeira Wine,” Thomas Doughty sold “sundry other Articles of Grocery” imported from faraway places. To help potential customers navigate his advertisement he grouped similar items together: first alcoholic beverages, hot drinks (tea, coffee, and chocolate) next, then sugars followed by fruits and spices, and finally tobacco. That he listed alcohol first indicates which products he believed would attract readers’ attention and prompt them to peruse the rest of the goods he offered for sale.

Mary has examined the origins of Madeira, a wine that may be less familiar to modern readers than the rum, port, and wines Doughty hawked in his advertisement. He also sold another spirit that remains very popular today, Holland Geneva, though it is now commonly known as gin (which is a corruption of the word “Geneva”). Originally produced in Holland, gin almost immediately became one of the most popular drinks when it was introduced in England, especially after William and Mary assumed the throne. It had a reputation for being both inexpensive and strong.

Each of the alcoholic beverages in Doughty’s advertisement was either named after its place of origin (Madeira and Holland Geneva) or included a place in their description (“Lisbon Red Port,” “Tenriffe Wines,” “Jamaica Spirits,” and “West-India Rum”). Modern consumers certainly still identify their potent potables by their place of origin, but for colonists that was not merely a means of making distinctions of quality or reputation or other attributes. In addition, they also thought about the networks of trade and commerce that brought alcoholic beverages to British mainland North America from Portugal and its island outposts in the eastern Atlantic, the Netherlands, and the Caribbean. The range of alcohols and groceries items in Doughty’s advertisement demonstrates that colonists participated in transatlantic and global networks of trade during the eighteenth century.

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[1] Steven A. Grasse, Colonial Spirits: A Toast to our Drunken History (New York: Abrams, 2016), 74.

[2] Grasse, Colonial Spirits, 75.

[3] Grasse, Colonial Spirits, 75.