GUEST CURATOR: Matthew Holbrook
What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“A large ASSORTMENT of Hard-Ware GOODS.”
I found that this advertisement interesting because Jacob Ashton owned a shop in Salem, Massachusetts, about 50 miles from my hometown. I connected with this advertisement because my grandfather was a carpenter who owned a small shop and sold similar materials. Jacob Ashton sold a wide variety of hardware and other goods, including nails, case knives, hammers, teaspoons and tablespoons, frying pans, knitting needles, gun powder, cinnamon, brass clocks, and just about anything in between.
In the “Meet the Carpenter” podcast from Colonial Williamsburg, master carpenter Garlin Wood explains what it was like to be a carpenter during the era of the American Revolution. In particular, he describes the differences between different woodworkers. A carpenter focused on the construction of the timber frame. A joiner used similar tools as a carpenter but focused on the finishing of the house, such as panel doors and paneling. A cabinetmaker focused on constructing furniture that belonged inside the house. Garlin describes the importance that carpenters and other woodworkers had in early America. In Colonial Williamsburg, then and now, carpenters built everything by hand and used tools such as chisels and mallets. According to Garlin, many carpenters in early America were savvy businessmen who used their trade to move into the gentry. When it comes to his work as a carpenter, he likes the idea of putting a roof over other people’s heads.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
When I invite students enrolled in my classes to serve as guest curators for the Adverts 250 Project, I am always interested in which advertisements they choose to feature and which aspects of those advertisements they choose to examine in greater detail. I appreciate that they select advertisements that I might have otherwise overlooked, that they investigate aspects that did not initially resonate for me and, in the process, demonstrate the significance of something that I might have otherwise dismissed, and that they identify a range of sources about early American history. As guest curators, my students are junior colleagues who help me to continue learning and asking new questions about familiar sources even as I engage in mentoring and teaching them.
That was the case when working with Matt on this entry. In his absence, I would have chosen a different advertisement in the Essex Gazette, one in which Abraham Cornish offered a guarantee on the fishhooks he made in Boston and pledged to provide two new hooks for each one found defective. In his role as guest curator, however, Matt determined which advertisement he wanted to examine … and then demonstrated why his choice was just as sound as the one I would have made. If I had chosen to analyze Ashton’s advertisement for “Hard-Ware GOODS,” I would have focused primarily on the range of choices he offered to consumers and the low prices that he promised. Matt, inspired by his grandfather, instead opted to examine the kinds of work undertaken by the customers who purchased many of the items listed in Ashton’s advertisement. He identified the various roles of woodworkers in early America, outlining the contributions of carpenters, joiners, and cabinetmakers. To do so, he sought information from a public historian who interprets the past through re-creating the experiences of eighteenth-century carpenters at Colonial Williamsburg. In working on a digital humanities project for his college course about the era of the American Revolution, Matt consulted the expertise of a public historian, demonstrating that no one kind of historian has a monopoly on knowledge about the past. Matt’s experience as a guest curator, the many ways in which his contribution enhances the Adverts 250 Project, underscores why I believe it is so important to incorporate my own research and digital humanities projects into the classes I teach.