June 8

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

Jun 8 - 6:8:1767 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (June 8, 1767).

“At as low a Rate for Cash as can be bought at any Shop in Newport.”

In the June 8, 1767, edition of the Newport Mercury, Josias Lyndon advertised that he sold an assortment of imported goods “Very cheap for Cash, or short Credit.” Invoking low prices was one of the most common marketing appeals of the eighteenth century. Lyndon chose a standard method: promoting his own prices without making reference to those of his competitors. In that regard, he advertisement differed from most placed by shopkeepers in that issue. Others went into greater detail about the nature of their prices.

Samuel Lyndon, Jr., for instance, offered his wares “at as low a Rate as can be bought in any Shop in the Town of NEWPORT.” Similarly, David Moore sold dry goods and groceries “AS CHEAP FOR CASH as at any Shop in Newport.” Issachar Polock boldly proclaimed that he parted with his merchandise “at a LOWER PRICE than any advertised before him.” Each of these shopkeepers adapted the standard appeal to price in ways that more directly positioned their shops as preferable to local competitors.

Other advertisers expanded on this trend. Napthaly Hart, Jr., stated that was “determined to sell at as low Rate as any of the Shops in NEWPORT or PROVIDENCE.” In an advertisement that also appeared in the Providence Gazette, William Rogers promised that customers purchased his inventory “as cheap as can be bough at any Shop in Providence.” Both of these shopkeepers seemed as concerned (or, in Rogers’ case, more concerned) with losing business to counterparts in Providence than others in Newport.

Christopher Champlin’s advertisement suggested why Newport’s shopkeepers provided more elaborate appeals to price than usual in the late spring of 1767. “FINDING many of his Brother Shopkeepers,” Champlin declared, “to prevent most of the circulating Cash from being sent to Providence, have greatly lowered the Price of their Goods; therefore … said CHAMPLIN … has to sell … a neat Assortment of GOODS … at as low a Rate for Cash as can be bought at any Shop in Newport.”

Cash was scarce in colonial America. By charging low prices, Newport’s shopkeepers not only competed with each other but also pursued the public interest on behalf of their entire community by not allowing scarce resources to seep away to another port city. Champlin annunciated this as “so laudable a Motive,” one that was “worthy of Imitation.” He was late to the game in lowering his own prices, but managed to position himself, along with his “Brother Shopkeepers” in Newport, as doing something noble when setting his prices.

April 6

GUEST CURATOR: Megan Watts

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

Apr 6 - 4:6:1767 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (April 6, 1767).

To be sold by BENJAMIN MASON, THE Hull of the Sloop THOMAS, … Whale Boats, Whale Irons and Warps.”

I chose this advertisement because it focused on items used by mariners, which were unique from the varied offerings of general stores and other sellers. The advertisement mentions the sale of a “Sloop,” a type of boat, along with many other marine supplies (sails, rigging, anchors). This type of advertisement definitely fits in the newspaper that printed it, the Newport Mercury, published in Newport, Rhode Island. The benefits of colonizing New England included the abundance of ports and access to marine passageways. The geography of New England inspired the establishment of many maritime-based businesses and activities. However, what surprised me was the mention of “Whale Boats” and “Whale Irons.”

As a New Englander I was aware of the booming whaling business of the 1800s. I have even visited the Whaling Museum on Nantucket. But what surprised me was that there was an advertisement regarding the whale trade in Rhode Island in the 1700s. I did some research to learn more about the long history of whaling in New England. Whaling has been a business in the region since the 1600s, dating back to Long Island in 1644 to be exact. Some of the products from whaling throughout the years included whale oil and materials used in candle making. The whaling business was common even before the 1800s!

In addition, I also learned that it was likely this whole advertisement was about whale hunting vessels and equipment. I learned that a sloop was a type of vessel commonly used for whale hunting. According to the New Bedford Whaling Museum, “[W]halers began to outfit single-masted sailing vessels called sloops to pursue the animals into deeper water.” Any sailor who picked up this newspaper would have at once recognized the common tools used in whaling, which was an important element for both a coastal colony and a diverse economy.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Megan reaches a sound conclusion that everything in this advertisement – from the vessel to the equipment to the supplies – would have been used to outfit an eighteenth-century whaling expedition. Not only would sailors have recognized these tools of the trade, they would have noticed that Benjamin Mason spoke their language, especially when he included “Whale Irons and Warps” in the list of equipment for sale.

Thomas Lytle notes that the tool most people know as the harpoon was commonly called an iron by the officers and sailors who served aboard whaling vessels. Lytle dispels a popular misconception about harpoons. In most circumstances harpoons were not used to kill whales. A different tool, known as a lance, was used for that job. Lytle explains that the harpoon “was meant only to fasten to the whale and act as a hook to fasten the whale to the whaleboat.” That then gave the whale hunters an opportunity to kill the whale before it could escape. Lytle asserts that the harpoon “was the single item that determined the success or failure of a whaling voyage” and the entire industry. In addition to the essential “Whale Irons,” Mason also offered “Warps,” better known to most people as nets, for sale. Any buyer would have been well equipped to sponsor a whaling expedition.

Rhode Island’s leaders wanted to encourage that industry in the eighteenth century, long before the golden age of whaling that has captured the popular imagination. In his History of the American Whale Fishery, Alexander Starbuck explains that “the Rhode Island assembly passed an act for the encouragement of the whale and cod fisheries” in 1731. That act authorized “a bounty of five shillings for every barrel of whale oil, one penny a pound for bone, and five shilling a quintal for codfish, caught by Rhode Island vessels and brought into this colony.”[1] Within two years, vessels from Newport successfully collected the bounties offered for whales.

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[1] Alexander Starbuck, History of the American Whale Industry from Its Earliest Inception to the Year 1876 (Waltham, MA: Published by the Author, 1878), 35.

March 16

GUEST CURATOR: Daniel McDermott

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

Mar 16 - 3:16:1767 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (March 16, 1767).

“Baizes, Duffels, Shalloons, Tammies, Calimancoes.”

William Cornell placed this advertisement for the array of textiles he sold. By today’s perspective the list seems foreign. However, in colonial America any person reading this advertisement would have known each material, including what style, how expensive, and common uses.

One textile on the list that may seem unfamiliar is baize. The Oxford English Dictionary describes baize as “A coarse woollen stuff, having a long nap, now used chiefly for linings, coverings, curtains, etc., in warmer countries for articles of clothing.” The OED also states it was used for shirts and petticoats. Abigail Adams wrote a letter to her husband, John Adams, and refered to a “Green Baize Gown,” making a recommendation to keep him warm during the cold nights: “I would recommend to you the Green Baize Gown, and if that will not answer, You recollect the Bear Skin.” This suggests baize could be heavy enough to be used for warmth during cold winter nights, just as warm as a “Bear Skin.” (Today, baize is most famously used to cover pool tables.)

Tammies were another textile Cornell sold that may seem unfamiliar. According to the Dictionary of Traded Goods and Commodities, 1550-1820, tammy is a lightweight fabric, but because of its simple weaving the material is also strong. Due to its durability but light weight it was utilized for linings, children’s garments, or curtains. Tammy was also often dyed yellow, a color that quickly faded when exposed to light. Yellow tammy may have been chosen for linings that would have been less exposed and thus less likely to fade.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

When Daniel and I met to discuss William Cornell’s advertisement, we considered several aspects to examine in greater detail. Daniel ultimately opted to investigate some of the unfamiliar textiles, but during the research and writing process he also contemplated what this advertisement told us about colonists’ understanding of urban geography and how to navigate port cities.

In an era before standardized street numbers and addresses, colonists relied on a variety of landmarks to give directions. Advertisers frequently assumed that potential customers, especially in towns and smaller cities, were familiar with both local places and people. For instance, Cornell offered nothing by way of directions except noting that his shop was “Adjoining to Captain Robert Stoddard’s.” Apparently Stoddard was sufficiently known among residents of the port city that Cornell considered this sufficient for directing potential customers to his own business.

Some advertisers relied on their names alone, neglecting to offer any other sort of directions. Such was the case for Samuel Sanford (who advertised “A few Puncheons of Jamaica Rum”), Gideon Wanton, Jr. (who carried “Ticklenburgs [and] Osnaburgs,” textiles that did not appear in Cornell’s notice), and Joseph West (who sold “A Quantity of dry Cod Fish”).

Others provided a street name, a landmark, or a combination of the two to aid potential customers in locating them. John Hadwen, for instance, peddled his wares “At his Shop in Thames Street,” while Napthali Hart, Jr. sold a similar array of goods “At his Store on Mr. GEORGE GIBBS’s Wharf.” George Cornell maintained “Batchelor’s Hall,” presumably a boardinghouse, “IN Mill-Street, near the Ferry Wharf.”

Two other advertisers offered more complex directions. Christopher Smieller, a baker, announced that he “has removed from Mr. William Gyles’s Bakehouse, to that of Mr. Joseph Tillinghast.” Francis Skinner, a bookbinder, provided the most complicated – or perhaps the most exact – set of directions. Customers could find him “at his House the third below Trinity Church, on the East Side of the Street leading to the Neck.”

Regardless of how many or how few words any of these advertisers used, each expected readers and potential customers could make their way to their respective businesses based on the information they provided. Even the largest American cities were not yet so large in the 1760s to necessitate street numbers and standardized addresses to facilitate commerce. That changed by the end of the eighteenth century: advertisements increasingly included street numbers and a new kind of publication, the city directory, listed standardized addresses for residences and businesses alike. Both innovations transformed how early Americans, both locals and visitors, thought about navigating city streets.

February 23

GUEST CURATOR: Shannon Holleran

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

feb-23-2231767-newport-mercury
Newport Gazette (February 23, 1767).

“Nutmegs, Copperass, Allum, Pepper, Tea.”

This advertisement interested me because of its length. As T. H. Breen notes in “Baubles of Britain,” with the increase in imported goods colonists had countless options, exemplified by this advertisement.[1] Another thing that intrigued me about this advertisement was that nutmeg was being sold in the 1760s. Nutmeg is a spice that is commonly used today, however, I was surprised to see it mentioned in an eighteenth-century advertisement. I discovered that nutmeg was used as a spice then, just like it is today. In Food in Colonial and Federal America, Sandra L. Oliver states, “The nutmeg husk is cracked, and the nut within is used for spice, usually grated on a grater specifically for nutmegs.”[2]

 

feb-23-nutmeg
Nutmeg grater crafted by Joseph Kneeland (ca. 1720-1740). Metropolitan Museum of Art. Visit the museum’s online record to see additional photos.

The importation and sale of nutmeg in the colonies reveals that the colonists and the mother country took part in trade that expanded beyond than the Atlantic Ocean. After further research, I discovered that nutmeg was grown in the Banda Islands, also known as the Spice Islands (in modern Indonesia).

After the American Revolution, the new United States became more involved in the global spice trade by trading directly with Asian growers, instead of going through Great Britain. Some American businessmen embarked on long voyages to obtain spices. American entrepreneurs formed new businesses in search of profits to be made once they were free of the restrictions of the British imperial system.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

As Shannon indicates, Christopher Champlin’s advertisement provides evidence of an expansive and expanding consumer culture in the decade before the American Revolution. In many instances, purchasing one product made it necessary to obtain other goods as well. Such was the case with nutmeg. The buyer also needed a nutmeg grater, though it did not have to be as ornate as the one currently in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum. As Oliver notes, “Spices were usually imported whole, and it was the cook’s job to pound and sift them for use in cookery.”[3] Note that Champlin’s advertisement lists “Nutmegs” rather than “Nutmeg,” an indication that they were indeed whole and needed to be grated by the customer. A consumer only needed to purchase a nutmeg grater once, but that was still an acquisition that contributed to colonial households being filled with an increasing number of possessions.

While a nutmeg grater could be a relatively minor purchase (even though it appears that “RW” opted for one inspired by fashion as much as practical use), consuming other imported grocery items required equipment that could become quite expensive, depending on the tastes and desires of the consumer. For instance, Champlin sold both tea and chocolate. To enjoy either of these beverages, his customers also needed to possess various sorts of housewares, including cups and either a teapot or a chocolate pot. In addition, tea drinkers also obtained strainers, waste bowls, sugar tongs, ewers for cream or milk, tea canisters, sugar bowls, saucers, and stands for the pot and sometimes even the bowls. Decorative tea sets could be made of ceramic, Chinese export porcelain, or silver. Champlin also sold “hard metal Tea Pots and Spoons.” Fashions evolved for housewares just as they did for clothing, prompting consumers to make additional purchases.

It comes as no surprise that colonists needed various sorts of kitchen equipment in order to prepare food. That being said, eighteenth-century advertisements that list assorted grocery items sometimes obscure the specialized items that colonists also needed (or wanted). As Shannon notes, the length of this advertisement testifies to the growth of consumer culture in eighteenth-century America. On closer examination of individual items, however, we discover that the cascade of selling and acquiring was even more significant than the length of the advertisement alone suggests.

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[1] T.H. Breen, “‘Baubles of Britain’: The American and Consumer Revolutions of the Eighteenth Century,” Past and Present 119 (May 1988): 73-104.

[2] Sandra L. Oliver, Food in Colonial and Federal America (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2005), 74.

[3] Oliver, Food in Colonial and Federal America, 74.

December 29

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

dec-29-12291766-newport-mercury
Newport Mercury (December 29, 1766).

“Dentifrice … will preserve the Teeth.”

John Baker, a surgeon dentist, had recently arrived in Newport. Since potential local clients did not know him, he offered a variety of assurances and references in his advertisement. To demonstrate his qualifications, he noted that he had “given sufficient Proof of his superior Judgment, in this Art, to the principal Nobility, Gentry, and others, of Great-Britain, France, and Ireland, and other principal Places in Europe; also to some Hundreds in the Town of Boston.” In his bid to attract clients among “the Gentry” of Newport, he underscored that the better sort in cities throughout Europe had already entrusted him and been pleased with the results. Still, any charlatan might make claims about his vaunted clientele on the other side of the Atlantic. Boston, on the other hand, was nearby, making it much more difficult to exaggerate the reputation he had earned there.

Baker’s concern for his reputation extended to a product he sold, a patent medicine “called Dentifrice,” in addition to the services he offered. The itinerant surgeon dentist made several claims about what his “infallible” Dentifrice would accomplish. Because it was “quite free from any corrosive Preparation,” the Dentifrice “will restore the Gums to their pristine State; will preserve the Teeth, and render them perfectly white; will fasten those that are loose, and prevent them from further Decay.” To protect his reputation and to make sure that customers purchased the correct product, Baker and his agent in Boston provided “proper Directions” along with each pot of the Dentifrice. Each pot was “seal’d up with his Coat of Arms” to prevent tampering or fraud. Baker’s coat of arms was also printed “in the Margins of the Directions” so customers could compare it to the seal and verify the authenticity of the product for themselves.

John Baker offered several services – cleaning and filling teeth and making and repairing artificial teeth – but the surgeon dentist realized that merely advertising those services might not be sufficient to attract clients when he arrived in Newport. In the absence of having established a reputation locally, he promoted the reputation he had earned in other cities and provided other means for certifying the products that he sold.

August 25

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

Aug 25 - 8:25:1766 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (August 25, 1766).

“All Customers … may depend upon being as well served by Letter as if present.”

In an age of online shopping, modern consumers are accustomed to the convenience of purchasing goods to be delivered directly to their homes without visiting stores to examine the products they are buying. In the evolution of shopping, this seems like a natural progression from catalog shopping, which has been a popular means of distributing merchandise to consumers for more than a century.

Both means of acquiring goods have been considered simultaneously disruptive and revolutionary, but such narratives obscure continuities with consumer culture in earlier eras. Consider, for instance, this brief advertisement for “All Sorts of West-India Goods, and Grocery” placed by John Jenkins. He informed “All Customers, in Town and Country” that they “may depend upon being as well served by Letter as if present.” In effect, Jenkins offered an early variation of mail order delivery. Customers wrote to inform him which items they wished to purchase. In turn, he had the items delivered to them. While such an arrangement was not a standard business practice mentioned in most advertisements, it was common enough in the 1760s that customers would have readily recognized this service.

Jenkins’s advertisement does differ in one significant way from others by merchants and shopkeepers who solicited orders through the post: its brevity. Most such advertisements included much more extensive lists of the goods that had been imported and were available for sale. Jenkins, on the other hand, did not specify any particulars. He did not name any specific merchandise. Why not? Could he not afford a lengthier advertisement? How effective was such a truncated advertisement? Did potential customers write to him in hopes he stocked the items they desired? Jenkins certainly offered a convenience to his customers, but it may have been negated by not providing enough information about his wares to guide customers in making their choices.

August 12

What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?

Aug 12 - 8:11:1766 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (August 11, 1766).

“DIRECTIONS for making calcined or PEARL ASHES.”

Advertisements associated with the potash industry appeared quite regularly in colonial newspapers. Some advertisers wanted to buy it, offering a good price in exchange for potash. Others supplied some of the equipment, such as oversized kettles, necessary for producing potash. Although not necessarily directly involved in potash production, printers also published advertisements that indicated they stood to profit from it all the same. Some sold “Justices Blank Certificates” used in the packing and regulation of potash, while others peddled instruction manuals to those who wanted to participate in the industry or improve on their previous efforts.

Such was the case with a short pamphlet (less than twenty pages) devoted to “DIRECTIONS for making calcined or PEARL ASHES, As practised in Hungary, &c.” Samuel Hall, the printer of the Newport Mercury, sold the pamphlet at his shop “on the North Side of the Parade,” but the imprint on the pamphlet itself indicated that it was “Printed for and sold by JOHN MEIN, at the London Book-store” in Boston. Both printers (and quite likely others throughout New England that exchanged stock with Mein) looked to make a profit from indirect involvement in the potash trade through the sale of ancillary products.

Aug 12 - Potash Pamphlet
Directions for Making Calcined or Pearl Ashes, as Practised in Hungary, &c. with a Copper-plate Drawing of a Calcining Furnace (Boston:  John Mein, 1766).  Boston Public Library.

Both the advertisement and the title page of the pamphlet underscored that it included “a Copper-Plate Drawing of a calcined Furnace.” This would have certainly increased the expense of producing the pamphlet and, ultimately, the cost to the customer, but such an investment could be readily justified. The accompanying image likely offered valuable insight into the text, making it more comprehensible. Art historian Nancy Siegel has argued that engraved images that accompanied eighteenth-century cookbooks were imperative in demonstrating the meaning of the text to readers. The same would have been true for an instruction manual detailing equipment and processes for producing potash, especially for readers not already well versed in the subject. After all, the directions in the pamphlet were “founded on the most extensive Knowledge of Pearl Ashes—a Knowledge acquired by long Practice, Experience and Success. The advertisement warned readers that this was “the only Means to establish Matters of Fact.” It concluded by jeering that “plausible Theories” were “little better than ingenious Amusements.”

In other words, both the text and the engraved copperplate drawing merited attention from anybody serious about potash production. Both were worth the expense.

July 22

What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?

Jul 22 - 7:21:1766 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (July 21, 1766).

Mary Cowley was the subject of some gossip by “Envious or Prejudiced” residents of Newport. She placed this advertisement in part to promote her business enterprises and in part to set the record straight when it came to some false reports she had heard.

Cowley was a busy woman, which likely brought her under more scrutiny than some of her neighbors and made her a target of “Envious or Prejudiced” gossip. She pursued two occupations, proprietress of a house of entertainment and dancing instructor. Both of these may have made other colonists suspicious of her, especially if she was unmarried or widowed and without a male relative to oversee her activities and interactions with patrons who visited her at “the House near the Entrance of Mr. Dyer’s Grove” or her pupils for the dancing lessons she provided at her own house. Male dancing masters frequently inserted reassuring words in their advertisements to convince potential students and the general public of their propriety, which was especially important given the close physical contact with students inherent in dancing lessons. Cowley was also vulnerable to such suspicions, especially if she offered lessons in the absence of a patriarch to chaperone her. She did venture to address such concerns, but only pledged to “give Satisfaction in every Branch of my Undertaking.”

Entertaining “none but the genteeler Sort” (which may have entailed serving food and beverages and overseeing polite conversation) appears to have been a relatively new endeavor for Cowley. Some may have assumed that it would so distract her from teaching dancing that she would cease meeting with students, but she had “no Thoughts of giving up that Business.”

Unlike many other female advertisers who assured potential customers and the general public that they behaved in appropriately feminine fashion even though they operated businesses of their own and inserted their voice in the public prints to attract business, Mary Cowley took a much more assertive tone. She answered gossip that circulated beyond the newspaper and concluded by thanking “every Well wisher of their humble Servant” for the “due Encouragement” they would bestow upon her.

July 1

What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?

Jul 1 - 6:30:1766 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (June 30, 1766).

“RIBBONS, … best English RIGGING, … neat silver WATCHES, … genuine red PORT WINE.”

Shopkeeper Nathaniel Bird published a dense advertisement that listed dozens of items for sale, everything from textiles to dancing shoes to ink powder to hourglasses. He loosely organized the merchandise, but that did little to make it easier to navigate the extensive list of goods he stocked “At his New Store in Thames-Street.”

Four items do stand out from the rest: ribbons, rigging, watches, and port wine. Each of them, like Nathaniel Bird’s name, was set in capitals intended to draw attention. I have previously argued that in most cases advertisers wrote their own copy but printers took the responsibility for its appearance and format, though the advertisers likely gave special instructions on occasion. This would appear to be one of those instances. It seems unlikely that a printer (or an apprentice or anybody else working in the shop) would encounter a list of merchandise and on a whim decide to set a small number of items in capitals. More likely, the advertiser specified that certain items be capitalized.

Why those particular items? It is impossible to determine for certain. Perhaps Bird intended to highlight the diversity of goods he sold, the various departments in his shop a century before the concept of the department store was invoked. Many similar list advertisements include textiles exclusively. By listing other items in capitals, Bird drew attention to the portions of the advertisement that promoted other sorts of goods: a variety of adornments to accompany the textiles (RIBBONS), supplies for outfitting vessels (RIGGING), devices for keeping or measuring time (WATCHES), and imported groceries and spirits (PORT WINE). Bird may have been experimenting with a rudimentary method of cataloging his merchandise as a means of demonstrating the various needs and desires that could be fulfilled in his shop without having to visit other establishments.

June 17

What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago this week?

Jun 17 - 6:16:1766 Newport Mercury
Newport Mercury (June 16, 1766).

“TO BE SOLD By JAMES LUCENA, At his Store on the Point.”

James Lucena’s advertisement for the “BEST sort of Teneriffe Wine of the Madeira Grape” and other wines would have looked familiar to readers of the June 16, 1766, issue of the Newport Mercury. It had also appeared in the previous issue. It would look increasingly familiar over the next month. Lucena’s advertisement appeared in the Newport Mercury in six consecutive issues: June 9, 16, 23, and 30 and July 7 and 14. Although it moved around from page to page and column to column within the newspaper, the type had been set and it retained its original appearance.

Repeating an advertisement multiple times helped sellers inform potential customers about their wares, but this practice also aided in building their brand (to use today’s marketing parlance). Through sheer repetition, Lucena prompted consumers to associate the “BEST sort” of wine from Tenerife (the largest of the Canary Islands) with his shop. The brevity of this advertisement did not allow Lucena to expand on that appeal, to say more about the qualities of the wine he sold, but he may have balanced the relative costs of running a longer advertisement fewer times or a short advertisement a greater number of times. The recognition gained from having the short advertisement appear so many times may have been one of the results Lucena desired. Some readers who saw Lucena advertise “Teneriffe Wine of the Madeira Grape” likely came to associate this product with him even when his advertisement ceased its run in the Newport Mercury.