August 10

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

Providence Gazette (August 10, 1771).

“CHARLES STEVENS … informs the Public, particularly his old Customers, that he has removed to BROAD-STREET.”

When Charles Stevens, a goldsmith and jeweler, moved to a new location in the summer of 1771, he placed an advertisement in the Providence Gazette.  He intended his notice for “the Public,” but “particularly his old Customers.” Making this distinction served more than one purpose.  First, it was a courtesy to existing clients unaware that Stevens changed location.  In addition, it suggested to prospective new customers that the goldsmith and jeweler had already cultivated a clientele.  Some may have been more likely to engage his services once reassured others previously hired him.  Prior demand helped incite new demand.  In general, Stevens sought the “Favours of the Public,” whether former customers or new, at his shop on Broad Street.

To that end, he proclaimed that he “carries on his Business in all its Branches, as usual.”  This testified to his knowledge of his craft, signaling that he possessed the necessary skill and knowledge to complete any commission presented to him.  Appending “as usual” once again testified to his experience.  Although he opened a shop at a new location, Stevens was not new to his trade.  Beyond the usual services that consumers expected of goldsmiths and jewelers, Stevens also repaired porcelain.  In a nota bene, he declared, “Cracked and broken China riveted in the neatest Manner.”  As many artisans did in their advertisements, Stevens offered ancillary services that produced additional revenues.  He may have also hoped that getting clients to visit his shop for one purpose would lead to subsequent visits for others, provided they had positive experiences the first time.

Stevens’s short advertisement consisted entirely of text, much different from modern jewelry advertisements that dazzle prospective customers with images of the merchandise.  Given the technology and standard marketing practices in the eighteenth century, Stevens packed multiple messages intended to resonate with consumers into a short newspaper notice.

March 23

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

Providence Gazette (March 23, 1771).

“A NEAT Assortment of QUEEN’s WARE.”

When John Jenkins opened a shop in Providence in 1771, he placed an advertisement in the Providence Gazette to advise prospective customers of the merchandise he offered for sale.  He focused on “A NEAT assortment of QUEEN’s WARE” or creamware, listing cups, saucers, plates, dishes, bowls, mugs, tea pots, and mustard pots.  Thomas Wedgwood adopted the trade name Queen’s ware to describe his line of cream-colored earthenware with a lead glaze.  Staffordshire potters developed the technique around 1750 to compete with Chinese export porcelains popular throughout the British Atlantic world.  Wedgwood and his contemporaries crafted fashionable and refined styles similar to porcelain in their efforts to both meet and expand consumer demand.

Jenkins apparently thought that Queen’s ware would capture the attention of prospective customers, but he peddled other items as well.  He included in his advertisement “Spices of all Sorts,” sugar, tea, and coffee in his advertisement as well as pins, needles, thread, and fish hooks.  He devoted less space to those items, listing them in a single paragraph rather than two columns with only one or two items per line as he did for the Queen’s ware.  The format suggested which items Jenkins anticipated would most excite consumers and convince them to visit his shop.

The shopkeeper concluded his advertisement with a nota bene about repairs to “China Bowls and Glass Ware.”  Lewis Jenkins, presumably a relation, riveted broken or cracked items “with Silver or Brass, in the neatest Manner,” preserving them for further use or display.  This was a common technique for making repairs in the eighteenth century.  In marketing Queen’s ware to readers of the Providence Gazette, Jenkins also provided an option for maintaining and repairing items purchased as his shop as well as damaged items previously purchased elsewhere.  He saw to the longevity of his fragile wares rather than just getting them into the hands of consumers.

July 29

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

Jul 29 - 7:29:1766 New-York Gazette
New-York Gazette (July 19, 1766).

“He also makes Wyer Cages for Parots, Rivets China, and hangs Bells in Gentlemen’s Houses.”

James Byers, a “Brass-Founder, in Smith-street,” advertised that he “MAKES all Sorts of BRASS WORK” and then proceeded to list a vast array of examples, from candlesticks to chambers for pumps to “Brands for marking Casks” (particularly of interest as a means of marking and marketing products). He concluded his advertisement by listing three other services he provided: “He also makes Wyer Cages for Parots, Rivets China, and hangs Bells in Gentlemen’s Houses.”

It was that short list that convinced me to choose Byers’ advertisement to feature today, especially the “Wyer Cages for Parots.” I loved imagining colonial New Yorkers with parrots as exotic pets. I was also intrigued that most of Byers’ interaction with customers took place in his shop or workshop, but on occasion he visited clients’ homes to hang bells. Apparently he was responsible not only for making or selling bells but also for installing systems that allowed visitors to alert residents they were at the front door or means for summoning servants.

I’ll confess, however, that I was initially confused by his claim that he “Rivets China,” but I ended up learning the most from that portion of the advertisement. I have seen museum pieces with rivets, but I chose to overlook them, preferring instead to imagine porcelain in its pristine condition. In researching today’s entry, however, I have realized that this attitude caused me to overlook important aspects of the history of objects and their use by consumers.

I started by seeking a basic explanation of “Rivets China,” which led me to this: “Riveted chinaware is any china (pottery, porcelain and bone china) that has been cracked and repaired by means of a staple repair.” This is the kind of repair undertaken before epoxies were available.

tea-cup-mended-1400
China cup showing cracks and rivets.  National Trust.

From there I found an article on “Old Repairs of China and Glass” by Isabelle Garachon that appeared in the Rijks Museum Bulletin. Garachon reported that riveting was a “mechanical joining technique … used very widely to repair china and porcelain in the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and is actually still in use in China today.” Riveting throughout the ages has been so commonly practiced, Garachon continued, that a 1963 book on China Mending and Restortation “devoted no fewer than 170 pages to describing all the variations of the riveting method, which had meanwhile developed into a complex art.” Garachon’s article includes several color photos of china repaired by rivets as well as diagrams detailing this method of repairing broken and cracked pieces.

Finally, Andrew Baseman’s blog, “Past Imperfect: The Art of Inventive Repair,” features photos of a variety of items repaired with staples or rivets in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Baseman argues for finding the beauty in the repairs and recognizing how treasured these items must have been for their owners to seek to preserve them after suffering damage.

Byers’ customers likely had different reasons for bringing their broken china to his shop. Some may have wanted to maintain the functionality of housewares they used regularly. Others may have wanted to preserve the aesthetic qualities of pieces on display in their homes. Some may have had sentimental attachments to certain pieces and felt heartbroken when they were damaged. Byers’ advertisement challenges us to think about how consumers used the goods they purchased and the emotional attachments they developed.