GUEST CURATOR: Mary Aldrich
What was advertised in a colonial newspaper 250 years ago today?
“WHITE Lead, red Lead, Spanish Brown, Verdigrease, Prussian Blue.”
Paint itself was not sold as we have it now; separate parts had to be purchased and were mixed right before they were needed. The entire job needed to be completed as soon as possible because the mixed ingredients would harden if left for the next day.
The white and red lead advertised here were not often used as paint by themselves but as an additive to other paints in order to change and fortify the mix. For someone who had paints and wanted to change slightly the color he or she would add this red or white lead.
According to Robert Foley, “Spanish Brown” on the other hand was one of the cheapest and therefore most common paint in the colonies. In England and the colonies, this paint was derived from grinding up dirt with the presence of iron oxide and adding linseed and turpentine. This inexact science produced a multitude of brownish colors that was determined by other elements present in the dirt and the amount used. This paint was used mainly as the “first coat” and primarily on houses, barns, and outbuildings.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes
William Gooch used the Sign of Admiral Vernon to identify his shop on King Street in Boston. Given that he sold paints and painting supplies, I wonder how colorful the Sign of Admiral Vernon might have been. After all, a well-painted sign would have testified to the quality of Gooch’s wares.
The sign was certainly a landmark. As early as 1743 Joseph Sherburne stated that his new shop was located “opposite to the Sign of Admiral Vernon.” In 1750, James Gooch & Son (presumably William) listed their location as “at the Sign of Admiral Vernon, at the Lower End of King-Street, Boston” in an advertisement for imported groceries, spices, tea, coffee, and tableware. William Gooch operated his business out of the same shop as his father, but the merchandise changed significantly.
The Sign of Admiral Vernon was fitting in a port city like Boston. It was named for Edward Vernon (1684-1757), who served in the Royal Navy for forty-six years. Although famous during his own lifetime, most people today are probably much more familiar with two of his namesakes.
Mount Vernon, George Washington’s estate, was named for Admiral Vernon. Washington’s elder half-brother, Lawrence, had served under Vernon. He named the plantation, which passed to his widow upon his death. It was not until her death that George Washington became proprietor of Mount Vernon, though he had previously lived at and managed the estate.
Grog, another name for rum diluted with water and lemon or lime juice, derives from Admiral Vernon’s nickname. In 1740, Vernon devised a means of keeping water fresher and staving off scurvy aboard Royal Navy vessels. Having earned a reputation for wearing coats made of grogram cloth, he became known as Old Grog and the rum ration, over time, simply became grog.