April 20

GUEST CURATOR: Jonathan Bisceglia

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

Apr 20 - 4:20:1767 Boston-Gazette
Boston-Gazette (April 20, 1767).

“A Large & beautiful assortment of Silks.”

Silk imports were common during the eighteenth century. According to Linda Baumgarten, Curator of Textiles at Colonial Williamsburg, “Many Virginia women favored gowns made of lustring, a crisp, light silk.” This is noteworthy because Jane Eustis ran a shop – and sold an “assortment of Silks” – in Boston and advertised in the Boston Gazette. This shows the far reach of the silk trade in eighteenth-century America. In “Baubles of Britain,” T.H. Breen presents the idea of standardization of consumer culture, seen here with the silks.[1]

Some people bought silks as a way to denote social status. In addition, much of the clothing worn in the American colonies was typically not light. In the warmer months this could cause many issues regarding the heat. Baumgarten notes, “One Virginia woman related in her diary that she did not bother to get dressed immediately on a particularly ‘sulterry’ day; she remained ‘up stairs in only shift and petticoat till after Tea.” This is fascinating because of the stark difference compared to modern ideas of modesty and appropriate ways to dress in the heat.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Jane Eustis advertised “Silks, Cap Laces, and a great Variety of other Goods.” Although she did not provide an extensive list of those “other Goods,” her advertisement concluded with a promise that “The Particulars of which will be in our next.” Why was Eustis’s advertisement truncated?

Perhaps Eustis had not had time to compile a list of “The Particulars.” Other advertisers, including William Fisher, indicated that their wares had “just arrived from LONDON” on the same vessel that carried Eustis’s merchandise. Instead of listing the goods, most offered some sort of variation of “A Fresh Assortment of English GOODS.” John Symmes, a goldsmith, did insert a short list, but his was very specialized merchandise of the sort that he might have placed detailed orders or may have otherwise known or anticipated in advance exactly what associates in London had shipped. Shopkeepers who carried general merchandise, like Eustis and Fisher, may not have known all “The Particulars” of what had been dispatched to them by contacts in London until they unpacked the crates and barrels. An initial advertisement for a “great Variety” of goods at least informed prospective customers that they carried new merchandise.

Alternately, Eustis may have submitted a longer advertisement to Edes and Gill, only to have the printers run out of space to print it in its entirety. While possible, that seems less likely given that Eustis’s advertisement appeared on the same page as another that extended more than a column. If Edes and Gill were rationing space, why not abbreviate Frederick William Geyer’s extensive list to free up room for at least some of Eustis’s “Particulars”? Even if the printers did not wish to displace Geyer, a regular advertiser, they could have shortened lengthy list advertisements placed by other shopkeepers. In addition, they also issued a two-page supplement with even more advertising for the week. This also suggests that Eustis had not yet generated the copy for “The Particulars” that were supposed to appear in the next issue.

A week later, no advertisement by Jane Eustis appeared in the Boston-Gazette. Two weeks later, that newspaper ran a new advertisement, though it lacked “The Particulars” that had been promised: “Just Imported in Capt. Skillings, and to be sold by Jane Eustis By Wholesale and Retail, at her Shop the North Side of the Town-House, A great Variety of India and English Goods.” By then Eustis certainly had a chance to compile a list of her new inventory. She may have decided that a shorter advertisement was sufficient for her purposes. She may have determined that a longer advertisement exceeded her budget and decided against it. Whatever the circumstances, her initial advertisement presented a bit of a mystery. It would be fascinating to know more about the factors that influenced Eustis’s decisions about advertising her wares.

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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.

November 30

GUEST CURATOR: Nicholas Sears

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

nov-30-11291766-providence-gazette
Providence Gazette (November 29, 1766).

“JUST IMPORTED … silk and worsted mitts … silk knee straps … sewing silk of all coulours.”

James Green’s advertisement was full of different types of clothes, clothing accessories, and types of fabric to make clothes, including cotton, velvet, linen, and silk. What caught my attention was the amount of silk clothing and accessories that came over from England. It caused me to ask, “Why were there so many items made of silk coming from England?” I was curious whether the English imported clothing made with silk themselves and then shipped it to the colonies or if they made it themselves.

I read Gerald B. Hertz’s article discussing “The English Silk Industryin the Eighteenth Century.”[1] According to Hertz, England had its own silk weavers, comprised mainly of Flemish refugees in the early seventeenth century. It was not until 1685 when Huguenots, a Protestant group from France, started to emigrate to England that the amount of silk produced rose. Even with the silk industry rising, there was still a large amount of silk being imported from other countries. To combat this, England continued to pass laws that prohibited the importing of manufactured silk items from 1765 to 1826. In 1780 the annual import of raw silk rose to 200,000 pounds and later to 500,000 pounds after 1800.[2] England also tried to produce raw silk in their American colonies, specifically Georgia, but abandoned that plan after 1742.

The amount of silk items shipped to the English colonies rose during the consumer revolution, which in turn helped the economy of England.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

According to his advertisement, James Green’s shop was located “at the Sign of the Elephant, opposite JOHN ANGEL’s, Esq.” Eighteenth-century shop signs often incorporated animals and birds of various sorts. In choosing the elephant as the device to identify his business, Green prompted potential customers to associate the goods he stocked with exotic and faraway places. The elephant conjured images of some of the lands where raw silk was produced and acquired by European merchants in the eighteenth century.

Nick notes two overlapping streams of silk production that eventually entered colonial markets. The first, raw silk, was a necessary resource for producing the second, manufactured silk goods. Nick focuses primarily on the English silk industry as it pertained to the production of manufactured goods that were then exported for colonists to purchase, often listed alongside the myriad of other goods increasingly on offer by merchants and shopkeepers as part of the consumer revolution.

To produce manufactured silk goods for export, the English silk industry needed raw silk. What were their sources in the eighteenth century? Hertz provides answers to that question as well. In the early eighteenth century, “Turkey and the Levant were most important,” Hertz explains.[3] The English silk industry used Turkish silk to produce silk stockings, damasks (figured woven fabrics with a pattern visible on both sides, typically used for table linen and upholstery), and galloons (narrow ornamental strips of fabric, typically a silk braid or piece of lace, used to trim clothing or finish upholstery). According to Hertz, “The Turkey Company’s most valued import was sherbaffee, fine raw silk from Persia.”[4] The English silk industry also obtained unwrought silk from Italy and India and elsewhere in the east. Over time, raw silk from India and China became one of the East India Company’s most important imports. As Nick notes, the English silk industry stood to benefit when colonists experimented with silk cultivation in Georgia when the colony was founded, but their efforts were largely unsuccessful and the endeavor concluded fairly quickly.

As a result, the raw silk transformed into manufactured goods continued to come primarily from places on the other side of the globe, like Turkey and India. In choosing the elephant to identify his shop, James Green evoked images of trade and exchange that were not merely transatlantic but global. Many of the items listed in his advertisement, including tea and spices as well as silk, came from places far beyond England and continental Europe. The “Sign of the Elephant” did more than identify Green’s shop. It also encouraged consumers to attribute meaning and value to the goods they purchased. Visiting a local shop could be as fun or adventurous as browsing through the markets in faraway places most colonists only encountered in stories and their imaginations.

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[1] Gerald B. Hertz, “The English Silk Industry in the Eighteenth Century,” English Historical Review 24, no. 96 (October 1909): 710-626.

[2] Hertz, “English Silk Industry,” 712.

[3] Hertz, “English Silk Industry,” 711.

[4] Hertz, “English Silk Industry,” 711.

April 13

GUEST CURATOR:  Kathryn J. Severance

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

Apr 13 - 4:11:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (April 11, 1766).

“John Hickey, SILK-DYER and SCOWERER … continues to carry on his Business.”

In this advertisement John Hickey advertised his silk-dying business to the public. It seems that his shop has been set up for some time “near the Canoe-Bridge in Portsmouth.” This advertisement focuses on the color blue as one of the silk-dyer’s colors that he could dye. As I mentioned in February when I guest curated, the use of indigo allowed for textiles to be dyed blue.

For a period of time, fabrics used to make clothing and other items were imported from Europe. In 1750 however, Americans moved toward becoming more independent and self-sufficient by starting to produce their own fabric on a larger scale. Silk-dying in colonial America was part of the vast textile field that existed at the time. Unlike wool fabric, which was made of thread spun from the wool of sheep, silk was a fabric that had to be imported. For this reason, it was more of a luxury textile. Silk was produced much differently from wool, as it was spun by silk worms. In the eighteenth century, silk was imported mostly from China, where the silk worms are naturally found, but it was also imported from the English, who had ventured into the silk-production trade during the thirteenth century. England’s climate was not as ideal as China’s for the worms and, as a result, they often produced less. For information about how silk was produced, read this article from the Mansfield Historical Society.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Kathryn has chosen an advertisement that offers glimpses of the production and use of different sorts of textiles in colonial America. In listing his occupation as “SILK-DYER and SCOWERER,” John Hickey announced to potential customers that he was capable of working with fabrics made of both silk and wool. As Kathryn indicates, silk was most often imported, though colonists experimented with cultivating silkworms from the earliest days of settlement. Over time, as Americans gained political independence, they also increased their efforts to achieve commercial and economic independence through producing silk in the late eighteenth century.

Hickey did not work exclusively with silk. In his advertisement he underscored that as a “SCOWERER” he “takes in Cloth, to Full and Dress, and does all other Branches of his Business.” In so doing, he emphasized his extensive expertise and experience. Rather than scowerer, Hickey might have listed his occupation as fuller, tucker, or walker. All of these referenced the fulling business, the part of the process of making woolen cloth that involved cleansing the cloth to eliminate oils and dirt. As a result of fulling, woolen cloth also became thicker. Fullers often operated mills that used water wheels, which helps to explain why Hickey “carr[ied] on his Business near the Canoe-Bridge.”

By stating that “does all other Branches of his Business,” Hickey assured potential customers of his skill and competence in working with both silk and woolen fabrics.