November 17

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

Nov 17 - 11:17:1769 Massachusetts Gazette Extraordinary
Massachusetts Gazette Extraordinary (November 17, 1769).

“TEA, that was imported before the Agreement of Non-importation.”

On November 17, 1769, Herman Brimmer inserted an advertisement for “Two or three Chests of BOHEA TEA, that was imported before the Agreement of Non-importation took place” in the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter. Without enough space to include the advertisement in the standard four-page issue for that week, Richard Draper, the printer, placed Brimmer’s advertisement on the first page of a two-page extraordinary edition that accompanied the regular issue.

Brimmer made a point to advise prospective customers and the entire community that he sold tea that did not violate the resolutions adopted by “the Merchants and Traders in the Town of Boston” more than a year earlier on August 1, 1768.   It was just as well that he did so for his advertisement appeared immediately to the right of news about the nonimportation pact. Boston’s merchants and traders had recently updated their agreement on October 17, asserting that they “will not import any Kind of Goods or Merchandize from Great-Britain … until the Acts imposing Duties in America for raising a Revenue be totally repealed.” The third of the new resolutions explicitly mentioned tea: “we will not import … or purchase of any who may import from any other Colony in America, any Tea, Paper, Glass, or any other Goods commonly imported from Great Britain, until the Revenue Acts are totally repealed.” To give more teeth to these resolutions, those attending “a Meeting of the Merchants” just ten days earlier “VOTED, That the Names of all Such Persons as may hereafter import any Goods from Great-Britain contrary to the Agreement … be inserted in the News-Papers, and that they be held up to the Public as Persons counteracting the salutary Measures the Merchants are pursuing for the obtaining the Redress of their Grievances.” The merchants who devised the nonimportation agreement meant business!

Brimmer’s advertisement for “BOHEA TEA” did not merely promote a popular product. It was part of a larger public discourse about the meanings of goods, in this case not just the cultural meanings associated with drinking tea but also the political meanings of purchasing tea during a time of crisis. Other advertisers in the late 1760s underscored that they did not violate the nonimportation agreements, but their advertisements in colonial newspapers rarely appeared immediately next to copies of those agreements. That made neither advertisers nor readers any less cognizant of the fact that news items and advertisements operated in conversation with each other. Elsewhere in the same issue, William Greenleaf assured readers that he imported his merchandise “before the Non-importation Agreement took Place” and Henry Bass called on colonists to purchase grindstone manufactured in the colonies. They participated in the same conversation about using commerce as a means of resistance to the Townshend Acts and, in doing so, preserving “Liberties and Privileges” for themselves and posterity. That the nonimportation resolutions and Brimmer’s advertisement ran next to each other provides stark visual evidence of that conversation that took place in advertisements throughout the newspaper.

March 14

GUEST CURATOR: Luke DiCicco

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

Essex Gazette (March 14, 1769).

“CHOICE green Coffee … also blue and white China Cups and Saucers.”

This advertisement features a series of goods sold by William Vans. His merchandise included green coffee, ground ginger, rum, indigo, and china cups and saucers, all imported from faraway places around the globe. I focused on two of these goods that were extremely popular among the colonists and played an important role in colonial life.

Coffee and tea were both introduced in Europe in the early seventeenth century and became increasingly popular in the colonies in the eighteenth century. When coffee and tea became common drinks, colonists desired something other than normal cups to drink them. According to Beth Carver Wees at the Metropolitan Museum, the colonists decided to buy ceramic and silver vessels. Vans sold imported “blue and white China Cups and Saucers” along with his coffee and tea. In addition, this created business for silversmiths and was viewed as a sign as someone’s wealth if they owned a lot of accessories for drinking coffee and tea. Some of these included covered sugar bowls, cream pots, teakettles, and hot-water urns. People often bought them for the intricate design or for the shiny complexion. The establishment of coffee shops helped colonists pass along information and news, making it a lot easier to gather support when the colonies rebelled against Britain.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

William Vans was not the only purveyor of “blue and white China Cups and Saucers” to advertise in the March 14, 1769, edition of the Essex Gazette. Among the vast inventory of goods in stock at his shop, Francis Grant listed “an Assortment of China, Glass, Stone and Delph Ware.” Susanna Renken concluded her advertisement for a “fresh Assortment of Garden Seeds” that named dozens of varieties with a brief note about “a Box of China Ware to sell” at her shop in Boston. Of the nine paid notices that appeared in that issue, one concerned real estate, one outlined legal proceedings to settle an estate, and the remaining seven promoted goods to consumers or commodities to traders. A substantial proportion of advertisers named china among their wares. Colonial retailers both served a market that demanded “China Ware” and sought to incite greater demand for such products.

As Luke suggests in his analysis of Vans’s advertisement, this was possible because both retailers and consumers recognized how certain goods complemented others. Rather than specializing solely in spices and beverages, Vans also sold china cups and saucers for drinking his “CHOICE green Coffee” and “Most excellent Bohea Tea.” Grant hawked “Loaf and Brown Sugar” along with his “Assortment of China.” Consumers did not purchase just tea or just china or just sugar. Instead, they acquired these items simultaneously. Many likely also purchased other accessories to incorporate into their coffee and tea drinking rituals from among the “all Sorts of European Goods” peddled by Vans and the “general Assortment of English and West-India GOODS” advertised by Grant. In other advertisements, Renken offered all sorts of textiles, some of which could have been used to make cloths to adorn the tables where customers drank tea or coffee sweetened with sugar and served in china. The consumer revolution of the eighteenth century occurred not only because of a proliferation in the availability of goods but also because the acquisition of one item often required obtaining other items in order to enhance the experience of consuming any of them. Advertisements in early American newspapers provide a map of the consumption habits of many colonial readers.

April 18

GUEST CURATOR:  Anna MacLean

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

Apr 18 - 4:18:1768 New-York Gazette Weekly Post-Boy
New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy (April 18, 1768).

“TO BE SOLD … BEST HYSON TEA.”

An advertisement in the April 18, 1768, issue of the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy announced “BEST HYSON TEA” in addition to “Mustard, Raisins, Currants, Figs, Chocolate, with other Kinds of Grocery.” I felt compelled to select this advertisement because it sounds absurd to conceptualize a time when America didn’t “run on Dunkin’” coffee (a testament to marketing in modern America). However, by similar means, tea drinkers in colonial America looked forward to the caffeine buzz found in their kettles and teacups.

Hyson tea, characterized by Oliver Pluff & Co. as having a long twisted appearance, was a favorite among American colonists. According to the Boston Tea Party Ship and Museum, during the first half of the eighteenth-century tea was a costly luxury that only a small percentage of the colonies’ population could afford. By the middle of the century, tea was in high demand throughout the colonies and costs decreased making it an everyday beverage for the vast majority. Over time, the American colonies had evolved into a province of tea drinkers.

Yet drinking tea was far more than a hobby in colonial America but rather an “instrument of sociability,” according to the review of Rodris Roth’s “Tea Drinking in 18th-Century America” on Colonial Quills. An invitation to drink tea was an invitation to a social event, perhaps a small, informal gathering or maybe an elegant dinner party.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

In addition to the “other Kinds of Grocery” that he sold at his shop on Beaver Street in New York, Isaac Noble also advertised “all Kinds of French Liquors” and listed eight varieties.  Since Anna chose to examine one of Noble’s wares that remains popular today (even if it has not retained the cultural currency it enjoyed in eighteenth-century America), I decided to take a closer look at some of these other beverages that colonial Americans drank but that might be less familiar to consumers today.

The Oxford English Dictionarydescribes “Parfaite Amour” as “a sweet liqueur of Dutch origin, flavoured with lemon, cloves, cinnamon, and coriander, and coloured red or purple.”  In addition to the taste, colonists may have been entertained by the color!  Several other items on Noble’s list appear to have been liqueurs as well, including “Anise,” “Essence of Tea,” “Essence of Coffee,” and “Oil of Hazle Nuts.”  While it may be fairly easy to imagine the flavor and composition of each of those “French Liquors,” the “Oil of Venus” presents more of a challenge.  One Household Encyclopedia published in the middle of the nineteenth century includes recipes for both Oil of Jupiter and Oil of Venus.  It describes Oil of Venus as brandy infused with caraway, anise, mace, and orange rinds and mixed with sugar.  Published nearly a century after Noble’s advertisement appeared in the New-York Gazette: Or, the Weekly Post-Boy, that recipe may not have been the same as the “Oil of Venus” colonists drank, but the mixture of spices does appear consistent with methods for distilling the “Parfaite Amour” listed immediately before it.  The nature of the “Free Mason’s Cordial” remains more elusive, but it turns out that the “Usquebaugh” was not as exotic as the name might suggest. The Oxford English Dictionary indicates “usquebaugh” is an Irish and Scottis Gaelic word for whisky.  Like tea, usquebaugh/whisky remains a popular beverage today, even if the average person does not consume either in the same quantities as colonists did in the eighteenth century.

The various “Kinds of French Liquors” advertised by Noble may not seem readily identifiable to twenty-first-century consumers, at least not by the names used to describe them in the eighteenth century, but several continue to be sold and consumed today. As a result of advances in marketing practices, some are now better known by specific brand names rather than the general descriptions deployed in the colonial era.

April 11

GUEST CURATOR:  Sean Sullivan

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

Apr 11 - 4:11:1768 Pennsylvania Chronicle
Pennsylvania Chronicle (April 11, 1768).

“BOHEA TEA in large Chests, HYSON TEA in small Chests or Cannisters.”

Tea was an established part of life in the colonial America, consumed both in metropolitan centers along the coast as well as further inland, nearly ubiquitous across the British colonies. This advertisement from the Pennsylvania Chronicle mentioned two varieties, Bohea and Hyson. Bohea was a more expensive black tea while hyson was a cheaper and more common green variant. However, savvy merchants likely would not have hindered themselves with selling one variety and thus limiting their potential clientele. By importing both varieties of tea, Christopher and Charles Marshall appealed to the widest market available, increasing both potential profits and their presence in the sphere of public business. Such an action would be in the best interests of any aspiring entrepreneur, as the tea market in colonial America was massive not only economically but, as Rodris Roth argues, as a part of the wider culture. Colonial customs were highly reflective of trends prominent in Europe, and the consumption of tea was among the most significant of these trends. By the middle of the eighteenth century, tea had become the social lubricant of choice. Anyone in the mercantile realm who could find a steady market for tea would therefore be almost guaranteed a lucrative business.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

Tea was indeed a major commodity consumed throughout the British colonies in the eighteenth century.  Many assume that tea was a luxury in colonial America, but that interpretation reflects its position when it was first introduced to consumers rather than the position it eventually held in the marketplace and in the social lives of colonists.  As Rodris Roth reports, “During the first half of the eighteenth century the limited amount of tea, available at prohibitively high prices, restricted its use to a proportionately small segment of the population.  About mid-century, however, tea was beginning to be drunk by more and more people, as supplies increased and costs decreased, due in part to the propaganda and merchandising efforts of the East India Company.[1]  The expanding market for tea placed it at the center of the consumer revolution that took place throughout the British Atlantic world in the eighteenth century.

Indeed, tea might be considered emblematic of colonists participating in the consumer revolution since consuming it required acquiring a variety of other goods, some of them for its preparation and some considered necessary for the social rituals associated with consuming the beverage. Shopkeepers advertised and colonists purchased elaborate tea sets that included cups, saucers, teapots, sugar bowls, containers for cream or milk, waste bowls, tongs, strainers, canisters for storing tea, spoons, and other items.  Yet the equipage did not end there.  Depending on their means, colonists also bought tea tables and chairs as well as trays and tablecloths.  Whether made of metal or imported porcelain, the popular styles for tea sets changed over the years, just as the fashions for garments shifted. Merchants and shopkeepers noted such changes in their advertisements, spurring potential customers to make additional purchases and further fueling the consumer revolution.  Yet consuming tea contributed to importing other goods, especially sugar.  No matter how genteel the setting for socializing while sipping tea, colonists were enmeshed in networks of exchange that depended on the involuntary labor of enslaved men and women who worked on sugar plantations in the Caribbean.

Today’s advertisement for tea may appear rather simple at first glance, yet upon closer examination it tells a much larger story about the consumption and culture in eighteenth-century America.  For even more information, see Rodris Roth’s “Tea-Drinking in Eighteenth-Century America:  Its Etiquette and Equipage,” available in its entirety via Project Gutenberg.

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[1]Rodris Roth, “Tea Drinking in Eighteenth-Century America:  Its Etiquette and Equipage,” in Material Life in America, 1600-1860, ed. Robert Blair St. George (Boston:  Northeastern University Press, 1988), 442.

February 24

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

Feb 24 - 2:24:1768 Georgia Gazette
Georgia Gazette (February 24, 1768).

“GENUINE MUSTARD of different qualities.”

Although brief, Jacob Polock’s advertisement on the front page of the February 24, 1768, edition of the Georgia Gazette incorporated several appeals intended to incite demand among prospective customers. Polock promoted only three items – tea, mustard, and kettles – but he associated a specific marketing strategy with each, rather than merely announcing that he offered those goods for sale.

First, Polock highlighted his “EXCELLENT GREEN TEA, at 15s. per lb.” Here Polock succinctly made two appeals, first emphasizing the quality of the tea and then providing a price. Most merchants and shopkeepers did not indicate prices for their merchandise in their newspaper advertisements; Polock, on the other hand, let readers know what they could expect to pay in advance of visiting his shop. Tea was such a popular commodity that most prospective customers likely already had a sense of what constituted a good deal, allowing them to assess whether Polock offered a bargain.

By publishing a price, Polock set the maximum amount he would charge for a pound of tea, but that did not preclude him from giving discounts at the time of sale, especially for customers who bought in volume or purchased other items. Any time Polock lowered the price when interacting directly with customers he cultivated a good impression for having extended a better deal than the prices published in the newspaper.

Polock also sold “GENUINE MUSTARD of different qualities.” Here he offered consumers the ability to make choices. In choosing among the “different qualities” of mustard customers could make selections based on both cost and personal preferences, not unlike modern shoppers picking the type of mustard they most enjoy from a condiments shelf stocked with all kinds of variations.

Finally, Polock carried “IRON TEA KETTLES of Rhode Island manufacture.” In response to deteriorating relations with Britain that resulted from a trade deficit and the imposition of new taxes via the Townshend Act, many colonists resolved to purchase fewer imported goods while simultaneously encouraging domestic manufactures. Merchants and shopkeepers frequently advertised teapots and other accessories imported from England, but Polock instead participated in a rudimentary “Buy American” campaign when he noted that his tea kettles had been produced in the colonies. He challenged consumers to consider the political ramifications associated with the goods they chose to purchase.

Polock’s advertisement might appear rather simple at a glance, but careful consideration reveals that he inserted several appeals intended to resonate with readers and encourage colonists to consume his merchandise.

August 21

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

Aug 21 - 8:21:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (August 21, 1767).

“Choice London BOHEA TEA, to be sold by Henry Appleton, at £4 10s. Old Tenor by the Dozen.”

Henry Appleton advertised “Choice London BOHEA TEA” in the August 21, 1767, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette. His was one of nearly two dozen paid notices that appeared in that issue, its format distinguishing it from the others. Appleton’s advertisement ran in a single line across the bottom of the third page, extending nearly the width of three columns. At a glance, it could have been mistaken for the colophon printed on the other side of the page.

Why did Appleton’s advertisement have such a unique layout? A few other advertisements were nearly as brief, yet they had been set as squares of text within the usual three-column format of the New-Hampshire Gazette. The brevity of Appleton’s notice alone did not justify its unusual layout.

Who made the decision to treat Appleton’s advertisement differently? Perhaps Appleton, wishing to draw special attention to it, made arrangements with Daniel and Robert Fowle, the printers, to deploy an innovative format. Perhaps the Fowles or someone working in their printing office opted to experiment with the appearance of advertising on the page.

Perhaps neither the advertiser nor the printers put that much consideration into Appleton’s notice. If it had been submitted late or somehow overlooked, running it in a single line across the bottom of the page may have been the result of practicality rather than an intentional effort to challenge the conventions of eighteenth-century advertising.

As far as potential customers were concerned, however, the origins likely would have been less important than the effects. Readers scanning the contents of the issue would have encountered Appleton’s advertisement three times instead of passing over it only once. Its unique format demanded at least one close reading to determine what kind of information it contained, whereas advertisements that conformed to the standard layout did not elicit the same curiosity merely from their appearance.

Even in a short advertisement, Henry Appleton incorporated appeals to price and quality, but the format of his advertisement – whether intentionally designed or not – made it much more likely that consumers would spot those appeals and consider purchasing his merchandise.

August 9

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

Aug 9 - 8:6:1767 Massacgusetts Gazette
Massachusetts Gazette (August 6, 1767).

“A Fresh and general Assortment of English Goods.”

In his short advertisement in the Massachusetts Gazette, William Fisher used “Fine Hyson TEA,” a popular commodity, to attract the attention of readers, but Fisher did not sell just tea “at his Shop in Cornhill near the Post-Office.” Once he had their attention, he informed potential customers that he had also “lately Imported a fresh and general Assortment of English Goods.” To make his merchandise more alluring, he also pledged to charge “the cheapest Rates.” Although brief, especially compared to popular list-style advertisements that enumerated dozens or even hundreds of items, Fisher’s advertisement made several appeals to consumers, including choice, price, and quality.

I chose this advertisement to highlight a recent change in the methodology used for selecting advertisements featured by the Adverts 250 Project. Since the project commenced, every day it has consistently examined an advertisement published 250 years ago that day. When no newspaper had been published on a particular day, the methodology required going back a day to select an advertisement from among newspapers that would have been published most recently in the colonies, a version of consulting the “freshest advices” so often promoted in mastheads of the era. The project resorted to this fairly regularly during the 250th anniversary of the Stamp Act crisis because so many newspapers ceased publication while the act was in effect. After repeal, however, scarcity of newspapers – and advertisements – rarely presented a problem. Colonial printers returned to distributing their weekly publications in the late spring of 1766; that meant that curating the Adverts 250 Project involved working with a much fuller slate of newspapers in the spring of 2016, at least one new publication every day …

… with one exception. No colonial printers distributed newspapers on Sundays. The methodology for selecting advertisements required going back one day. As noted yesterday, the Providence Gazette was the only colonial newspaper distributed on Saturdays in 1766 and 1767. Strict adherence to the project’s methodology meant featuring advertisements from the Providence Gazette two consecutive days every week. Yesterday I celebrated the inclusion of the Providence Gazette in this project. Similarly, the regular inclusion of advertisements from the Georgia Gazette, the only newspaper printed on Wednesdays, has enhanced the project by incorporating yet another newspaper from a smaller city. Yet drawing two out of every seven advertisements from the Providence Gazette seemed to do more than shift the emphasis away from exclusively examining the most significant commercial centers and the advertisements inserted in their more fully developed newspapers. On Mondays and Thursdays, printers in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia issued multiple competing publications, each with a much, much greater array of advertising than appeared in the pages of the Providence Gazette, the Georgia Gazette, and other newspapers from smaller cities and towns. Strict adherence to the project’s methodology meant sometimes passing over important and interesting advertisements.

That prompted an adjustment to the methodology, but only as far as Sundays were concerned. (Keep in mind that Sundays in 1767 correspond to Wednesdays in 2017). The Adverts 250 Project continues to feature an advertisement originally published 250 years ago that day throughout most of the week. However, on the day that no newspapers were published the project now draws from any newspaper published during the previous week. This yields a better representation of advertising from early America. I will continue to consult newspapers from smaller cities regularly, but not at the expense of quite so disproportionately underrepresenting the multitude of publications from Boston, New York, and Philadelphia.

As a result of this modification, William Fisher’s advertisement for “Fine Hyson TEA” and other imported goods found its way into the Adverts 250 Project, displacing a second advertisement from the August 8, 1767, edition of the Providence Gazette. That issue featured only a page and a half of advertising, whereas newspapers from Boston, New York, and Philadelphia usually had at least two pages of advertising and some of them regularly distributed advertising supplements. That being the case, a slight adjustment to the project’s methodology, one that acknowledged its spirit and original intent, seemed appropriate and warranted.

April 17

GUEST CURATOR: Jonathan Bisceglia

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

Apr 17 - 4:17:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (April 17, 1767).

“BEST London BOHEA TEA”

In this advertisement Henry Appleton promoted “BEST London BOHEA TEA.” According to Rachel Conroy at the Museum of Wales, “In the eighteenth century tea-drinking was a highly fashionable activity for the wealthy upper classes.” The idea that a drink initially denoted the elite is not surprising due to the exotic nature of the beverage. Tea was transported from China to England and then to the colonies, a notably long haul. Conroy also states “The most common tea was Bohea, a type of black tea.”

In “Baubles of Britain,” T.H. Breen indicates that tea drinking eventually became popular among a wide variety of social classes. As the eighteenth century progressed, more social classes also began to consume the beverage. To further demonstrate consumption across the classes, Breen brings up the political ramifications of the tea being sold. It became a major “bone of contention” for the colonists because of the new importation taxes on the product as part of the Townsend Acts in 1767. This led to one of the largest boycotts throughout the thirteen colonies and eventually to the dumping of tea into Boston Harbor. This advertisement examplifies how this product was sold far and wide in the colonies.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

In addition to tea, Henry Appleton sold a variety of grocery items and “West India Good[s]” at “his Shop next Door to Robert Traill” in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Although he marketed the tea most vigorously – listing it first, describing it as “BEST,” and inserting a nota bene promising that “The above Tea is warranted of the best kind” – Appleton also sold “Loaf Sugar.” Consumers used sugar for many purposes. Sweetening tea was one of them, making it natural that the shopkeeper advertised the two together.

Jonathan mentions the political controversies that coalesced around tea in the decade before the Revolution. Colonists objected to new taxes and enforcement mechanisms, decrying their loss of liberty at the hands of Parliament. More than any other commodity, historians use tea to tell a powerful story of the imperial crisis that culminated in the American Revolution. In recent years many scholars have widened the scope of that story, effectively linking tea to other commodities associated with it, especially the “Loaf Sugar” that Appleton simultaneously peddled.

Consumers in colonial New Hampshire were fairly far removed from slavery practiced on the same scale as in the Chesapeake, Lower South, and Caribbean. A relatively small number of slaves lived in their towns (including “A likely Negro GIRL” offered for sale in an advertisement in the column to the right of Appleton’s notice), but the economy of colonial New Hampshire did not rely on the cultivation of staple crops on plantations, cultivation made possible by the productive labor of slaves.

Even though that was the case, colonists in New Hampshire were bound up in the system of slavery through commerce and their choices as consumers. The sugar they used to sweeten the tea they coveted resulted from the involuntary labor of enslaved men and women on faraway plantations. The social rituals that emanated from purchasing tea and ancillary goods, such as elaborate tea sets, rested on a foundation of enslaved labor in the cultivation of sugar. Even as Americans clamored for liberty in the face of Parliament meddling in colonial commerce, their consumer choices maintained an economic system that denied liberty to enslaved men and women who produced some of their most valued commodities.

 

March 29

GUEST CURATOR: Evan Sutherland

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

Mar 29 - 3:27:1767 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (March 27, 1767).

“Best GREEN-COFFEE … Choice Bohea TEA.”

In colonial and Revolutionary America, coffee was available, but it was less accessible than tea or alcohol. Unlike tea, coffee had to be ground, which was something most colonists did not have as much time to do. So even though tea was more expensive than coffee, it took more time and labor to make coffee than tea. As a result, many colonists typically did not make coffee at home. Colonists who did make their own coffee showed their wealth when preparing or serving it, showing their privileged status.

Those who were not even able to afford tea turned to coffee substitutes. According to Christina Regelski, slaves made their own substitute coffee using ingredients from gardens such as cowpeas, sweet potatoes, and corn.

Tea also played an important role in the American Revolution. After Britain put stricter laws on imports, tea was taxed. Many colonists decided to boycott tea and give up one of the “luxuries that they had come to treasure.”

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

George Turner sold “A fine Assortment of English GOODS” as well as “Groceries of all Kinds” – including the coffee and tea examined by Evan – at his shop on Queen Street in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. To attract customers, Turner launched some of the most common appeals used by eighteenth-century advertisers, especially appeals to price and quality, but he supplemented them with several others that found their ways into advertisements less often.

For instance, he advised “Town or Country Customers” that they could “depend upon being used as well by sending their Servants, as if present themselves.” Shopkeepers in port cities regularly indicated that they received and faithfully filled orders from customers in the countryside, an eighteenth-century version of mail order shopping. Turner put a bit of a twist on that means of selling his wares. In this case, he acknowledged that customers might send others – their servants – to shop on their behalf. Doing so potentially put customers at a disadvantage in commercial transactions, but Turner assured readers that he would treat fairly with their representatives in their absence. Potential customers need not worry about being fleeced by the shopkeeper when they sent surrogates to make purchases at his store. That he listed prices for several commodities (rum, sugar, coffee, “COTTON-WOOL”), a fairly uncommon practice in eighteenth-century advertisements, left less room for haggling or surprises at the moment of purchase. In a sense, this mechanized transactions by making it irrelevant who was actually present at the exchange.

In addition, Turner also pledged to barter provisions in exchange for “any of the above mention’d ARTICLES, at a Price proportionate to the aforesaid Prices,” even though he previously announced that he sold his wares “Cheap for CASH.” Although hesitant to extend credit, the shopkeeper did not rigidly insist that every transaction required cash. Instead, he provided potential customers an alternative.

Finally, Turner put a unique spin on his appeal to price: “It is needless to say said TURNER will Sell Cheaper than others, as that would be only questioning the Judgment of the Purchaser.” Apparently it was necessary to make this statement, but in doing so Turner turned it into a self-evident statement of fact. He also absolved himself from any possible accusations of wringing inflated prices out of customers by placing the onus on them. If they bought his wares at higher prices than those charged by his competitors, that was the result of their own poor judgment. Any attempt to question Turner’s fairness became an indictment of a customer’s own competence as a savvy consumer.

George Turner created a lively advertisement that merged some standard appeals with several uncommon arguments in favor of making purchases at his shop. At a glance, his advertisement looks similar to countless others printed in eighteenth-century newspapers, but on closer examination it reveals some of the innovative playfulness possible in advertising during the colonial and Revolutionary eras.

February 28

GUEST CURATOR: Samuel Birney

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

feb-28-2281767-providence-gazette
Providence Gazette (February 28, 1767).

“Excellent Bohea Tea.”

This advertisement directed colonists to “the Sign of the Golden Eagle” in Providence to buy a variety of English goods imported from London as well as other goods that passed through London, including Bohea Tea. During the colonial period the colonists heavily invested in the importation of luxury goods and general commodities from London and other territories of the British Empire. The purchase of imported goods from across the Empire showcased colonists’ view of themselves as subjects of the British crown, thereby possessing the same rights as other Britons.

In “Baubles of Britain,” T.H. Breen draws attention to the common language of consumer culture throughout the colonies that helped join the colonists in a common language of complaints and issues regarding the British taxes on imported goods. He draws attention to the Tea Act of 1773, which drew particular ire towards British rule due to the place tea held at the time as a staple of American life, available to “the wealthiest of merchants and the poorest of labourers.”[1] It’s really remarkable how such a simple product could spark the tinder of a socio-political revolution, and turn it into a raging wildfire that could bring about a new nation. I can only liken the colonists’ response to the tax on tea to the response modern day Americans might have if coffee beans were suddenly subject to special taxes.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: Carl Robert Keyes

Joseph and William Russell certainly stocked “a large and compleat Assortment of English GOODS” at their shop, at least according to the full-page advertisement that appeared in the Providence Gazette a week earlier. Most likely the Russells could have depended on readers to remember that advertisement because it had been included in several issues since late November 1766, running for a few weeks at a time, disappearing for a few issues, and then appearing once again. As I have previously suggested, it is not clear if its publication history resulted from directions by the Russells or instead from the printers attempting to fill space when lacking other content or possibly a combination of the two.

Even in the absence of their full-page advertisement, the Russells maintained a presence in the Providence Gazette, regularly publishing shorter advertisements, such as the one featured today, to remind potential customers of the merchandise they offered “at the Sign of the Golden Eagle.” In so doing, they resorted to some of the most common marketing strategies of the eighteenth century – appeals to choice and price – even when they did not provide a list of their wares.

Like many other shopkeepers who placed short advertisements, they selected one product to highlight. In this case, as Sam has noted, they promoted their “Excellent Bohea Tea.” To draw attention to this commodity, they advanced yet another sort of appeal by underscoring its quality. In terms of its “smell and flavor,” the Russells’ tea “exceeds most any ever imported.” That was a bold claim to make, one that virtually challenged readers to purchase this tea and decide for themselves whether such a description was warranted. Without being heavy-handed about it, the Russells also made a nod toward the luxury consumers could expect to experience when they drank this “Excellent Bohea Tea.”

The Russells managed to incorporate multiple appeals – choice, price, quality, luxury – into just a couple of lines of advertising copy. Shrewdly promoting one notable product may have also generated additional foot traffic into their shop, exposing potential customers to the “compleat Assortment of English GOODS” they carried.

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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): 87.