June 9

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

Jun 9 - 6:9:1766 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (June 9, 1766).

“Sattin … Persians … Taffeties … Patches … Callicoes … Bengals … Ginghams … Cherederies.”

When Jane Gillam announced that she stocked “a Variety of English Goods” she was not exaggerating. The shopkeeper named approximately fifty textiles, but that may not have been an exhaustive list. Even if it was, she offered a dizzying assortment of fabrics, especially considering that some fabrics came in multiple colors or patterns.

To many modern readers, this advertisement may seem disorienting. What’s the difference between “Cherederies” and “Garlicks” or between “Callamancoes” and “Ozenbrigs”? Gillam expected eighteenth-century readers – her potential customers – recognized all the variations, but most of the distinctions are likely lost among modern Americans. Fortunately, historians of material culture have created a variety of resources documenting the different types of fabrics that made their way across oceans and into merchants’ warehouses and retailers’ shops.

Advertisements like those placed by Gillam have aided historians in determining which fabrics were available in early America. Consider the subtitle for one of the standard works in the field, Florence M. Montgomery’s Textiles in America, 1650-1870: A Dictionary Based on Original Documents, Prints and Paintings, Commercial Records, American Merchants’ Papers, Shopkeepers’ Advertisements, and Pattern Books with Original Swatches of Cloth (New York: W.W. Norton, 1984).

Initially I set about providing a short description of each fabric in Gillam’s advertisement as described in Montgomery’s dictionary, but I quickly discovered that the distinctions were too numerous and too complicated to do that here. Instead, how about a quick definition of the four textiles listed above, just to get a sense of what colonial Americans knew about textile that most Americans never learn.

Cherederies = Cherryderry (charadary, carridary): “Striped or checked woven cloth of mixed silk and cotton imported from India from the late seventeenth century.” (199)

Garlicks = Garlick (garlits, garlix, gulick, gulix): “A linen cloth first imported from Goerlitz, Silesia. It could be fully or partially bleached.” (245)

Callamancoes = Calimanco (calamande, calamandre): “A worsted ‘stuff … [with] a fine gloss upon it. There are calamancoes of all colours, and diversly wrought; some ate quite plain; others have broad stripes, adorned with flowers; some with plain broad stripes; some with narrow stripes; and others watered.’” (185)

Ozenbrigs = Osnaburg (oznabrig): “Coarse, unbleached linen or hempen cloth first made in Osnabrück, Germany. It was commonly used for trousers, sacking, and bagging.” (312)

As we can see from the descriptions of just four of the fabrics listed in Gillam’s advertisement, colonial consumers imagined different uses for different kinds of cloth. At a glance, they would have made assumptions about which they desired and which they could afford.

May 30

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

May 30 - 5:30:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (May 30, 1766).

“If not disposed of in 10 Days will be repacked.”

This advertisement announced the eighteenth-century version of a “limited time only” sale, a tactic meant to generate interest and prompt potential customers to make a purchase as soon as possible or else miss out on an opportunity.

Today’s advertisement played on scarcity in more than one way. It claimed that the “Beautiful variety of Chinces” that had just arrived from London were “never before exposed to Sale.” This appeal served more than one purpose. It reassured buyers that these printed textiles were not castoffs that did not sell in other markets, but it also made clear that colonists who bought from this shipment would gain something unique. They would be able to make garments and other items that were distinctive. They would be able to set themselves apart from other consumers participating in the same marketplace.

To maintain this sense of uniqueness and scarcity, the seller promised to sell these chintzes for a limited time. Any overstock would not linger; instead, it would be “repacked” and not available for sale. Don’t hesitate, this advertisement warned, or else risk missing out. The sense of urgency may have helped to get potential customers through the door just to see the patterns on the textiles that merited this special treatment.

April 23

GUEST CURATOR: Trevor Delp

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

Apr 23 - 4:21:1766 Boston Evening-Post
Boston Evening-Post (April 21, 1766).

By Benjamin Faneuil, Junr. At his Store in Butler’s Row

Today’s advertisement caught my eye because of the author’s name, “Benjamin Faneuil Junr.” As a Massachusetts native, Faneuil Hall is a place I have always loved to visit and explore. According to Faneuil Hall’s website, Faneuil Hall was first a “home to merchants, fishermen, and meat and produce sellers, and provided a platform for the country’s most famous orators.” Furthermore, it tells how Samuel Adams organized the citizens of Boston to seek independence from Britain and “George Washington toasted the nation there on its first birthday.” Faneuil Hall is a cornerstone of American culture and history. As excited as I was, I could not jump to the conclusion that this Benjamin Faneuil, Jr. was a relation to the prominent Boston Faneuil family name until further researching it.

To start, I looked into the history of the Faneuil name, starting with Peter Faneuil, the merchant who donated Faneuil Hall. According to the Encyclopedia of World Biography, Peter’s father, Benjamin, and two uncles emigrated from France. One of the uncles, Andrew Faneuil, made a name for himself as one of New England’s wealthiest men through trading and Boston real estate investments. Benjamin Faneuil fathered two sons, Peter and Benjamin Jr., and three daughters. Peter worked tirelessly as a trader between Europe and the West Indies, acquiring a lot of money and eventually donating Faneuil Hall. There is little history on Benjamin Jr., except that he married against his uncle Andrew’s wishes, making Peter “heir to most of his fortune.” This means that although Benjamin Jr. did not have the same financial notability that his brother had, he may have had the help of his brother as a merchant. I hypothesize that this would greatly benefit Benjamin Jr.’s business as a store owner and give him recognition among other colonists.

After researching the Faneuil family name I wanted to find the location of Benjamin Jr.’s store to further my understanding of who he was. In the advertisement it reports that Benjamin Jr.’s store was located on Butlers Row. After using Google Maps to find the current location of Butler’s Row, I found that is it bordering Faneuil Hall Marketplace.

Apr 23 - Fanueil Hall on Map
Location of Butler’s Row in relation to Faneuil Hall in modern Boston.

After researching both the Faneuil family name and Butler’s Row, I believe that the author of today’s advertisement was indeed Peter Faneuil’s brother. This advertisement gave me the opportunity to dig deeper into the history of Faneuil Hall and, more specifically, the rich history of the Faneuil family.

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ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY:  Carl Robert Keyes

This advertisement, like so many others, suggests that eighteenth-century consumers spoke a very different language than we do today. Some of this is a matter of non-standardized spelling: “Fyal Wines” most likely refers to wine from Faial, one of the islands in the Azores. Other words and phrases have passed out of everyday usage: “Russia and Ravens Duck, Ticklinburg, Oznabrigs.” What were these?!

Each was a kind of fabric. Today I’d like to examine “Ravens Duck.” The term duck most likely comes from the Dutch word doek, meaning cloth. Considering that Holland was a major supplier of sailcloth in the early modern era, it makes sense that “duck” came to mean a heavy fabric among English speakers. According to Fairchild’s Dictionary of Textiles, sailcloth imported to the colonies was often trademarked for identification: “The light flax sail fabrics imported mostly from England and Scotland bore the trademark stencil of a raven [commonly referred to as ravens duck at the time] while the heavier weights bore the trademark picturing a duck.”[1]

To learn more about this textile, check out “The Great Age of Duck” from the Salem Maritime National Historic Site.

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[1] Fairchild’s Dictionary of Textiles (New York: 1967), 99.

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.

March 14

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

Mar 14 - 3:14:1766 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (March 13, 1766).

“Pink Lutestrings, blue Taffity, white Tabby, Velvets, purple Satten.”

I chose yesterday’s advertisement because it included a visual image, a woodcut of the Sign of the Blue Hand, that helps us to imagine what we might have seen on the streets of a colonial city. Today’s advertisement does not include an image, but it is so descriptive that we can envision the fabrics on display at “the Vendue-House, lower Room, near the Parade,” in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. We can also imagine the garments that many of these textiles eventually became.

Although the list of items for sale seems relatively short compared to other advertisements, it was packed with details that helped potential customers assess the fabrics and distinguish among them. Eighteenth-century readers would have instantly recognized lutestrings and taffity (taffeta) as types of silks, whether they happened to be pink, blue, or striped. Similarly, they would have known the difference in the texture and appearance of tabby weave (also known as plain weave) and satin weave (with a glossy surface and a dull back).

We continue to “speak” a language of textiles (and associate images with them) in the twenty-first century, but not nearly to the same extent as the average colonist did 250 years ago.

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In preparing this entry, I was delighted to come across Burnley & Trowbridge Co., a modern enterprise that “specializes in historically accurate fabrics, notions, patterns, research materials, and related items.” They work with historic sites, museums, and re-enactors. Not surprisingly, they’re located in Williamsburg, Virginia.

I enjoyed exploring their website, where I was able to browse images of reproduction textiles similar to those described in today’s advertisement and view a variety of patterns for making historically accurate garments. I was also interested in one of their education endeavors, the Historic Fashion Workshop Series,” which includes hands-on workshops for “Short Cloak, Pelisse, Mantle or Mantelet” and “The Belted Waistcoat.”

January 2

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

Jan 2 - 1:2:1766 Massachusetts-Gazette Supplement
Supplement to the Massachusetts-Gazette (January 2, 1766)

Ducapes, Lutestrings, Padufoys, Capuchin Silks, Pelong Sattins, Persians, Colchester Bays, Camblets, Russia Duck…

Such an assortment of goods available to purchase in Joshua Blanchard’s shop on Dock Square in Boston!  Throughout the British Atlantic World a consumer revolution was taking place during the eighteenth century.  Potential customers experienced increasing choices as they considered what and whether to buy all kinds of goods.

As this advertisement indicates, early Americans spoke a specialized language of consumption.  Blanchard did not merely indicate that he stocked a variety of textiles and patterns.  He listed them in detail, employing a lexicon lost to most modern readers (so alien that spellcheck indicates the names of many of these fabrics have been misspelled).  Yet savvy consumers would have recognized each of these during the eighteenth century.  Even without glossy images used to market clothing in modern time, this advertisement would have conjured up visions of a variety of textiles for potential customers capable of making distinctions among them.