December 3

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

Supplement to the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (December 3, 1770).

“Any quantity of seedling plants of the different species, can be got ready at a short notice, to be shipped to any Part of the World.”

Thomas Vallentine wanted his clientele in New York and beyond to feel important.  In an advertisement in the supplement that accompanied the December 3, 1770, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, he addressed potential clients as “The NOBILITY, GENTRY, AND others employ’d in botany and gardening.”  The “nursery and seedsman” advised such illustrious prospective patrons that he “collects and keeps for sale, assortments of most kinds of seeds of trees, shrubs, and flowers, produced by this country.”  To further underscore both his own importance and the importance of those who purchased seeds from him, he declared that his “care and assiduity, have been experienced by some of the first personages in Europe and America.”  His clients may have included colonial elites who planted decorative gardens as well as others who participated in transatlantic scientific discourses about the natural world.  At least that was the impression he wanted to give.

To generate greater demand for his services, Vallentine described some of his business practices and offered a guarantee.  He assured prospective customers that he could supply “the largest orders.”  He gave special attention to cones, pods, and other kinds of seeds that were “liable to germinate or lose their vegetative qualities” before customers received them.  To prevent either of those misfortunes, those items were “carefully preserved in sand.”  Furthermore, he pledged that “if any of the seeds he may dispose of should happen to miscarry” then he would “supply the purchaser with an equal quantity of such seeds” free of charge.  That guarantee came with an additional provision; Vallentine provided replacement seeds only when clients had not “sowed and attended as directed by Mr. Philip Miller’s gardeners dictionary.”  In stating that condition, he further described his clientele as gardeners and botanists familiar with a particular publication and the guidelines it provided for raising a variety of plants.

Vallentine also noted that he provided “Any quantity of seedling plants of the different species … to be shipped to any Part of the World” on short notice.  That made the packaging all the more important, but it also testified to the types of clients he anticipated attracting with his advertisement.  Colonists who corresponded with botanists in other parts of the Atlantic world could acquire North American seeds and seedlings from Vallentine and then arrange to have them transported to distant destinations.  As Chris Parsons and Kathleen S. Murphy have described in “Ecosystems under Sail:  Specimen Transport in the Eighteenth-Century French and British Atlantics,” botanists and their correspondents on both sides of the Atlantic invested significant time and effort in devising the best methods for shipping flora from one place to another for further study.[1]  Vallentine did not go into great detail about his methods, but those he did briefly describe in his advertisement made clear his familiarity with best practices in the field.  The “nursery and seedsman” was prepared to serve a specialized clientele.

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[1] Chris Parsons and Kathleen S. Murphy, “Ecosystems under Sail: Specimen Transport in the Eighteenth-Century French and British Atlantics,” Early American Studies 10, no. 3 (Fall 2012): 503-29.