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The trade in cultural goods in late Stuart England: a corpus of newspaper advertisements compiled by Joseph Friedman


This database comprises transcripts of some 14,000 advertisements relating to the trade in cultural goods published in English newspapers between the Restoration in 1660 and the death of Queen Anne in 1714.

Almost without exception the transcripts were made from the remarkable newspaper collection assembled by Charles Burney (1757-1817), clergyman, scholar, and bibliomaniac, or better ‘journomaniac’, which was acquired at his death by the British Museum, and has since passed to the British Library. It was Burney’s ambition to own a copy of every English newspaper ever published, and he very nearly succeeded. Inevitably, however, there are gaps, and wherever possible these have been filled from the collection of Burney’s contemporary and rival, the printer, publisher, and author John Nichols (1745-1826), which was purchased from his heirs by the Bodleian Library in 1865, and has since been amalgamated with the Burney collection, in microfilm form at least, as the ‘Early English Newspapers’ series. All titles in both these collections have been searched for the relevant period.

I first began to explore the world of newspaper advertisements while researching a book on the development of the London house as a centre of private artistic patronage and collecting, soon to be completed and published, all being well, by Yale University Press. I was looking in particular for records of London-based patron-collectors, and of the opportunities afforded them by the market. Nor was I disappointed. On the contrary I found a wealth of otherwise unpublished material.

At first I took a broad, scatter-gun approach, covering some 200 years, from the mid-17th to the mid-19th centuries, but looking at only a select number of newspapers. Later I decided to double back and cover the much shorter period treated here, but in full.

Why did I undertake this lengthy and sometimes back-breaking task? Partly to seek out new material for the book, but partly also for personal amusement. Having been involved in the trade in cultural goods myself, I found it particularly entertaining to see how my predecessors had operated at such an early date and to note the differences, but also the similarities, with the ways of today. I also enjoyed the irony of reading news that was no longer news at all but far-off history, involving people, places, and events that were long since past. There was also a perverse pleasure in studying material that was never intended for use in this way. Many times I thought of the men and women behind the advertisements, and the amazement they would surely have experienced to discover that their words were being combed over by a 21st-century historian. It seemed to me also that there was some kind of retro-active social justice in rescuing these generally modest individuals from obscurity and placing them in the lime-light alongside their more exalted contemporaries. But the principal spur was a growing conviction that the material would be of interest to fellow historians and members of the trade, many of them friends; that for them, as for me, the material would be fresh, not just news that was history, but history that was news.

I had already begun to think about publishing the material in some form when I was lucky enough to be approached by the team behind the present database; and it did not take me long to decide that this was surely the best way to share the material with a wider audience. I am enormously grateful to the team as a whole, but especially to Dr. Richard Stephens and Professor Mark Hallett, whose enthusiasm and encouragement have been an inspiration, and their practical support invaluable. I also wish to place on record my particular thanks to Professor Brian Allen, who, knowing of my work in this area, first introduced me to the project.

But there are others to whom I also owe a very significant debt. Without the work of those pioneering scholars who first revealed the value of newspaper advertisements as a primary source, I would never have turned in this direction. One important figure was the antiquarian Francis Buckley, who in the early years of the past century made his own copious transcripts of newspaper advertisements relating to the fine and decorative arts. Some of these transcripts remain in hand-written or typescript form in the National Art Library, the London Metropolitan Archives, and the Prints and Drawings Department of the British Museum. Others were published by Buckley, notably in Old London goldsmiths. 1666-1706. Recorded in the newspapers (1926); ‘Newspaper advertisements relating to the gold-smiths of Newcastle upon Tyne of the eighteenth century’, Archæologia Aeliana, 4S, II, 132-41; ‘The watch and clockmakers of Northumberland and Durham of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries recorded in newspapers, directories, etc.’, ibid., VII, 57-67. A near-contemporary of Buckley, the antiques dealer Moss Harris, also published information from early newspaper advertisements in Old English furniture (1938), as did Ambrose Heal in The London furniture makers 1660-1840 (1953), and more recently Christopher Gilbert and Geoffrey Beard in The dictionary of English furniture makers (1986). In the field of music, there is Michael Tilmouth’s, ‘A calendar of references to music in newspapers published in London and the provinces (1660-1719)’, Royal Musical Association Research Chronicle, no. 1 (1961), ii-vii, 1-107, and in that of cartography Sarah Tyacke’s London map-sellers 1660-1720. A collection of advertisements for maps placed in the London Gazette 1668-1719 with biographical notes on the map-sellers (1978). A large collection of hand-written transcripts of early newspaper advertisements relating to the print trade, compiled by Dr. Timothy Clayton, was recently made available for digital photography and transferred to CD-ROM by Richard Stephens. Numerous other scholars have also published material derived from newspaper advertisements; some have gone further and made a study of the advertisements themselves, notably R. B. Walker and Michael Harris, the leading historian in this area. Particularly important also has been the recent digitisation of the Burney Collection, which for the first time provides fast and easy online access to scans of the almost 1 million pages of newsprint it contains, backed by software that permits some forms of search.

The present database builds on all these various achievements, and will, I hope, be a useful contribution. As Richard Stephens points out, the Burney search engine produces only mixed results, which is hardly surprising when one considers the vagaries of early typography and the uneven quality of the original newspapers, which in many cases have become degraded with age and, to the eye of the computer at least, illegible. Nor is it possible to search the digital Burney by theme. Although the present database has drawbacks of its own, and is sure to contain its fair share of errors and omissions, it does at least have the advantage of being fully searchable, both by keyword and by theme. As to the latter, I have divided the material according to a select number of categories corresponding, I hope, to the likely interests of potential users, namely: antiquities; architectural decorations; arms and armour; artists’ and craftsmen’s materials; books; carpets; ceramics; clocks and watches; drawings; fans; frames; furniture and upholstery; garden supplies; gems and seals; glass; globes; heraldry painting; household goods; manuscripts; maps; medals and coins; metalwork; musical instruments and scores; naturalia; oriental wares; paintings; plate and objects of vertu; prints; scientific instruments; sculpture; tapestries; textiles; wallpaper. I could have broken down the material still further, and created extra categories, but I did not want to over-tax the patience of the user, or limit the opportunities for chance discoveries, which are, after all, one of the chief pleasures of research.

The approach I took to transcription was to follow the original spelling and to some degree the use of capitalisation; but I drew the line at reproducing such typographical niceties as italics, line-breaks, variations in point size, and the capitalisation of whole words. In the end there is no real substitute for the original advertisements, and for those wishing to examine their visual as well as documentary content, I hope the transcripts will at least serve as useful sign-posts.

If I had to identify the one main discovery I made while compiling these transcripts it would be that the trade in cultural goods was far more extensive and diverse than I had imagined, involving a far greater number and range of goods, people, places, and practices. Although familiar with the transcripts of Buckley, Tyacke, and others, my ideas about the trade were principally based on surviving sale catalogues. But as the advertisements make clear, catalogues survive for only a fraction of the sales that took place at this period, and in many cases catalogues were not produced at all. Advertisements thus provide the main, if not the only record. Even in the case of the book trade, where the survival rate for catalogues is understandably much higher, there are numerous sales that are only known through advertisements. For me personally, the advertisements have completely transformed my understanding of the subject, and I hope they will do so for others.

In the course of the next few months, as the database is updated, I will be adding a group of some 600 extra transcripts which escaped the first cut, while correcting a number of typing errors which somehow slipped through the proof-reading net. I also plan to extend this introduction, taking a closer look at the advertisements and what they tell us, as well as the questions they raise. In the meantime I hope that others will start to mine this material for publications of their own, and that in the longer term we may even see the publication of a similar corpus of transcripts for the period after 1714, which holds yet greater stores of untapped historical data.

Joseph Friedman, September 2011, revised November 2011