Adopt-a-Book 2011, Part 1: The Really Big Tea Party in Boston

Today we begin a series of blog posts highlighting items from our upcoming Adopt-a-Book event, slated for Tuesday, March 29, 2011, at 6PM in Antiquarian Hall.  You can read the entire  Adopt-a-Book 2011 catalog on the AAS website, where you will find descriptions of all 176 items up for adoption this year.

Our first orphan destined for the spotlight is no. 121 in the catalog and is one of the lowest priced items in the event (the prices range from $10 up to $1,500, so we surely have something for everyone!).

121. Oriental Tea Cup (Boston, 1875) $10.

Designed to mimic a newspaper, this advertising broadside promotes a contest that was held in Boston at the Oriental Tea Company.  The firm had a large copper tea kettle hanging outside of their main entrance which acted as a trade sign and drew customers to the store.  Over the years, many customers asked how big that tea kettle actually was – would it hold 60 gallons, or 600?

The savvy business owners decided to hold a contest to estimate the capacity of the kettle and 12,000 Bostonians entered, each hoping to win a chest of tea or coffee, which was the prize offered for the correct answer.  The broadside goes on to describe in great detail the precautions taken to ensure the accurate reading of the kettle, which was made on New Year’s Day.  Scaffolding was built over the sidewalk and roadway to allow judges to pour fluid into the kettle in measured containers.  It is a wonder that the kettle did not come crashing down on the crowd gathered to watch! In the end, eight people guessed correctly that the copper trade sign kettle held 227 gallons, two quarts, and one pint. The broadside is an excellent example of the variety of advertising strategies that developed after the Civil War, as businesses competed for middle class dollars in the growing Northern economy.

In order to adopt this or any other object in the Adopt-a-Book 2011 catalog, please click on the link and follow the directions for “How to Adopt” which are found in the sidebar to the right at the top of the page.  Remember, you don’t have to wait until March 29th to adopt!

Published by

Lauren Hewes

Andrew W. Mellon Curator of Graphic Arts, American Antiquarian Society

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