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Saturday, March 8, 2014

1876: The Tea Cup Newsletter

I was recently sent a pdf of a piece of history from a long-time reader who knows I enjoy these sort of things... a little no-nothing newsletter from a tea company that it sent out as a promotional thing... back in July of 1876.

Called The Tea Cup newsletter and published by the Oriental Tea Company of #'s 85, 87 and 89 Court St. in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, it notes that it has "The Cup That Cheers, But Not Inebriates."

Boston... how perfect... home of the Boston Tea Party and the beginning of America's throwing off the shackles of British oppression... tax our tea? We'd rather start a war. And... since British tea appears not to be involved, I would imagine that the Oriental Tea Company did rather well for itself in Boston. 

Upon this particular broadsheet, Volume IX (9), No. 7 that was printed at the company's warehouse, it has a queer adage just under the banner, which I think bears repeating:

"Tea! Thou soft, thou sober, sage and venerable liquid,... thou female tongue-running, smile-soothing, heart-opening, wink-tipping cordial."—Cibber.

I like the bit about the female-tongue, and I am quite sure I shall be having happy, horny memories every time I suckle at the proverbial teat of a cup of tea.

Back in 1876 in the US, Japan was still a relatively new entity to the general population, as it had only within the past decade opened up its international borders to let people in to Japan, and to let its citizenry out to visit the rest of the world.

While the usual first glimpse of a Japanese person for anyone in Europe or North America was via traveling circuses, people everywhere were eager to embrace the very foreign culture, even if it meant forgoing all the tea in China for a chance to sample teas from Japan.

Now... while this 1876 broadsheet talks about things Japanese, it calls itself the Oriental Tea Company... so one can assume it does a lot of importing of teas, and does not specifically behold itself to one country's product.

This a stereoscopic photo of the Oriental Tea Company store - the date is unknown but is suspected to be from between 1859-1885. Original source: Robert N. Dennis collection of stereoscopic views. / United States. / States / Massachusetts. / Stereoscopic views of commercial, office and industrial buildings in Boston.
Having said that, let me re-write the data contained within the 140-year-old marketing ploy:

We shall hereafter, for some time at least, devote a portion of our column to selections from Japanese Literature, thinking that such will prove acceptable to our customers, and the public generally.

We are very unfamiliar with the manners and customs of theses strange people, but one whose attention is in the least attracted to their study, finds himself immediately engaged in a vast field of pleasure.

We have selected for a beginning a few fairy stories, which from their quaintness, we think will pleasure our readers. Most of those we shall print are not found published in book-form like our "Mother Goose" and "Rhymes and Jingles," but printed in little separate pamphlets with illustrations, the stereotype blocks of which have become so worn that the print is hardly legible.

These are the first tales that are put into a child's hands; and it is with these and such as these that the Japanese mother hushes her little ones to sleep. Knowing the interest which many children of a larger growth take in such Baby Stories, we shall secure what we are able, and try also to reproduce their illustrations.
Editor Tea Cup.

Very cool... the children of a larger growth of course refers to the adult who enjoys a good story.

This is a screen capture of the former location of the Oriental Tea Company in Boston. Long gone, it seems, with the old buildings torn down in the 1960s for the current Government Center.
As for 'Mother Goose' and 'Rhymes and Jingles' - apparently not every book survives the journey from one century to the next. I've not heard of 'Rhymes and Jingles'.

I do like how the newsletter, for that is really what it is, informs the reader of the form these fairy stories (when did it become more fashionable to only refer to them as 'fairy tales'?) - via the woodblock prints we know as ukiyo-e...

The original tea pot from The Oriental Tea Company still survives, complete with its capacity engraved on the outside, and can be found hanging above a Starbucks... conveniently situated near the tea company's original headquarters. Look around... it's the world's largest tea pot... someone should know where it is. And look... it's steaming.
Anyhow... I'm not going to print or re-print a story here and now... I'll do that tomorrow, complete with a couple of ukiyo-e from whence it came.

In the meantime, please check out THIS site for another story on a great piece of Boston history and the Oriental Tea Company's brilliant promotion stunt. It's related to the giant tea pot photo above!  

Andrew Joseph

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