Since I began frequenting Harpers Ferry a few years ago, I’ve found an interest in items that were sold/used in the mid-19th century. Antiques… yes, but usually specific to the years between 1830 and 1870. In addition to the narrow span of years, I generally seek out items that would have been used in my neck of the woods… the Shenandoah and Cumberland valleys (based generally on ads that I find in the old newspapers), where the majority of my people were located at that time of the war. As an added bonus, there are times in which I find a vendor who was also a Southern Unionist (the Rohr brothers, for example).
So, what’s the big deal? How does this help us understand the war and the people in the war?
Bottom line… life didn’t entirely stop for the war, and people were looking for goods/wares, or making due with goods/wares purchased before the war. These sorts of things are quiet in the background, but were there, and were relevant to the people living at the time. With that in mind, when I feel compelled, I’ll feature such items.
Take for example, the ad for the Old Dominion Coffee Pot (patented in 1856, by Waite and Sener) that I found today in July 28, 1858 issue of the Virginia Free Press (Charles Town, Virginia).
As the ad states, this pot was innovative in that it required one-fourth less coffee”, resulting in a “more highly flavored beverage” Another advertisement that I located (for the Fahnestock Bros. Store, in Gettysburg, from the Adams Centennial, Aug. 15, 1859), added “You can boil coffee in it for any length of time without one particle of the strength or aroma escaping. Those fond of a good cup of coffee, and at the same time wishing to save one-fourth the expense should call at once and boy an Old Dominion Coffee Pot…”
The Lady’s Home Magazine of Literature, Art and Fashion (May, 1858) offered more detail…
The “Old Dominion” even made it into a bit of an entertaining short story (clearly, a sales’ pitch, errrr, uh… the mid-19th century’s version of an infomercial). Titled “Biddy and the ‘Old Dominion': A Scrap From My Experience Book” (by Mrs. Sallie Jones), the story appeared in Volume XI (Jan. – June, 1858) of Lady’s Home Magazine (aka: Arthur’s Illustrated Home Magazine).
A portion of the story follows…
‘Why, if I were a drunkard, and supplied with such coffee, I would find swearing off from brandy the easist in all the world!’
I could not help laughing out at my good husband’s enthusiasm.
‘What’s the secret? How was it made?’ he inquired.
‘By a new process; or rather, in a new coffee boiler, just invented.’
It’s called the ‘Old Dominion Coffee Pot,’ patented by a Viginian, I believe.’
‘Old Dominion Coffee Pot!’ There was contempt on my husband’s face. ‘That’s a humbug!’
‘Indeed! Who gave you the information? Said I.
‘Harry Wilson. I was talking with him about it only to-day. He says he bought one, and his cook couldn’t do anything about it.’
‘Because she was a humbug,’ said I, a little indiginantly. ‘Do you call this coffee a humbug?’
‘Oh, no, this is the real Simon pure; coffee itself, not coffee’s ghost!’ And Mr. Jones proved his assertion by another satisfactory application to the cup before him.
‘It was made in the ‘Old Dominion Coffee Pot’, I spoke emphatically.
‘Enough said, Sallie, dear! I take back the word.’
Indeed, also as part of a sales pitch (no doubt), the coffee pot was also slyly slipped into casual “conversational exchanges” in print. In a short story in The Atlantic Monthly (Oct. 1859), there was mention of a “peaked and horned headdresses of the fifteenth century” which reminded a young woman of…
an Old-Dominion coffee-pot with wings. How frightful! how uncomfortable! how inconvenient! How could the women wear such things?
The August 15, 1858 issue of Harper’s Weekly laid out all those singing the praises of the Old Dominion…
The same issue also had an ad for the Old Dominion Tea Pot… which, from what I’ve seen, didn’t quite reach the level of popularity as the coffee pot…
Then, in the September 18, 1858 issue of Harper’s Weekly, the coffee pot’s popularity even caused reason (more sly advertising!) to be weaved into verse…
Finally, from the December 4, 1861 issue of the Semi-Weekly Raleigh Register, p. 2, c. 3 (as abstracted from the Richmond Times), we get this mention about using the pot for a form of substitute coffee (it is wartime, after all)… in what appears to be the last gasp (on the contemporary Web, at least) from the Old Dominion Coffee Pot before it disappears from memory…
A friend gives us the result of experiments in coffee-making, which, at this time, may prove serviceable to housekeepers. The ‘”Old Dominion”’ coffee-pot is highly recommended, inasmuch as it makes the beverage clearer and better than any other, besides being economical. Wheat is now much used with coffee, and the following is the way to prepare it: Get some red wheat, (for there is as much difference between white and red wheat as between Rio and Laguayra coffee,) soak it in warm water until the bran or outside becomes a little soft, (a few minutes will suffice,) take it from the water, and parch it as you would coffee; have one fifth as much coffee ready parched, and just as they get done, mix them in a pan over the fire, stirring in at the same time some butter, or, if you prefer clearing at first, some white of an egg; then prepare your mixture in an ‘”Old Dominion,”’ and you will thank us for a good cup of coffee.
Of course, as we saw at the beginning, this coffee pot, famous from ads all across the United States, was easily available from George W. Legg’s “The New Cash Store”, in Harpers Ferry…
*A search for more information on George W. Legg was less than fruitful. I have little doubt that George W. Legg… the merchant, was the same George W. Legg who, in 1860, was on the Harpers Ferry Council, along with known Harpers Ferry Unionists (of course, I had to throw that in) Abraham Herr and Frederick Roeder. After that, the closest George W. Legg to Harpers Ferry that I can find was actually… a miller in Winchester, Frederick County, Virginia (born ca. 1813, in Virginia). This resident of Winchester also had sons in the Civil War… in Co. H (the Fort Loudoun Grays), of the 13th Virginia Infantry. Another George W. Legg (or, perhaps the same one) was listed as being from Mill Creek, Berkeley County, West Virginia… who represented that county in the West Virginia State House of Delegates, from 1872-1873. Was both the miller and the delegate… the same who once sold wares in Harpers Ferry? Perhaps.