Porcelain For The Poor: The Material Culture of Tea and Coffee Consumption in Eighteenth-Century Amsterdam

The material culture of tea and coffee consumption in eighteenthcentury Amsterdam

Anne E.C. McCants

Few foodstuffs have influenced the diet and social habits of the modern world as much as coffee, tea, and, to a lesser extent, chocolate. All three of these plant-based beverages have, moreover, enjoyed a more-or-less constant companion in the form of sugar. The rapid spread of the consumption of these commodities across a wide spectrum of social groups worked to re-center the practices of western sociability around the ingestion of a stimulant, ultimately eclipsing the prior centrality of those more soporific elements of bread and wine. It was only within the confines of the inherently conservative realm of religion that the new groceries did not succeed in crowding out the rituals associated with the traditional staff of life. European historians have long agreed that the cultural ramifications of the adoption of hot (sweetened) caffeinated beverage consumption were multifaceted and significant. The economic significance of this shift has been less widely recognized.

In work I have done elsewhere, I have sought to challenge the dominant view among economic historians that tea and coffee were luxury articles of consumption, limited in their access to only wealthy Europeans, at least prior to the nineteenth century. The particular focus of my work has been to document the experience of the broad consuming public of the urban Dutch Republic, but Maxine Berg has made a similar intervention for the British case.1 This project to expand our understanding of the spread of colonial grocery consumption in the eighteenth century has drawn evidence from a number of different quarters, including: national trade statistics, commodity import volumes when known, falling price levels, the structure of urban excise tax programs, and, of course, the evidence about material possessions generated by the imperfect, but nonetheless quite revealing medium of household after-death inventories. What I want to do here is to explore more fully the objects themselves that were associated with tea and coffee consumption: the cups, saucers, and pots that were imported from Asia for what was at first indeed the highest stratum of the social and economic elite. However, through the twin mechanisms of imitative production techniques (most importantly in the form of locally available Delftware) and increasingly the importation of ever more numerous and cheaper porcelain goods from Asia, the use of ceramic vessels for the preparation and consumption of the

Dutchmen depicted on a seventeenth-century Japanese ‘inferior’ porcelain bottle with Chinese themes, designed for export

Figure 16.1 Dutchmen depicted on a seventeenth-century Japanese ‘inferior’ porcelain bottle with Chinese themes, designed for export.

Source: Japanese bottle, blue glazed ceramic porcelain, made in Hizen Province, Japan, 1651—1700, 19 x 10 x 10 cm. AN40073001. © Trustees of the British Museum.

new hot beverages spread to the broad middle strata of Dutch society and even among the citizen working poor (Figure 16.1).

The tremendous volume of the Asiatic porcelain trade, the rapid development of imitative European industries, and the fragility of earthenware objects themselves suggest that we need to rethink our economic history of consumption to accommodate the sweeping transformations of material life and social behavior brought about by the introduction and diffusion of tea and coffee drinking in early modern Europe. The British East India Company alone imported nearly 1—2 million ceramic pieces annually by the early eighteenth century, while the Dutch East India Company was at the same time fielding more than twice as many ships as the British.2 Meanwhile, the expected useful lifespan of these objects was considerably shorter than the metal, or even wooden, wares that had preceded them.3 Of course, hot beverages, especially acidic ones like tea, coffee, and chocolate, are not well served by the older materials. Not surprisingly, then, the turn toward the consumption of colonial beverages was accompanied by a fundamental shift in people’s possessions. To the extent that tea and coffee consumption had a significant impact on not only the habits and tastes of a small (but much catered to, painted, and written about) elite but also on those of a wide swath of the European public, it should be evident in the material record they left behind.

The meteoric rise in the popularity of the colonial groceries concomitant with the increasing European domination of global trade networks across the seventeenth and especially eighteenth centuries, and the socio-economic breadth of their addictive reach, both suggest that they are deserving of the prominent place they have come to occupy in the historical imagination.

My work here supports this re-evaluation of the material culture of colonial beverage consumption in the period prior to the nineteenth century by rejecting the classification of ceramic vessels as exclusively luxury goods. Evidence has already been mustered that argues for both the broad appeal of tea and coffee, and the sugar necessary to sweeten them, and more importantly, of the willingness and capacity of a wide variety of households to incorporate this consumption into their budgets. Here, I will show that for many households, even of quite modest means, it was likewise important to be able to serve these beverages from new kinds of vessels that were both more decorative and novel than what they had drunk from before, but also more fragile and ephemeral. To this end, evidence mined from a number of after-death inventory studies will be presented to show that tea and coffee cups were owned by a wide spectrum of northwestern Europeans, even those living in declining economies or in individually straitened circumstances. I will also consider some evidence of very small-scale retailing of colonial commodities as it is revealed in after-death inventories from the city of Amsterdam.

Inventories with porcelain

Household inventories, drawn up at the death of a household head by either a privately hired notary or a bureaucratically interested civil servant, present historians with a wealth of both information and unanswered questions. The translation between a stock of goods left in situ following what would certainly have been a momentous (and often disastrous) occasion in the life of a household, and the consumer behavior of that household during its normal course of existence, is neither obvious nor straightforward. Goods can be acquired through inheritance, or from the second-hand market, thereby negating a direct link between objects found in inventories and the production and purchase of new goods. Likewise, goods, once purchased, are all too easily dispersed. Perhaps, they are turned into desperately needed cash through resale or at the pawnshop; or they are hidden from public inspection to avoid taxation or redistribution. Such centrifugal forces would be especially rife in the critical period leading up to and following the death of a household head. Moreover, people are notorious borrowers and sharers, especially among the lower ranks of society where material goods are likely to be relatively scarce. What we find in a household after the fact of its demise may represent only a fraction of the goods that were actually available for its use in its heyday, given the many possible networks of community reciprocity within which it (ideally) operated. All this notwithstanding, however, after-death inventories represent a most remarkable window into the daily life of the early modern household. They allow us to gain access to the otherwise unknowable physical

Porcelain for the poor 391 environment in which people across the social spectrum lived and worked. Moreover, because there is no plausible scenario under which households would have had an incentive to fraudulently add items to their possession just for the purposes of padding the inventory, what we find in the after-death inventories can be safely interpreted as yielding at least a minimum indication of the material world inhabited by the decedents and their households near to the time of their death. It is significant then that, on the particular subject of colonial beverage consumption, the available inventory data offer a strong corroboration of the existing trade volume and price evidence already reviewed above. Indeed, these inventories leave little room for lingering doubt that the consumption of tea and coffee was anything but widespread by the middle decades of the eighteenth century, if not in fact earlier.

As with the trade in colonial beverages, the acquisition of horticultural knowledge, and the diffusion of coffee (if not tea) cultivation throughout the tropics, we must once again look to the Dutch as precocious leaders in the consumption of these goods and in the manufacture of their accessory objects. The Delft pottery makers (Asiatic imitators all) were notoriously attentive to changes in the market. The industry emerged in the 1620s, making plates, bowls, and the like - that is, ordinary serving wares but of extraordinary fabrication and design. They produced their first specialty covered sugar dish in 1657, followed soon thereafter in 1666 by the first teapots and teacups. Delft coffee wares were not manufactured until the 1690s, mirroring precisely the moment when coffee beans achieved a regular presence on the Amsterdam wharves. These early Delftware specialty items, like their gold, silver, and Asiatic porcelain predecessors, were indisputably showpieces for the very rich.4 An inventory dating from 1639 made for a wealthy household residing on Leiden’s upmarket Rapenburg Street reveals the first Dutch ‘sugar pot’ to make an appearance in such a document, while a fellow resident of that same street was the possessor of the earliest surviving teapot recorded in an inventory, this one drawn up in 1673.5 A study of 70 bourgeois and courtier inventories found in the Notarial Archives of the Hague, dating between 1660 and 1700, reveals the earliest evidence of bourgeois ownership of a teapot (porcelain in this case) in that city in an inventory of 1685, followed three years later by another bourgeois inventory containing 28 coffee cups and a Japanese porcelain coffeepot. The following year, in 1689, an inventory from the provincial capital of Groningen records the first evidence of coffee wares in home use from an inland region of the Republic. However, these remain examples of rarity. Only 17 per cent of the 89 seventeenth-century inventories collected so far from the well-to-do citizens of the Hague and Leiden reveal any specific evidence of tea and/or coffee drinking.6

This was soon to change, however. The first few decades of the eighteenth century were witness to a process of social diffusion that, once begun, proceeded with remarkable speed. Even a cursory review of the now numerous, and disparate, community studies of material culture based on after-death inventories presents us with a composite picture in remarkably sharp focus. Van Koolbergen’s study of the small industrial city of Weesp (15 kilometers northwest of Amsterdam with approximately 2,500 inhabitants working primarily as beer brewers, gin distillers, and linen weavers, and as farmers in the immediate hinterland) finds no tea or coffee wares to speak of before 1700, but by the close of the 1730s, nearly 100 per cent of the inventories include at least one item relating to the consumption of these goods.7 This study evaluates 318 inventories recorded between 1640 and 1789, with approximately two-thirds of them falling after 1700. They include representation from three social classes (as determined by van Koolbergen on the basis of burial tax classification, presence of capital goods in the inventory, residence type, and occupation of the household head among other things). Not surprisingly, though, given their primary origins in the Notarial Archives and the Orphan Court records, the inventories seriously under-represent the poor (the so-called pro Deo tax class), by approximately 85 per cent relative to their presence in the total population.8 Nevertheless, for those among the poor whose households were inventoried, there can be little doubt that tea and coffee drinking had become an established part of their home life before the middle of the eighteenth century. For their social betters, there is no doubt whatsoever that this was the case.

A similar picture emerges from Dibbits’s comparative study of material culture in the South Holland coastal fishing village of Maassluis, and in the inland Hanseatic fortress town ofDoesburg, situated at the juncture of the Oude IJssel and the IJssel rivers in a part of Gelderland known as the Achterhoek. While a place like Maassluis fits clearly into the larger picture historians have developed about the maritime economic vibrancy of the Dutch Golden Age, Doesburg, on the other hand, had reached its commercial zenith in the Middle Ages. By the time of the Republic, Doesburg served primarily as a border garrison town and a regional distribution center for specialized craftsmen and retailers. It looked eastward toward the continent at least as much as it did westward toward the feverish activity of the Holland ports. Yet Dibbits finds no particular difference in the speed of assimilation of the material artifacts of coffee and tea consumption between the two locations. She concludes of both places that by T750 coffee and tea wares were altogether commonplace.’9 Once again, and in keeping with a standard reading of the social stratification of the early modern Netherlands, the inventories have been divided between three social classes. All three groups contributed (more or less quickly and numerically as expected; that is, the richest were earliest and had the most, and the poorer followed with slightly less) to the early eighteenth-century diffusion of tea and coffee wares. However, as with van Koolbergen’s work, the category of the ‘poor’ (she uses the term minvertnogenden; that is, of little property) remains somewhat suspect if truly widespread diffusion is the phenomenon we wish to document. Although this category includes handworkers, fishermen, domestic servants, soldiers, and day laborers, it also includes all those whose property evaluation at death totaled up to 2,000 guilders, a rather handsome sum in the context of the working poor.10

Before pursing the problems of social class more directly, it is worth taking a look at two cities, Delft and Antwerp, both of which were in decline and both of which are well documented. Wijsenbeek-Olthuis, in her path-breaking study of economic decline in Delft over the course of the eighteenth century, examines 300 inventories, distributed evenly between the five clas-sificatory groups for the burial tax (from the pro Deo to the very rich), three quarter-century time periods (1706—1730, 1738—1762, and 1770—1794), and four household composition/life cycle groups. She documents very clearly the general process of impoverishment that affected Delft over the course of the eighteenth century, a process characterized by both relative and absolute population decline, deindustrialization, and both reductions in and redistributions of personal wealth holding as revealed in the after-death inventories. Despite these negative trends, however, the evidence for tea and coffee consumption rises markedly between the first and second quarters of the eighteenth century.11 Her argument that ‘changes in the material culture’ are more ‘due to trends in fashion rather than to impoverishment and the use of alternative products’ is compelling.12

Moreover, a similar phenomenon can be found to have taken place in contemporary Antwerp, a city marked by a truly spectacular fall from the apex of international commerce in the latter part of the early modern period. Blonde and van Damme argue that despite the transformation of Antwerp from a great commercial center to a (minor) regional city employing mostly poorly paid textile workers, ‘by 1780, the material culture of Antwerp was more colorful, more diversified, and more vulnerable to changing fashion trends than it had been two centuries earlier.’13 Tea and coffee consumption formed just one component of this larger process, albeit a noteworthy part. The authors evaluate 254 probate inventories collected from the city Notarial Archives, dividing them into six social categories on the basis of the number of rooms recorded in the inventory itself, ranging from 1 to in excess of 16. This is an extremely useful metric as it allows for a more objective treatment of the social distinctions between households which made it into the inventory sample, while simultaneously circumventing the otherwise intractable problem of our inability to make fine economic distinctions based on the burial tax system (the poorest tax class, that is the pro Deo, which paid no tax at all upon burial, typically encompassed between 50 and 80 per cent of the urban population, depending on the particular town or city in question, a group so large as to obfuscate much of the economic variation we wish to study). Of the 86 Antwerp inventories dating from 1680, none of them, regardless of social class, had equipment for making tea or coffee, although 18 and 40 per cent of the 12—15 and 16+ room households, respectively, in that year did have equipment for making hot chocolate. By 1730, this picture had changed radically. Almost 60 per cent of even the one-room households could make tea at home, rising to 100 per cent of the most spaciously accommodated. Tea usage moved ahead of hot chocolate in every social category. Coffee equipment did not advance quite as far by 1730, but nearly caught up with that for cocoa. By 1780, both tea and coffee were everywhere ahead of hot chocolate, which among the one- and two—three-room households was still limited to only a very small minority.14 Not surprisingly, their study also documents an accelerating increase in the number of new purveyors of tea, coffee, and chocolate throughout the 1740s, followed thereafter by more gradual increases in the number of new establishments. Over the course of the eighteenth century, tea and coffee retailers accounted for between 5 and 10 per cent of all new entrants into the Antwerp mercers’ guild.15 Thus, in spite of the radical restructuring of the local economy and the forfeiture of direct participation in global commercial exchange, Antwerpers from across the social spectrum had become regular consumers of colonial beverages at just the same time as their more prosperous northern neighbors.

The Orphanage inventories

A skeptic might still be entitled at this point to harbor lingering doubts about the true social representativeness of probate inventories culled largely from the privately contracted-for services of notaries. After all, the expertise of a notary was not without cost, and families or other heirs would have arguably avoided incurring such costs unless property was worth fighting over.16 What is needed to confirm the picture emerging so far is evidence not tainted by the possibility of such an obvious self-selection bias. My own study of 912 probate inventories drawn up by the regents of the Amsterdam Municipal Orphanage (Btirgerweeshuis, hereafter BWH) following the death of either a former orphan without direct heirs or a parent of a newly admitted orphan provides just such a source. The regents of the Orphanage required that inventories be drawn up for the estates of all citizen decedents leaving minor children to be cared for at municipal expense. They did this with a view to assessing the ability of those estates to contribute to the costs of maintaining the orphaned children in the institution. Thus, even the deceased parents of very poor children were evaluated, so long as they were citizens of the city and their children were eligible for residence in the BWH. As a result, this collection represents an unusually broad spectrum of the citizen working poor as well as petty shopkeepers and craftsmen of the city. While the archive contains close to 1,500 inventories, the sample reported on here is composed of only those dated between May 1740 and April 1782.17 A limited number of non-systematically collected orphan-household inventories have also been found which date from the latter half of the seventeenth and the early decades of the eighteenth century. Although these earlier inventories are not nearly as detailed nor are they as complete in their coverage of all households associated with the BWH, they do allow at least a glimpse at the development of colonial beverage consumption over the longer time period under consideration here.

Admittance into the BWH was open to all fully orphaned children whose parents (both of them individually) had held citizenship in the city of Amsterdam for at least seven years. There is, however, plenty of evidence to suggest that, as in many early modern communities, the well-to-do did not avail themselves of these public services, but rather found ways to care for their orphans within their own kin networks.18

The immigrant underclass was, on the other hand, excluded by the combined rules of citizenship and longevity. So, it was that the BWH could understand itself to be primarily an institution catering to those of the middling sort. The inventories themselves can tell us more clearly exactly what that meant.

Somewhat surprisingly, given the BWH Kegent’s own conception of their charitable mission to the burgerij, that is, the respectable middle class of the city, the population that actually found its way into their bookkeeping was by any absolute measure a poor one. During a period in which the BWH itself spent 150 guilders per annum to care for each child, the median household associated with the institution had total assets at death amounting to only 69 guilders (dropping to 52 guilders if the 133 inventories recording no possessions are factored in with a value of zero).19 Once the outstanding debts of the deceased are accounted for, the median household actually had a negative net worth. Yet some types of households were consistently poorer even than others. Male decedents enjoyed greater assets than did female decedents (with median assets of 62 and 47 guilders, respectively), although they also tended to incur more and higher debts20 (Table 16.1). This itself was a sign of men’s greater economic activity in a society where bills were typically only settled at long intervals. But even greater disparities are evident across household types than can be captured by gender alone. Married couples, regardless of whether they entered the BWH books at the death of the husband or the wife, enjoyed substantially greater assets than any other group. The contrast with widows is especially great, with the experience of widowers falling in between. Even those who had never married (by necessity here, all former orphans) had higher median assets than did the widows. The median household assets of married couples were 81 guilders compared to 52, 31, and 64 guilders for

Table 16.1 Distribution of the Amsterdam BWH inventories by gender of decedent and net worth21

Males

Females

Total

Positive net worth - N

109

143

252

Column percentage

26.6

28.5

27.6

Median net worth (guilders)

69.4

77.8

76.0

Negative net worth — N

251

276

527

Column percentage

61.2

55.0

57.7

Median net worth (guilders)

-3.5

-42.7

-54

Incomplete - N

50

83

133

Column percentage

12.2

16.5

14.6

Median net worth (guilders)

Not recorded

Not recorded

Not recorded

Note: Those with incomplete inventories are the so-called per tnemorie records. Typically, the family information, location of the residence, the date of the bookkeeper’s visit, and the signatures of the relevant surviving family members were still recorded in the usual fashion. What is missing is the list of household belongings (presumably there were none) and the debts remaining to be paid (presumably there were more than enough of these).

widowers, widows, and the never-married, respectively. Moreover, this result is not simply an artifact of age at death. The median age at death of the inventoried subjects does not vary systematically across the wealth categories nor do the median asset figures for the various demographic groups change perceptibly when controlling for age at death.22 The real relative strength of households headed by two adults should not be terribly surprising; however, given that for almost all of these families, the main source of total household assets resided in the movable goods themselves and intact households tended to be larger with more possessions than broken households, regardless of the age of the household head. Yet it is worth remembering that both widows and widowers had at one point been in such households, so there must have been some process by which they disacquired material possessions following the death of their spouse. Indeed, despite these local differences between

Table 16.2 Frequency of possession and number of selected goods, Amsterdam BWH inventories, 1740—1782

N

%of

inventories

Goods per inventory

Mean

Median

Max.

Total inventory entries

805

88.2

61.2

52

293

Total individual goods

805

88.2

218.5

134

8,129

Beds (all kinds)

652

71.5

1.8

1

14

Cupboards/wardrobes

575

60.3

1.7

1

10

Tables

577

63.3

2.2

2

15

Tea tables

66

7.2

1.2

1

2

Spoons

452

49.6

6.8

6

40

Forks

48

5.3

4.6

4

15

Beer cans/glasses

241

26.4

1.3

1

11

Delftware

492

53.9

4.1

2

73

Pewter wares

475

52.1

15.1

12

82

Pewter plates

132

14.5

6.8

6

26

China (porcelain)

341

37.4

29.0

11

412

Japanese porcelain

15

1.6

11.3

5

68

Coffee wares

482

52.8

7.4

2

199

Tea wares

360

39.5

4.5

2

94

Teapots/infusers

422

46.3

3.0

2

23

Coffee and tea (comb.)'1

533

58.4

9.8

3

206

Sugar bowls, etc.

74

8.1

2.6

2

10

Chocolate wares

25

2.7

5.7

5

33

Pepper wares

189

20.8

1.1

1

7

Salt boxes/cellars

215

23.6

1.9

2

11

Mustard pots, etc.

68

7.5

1.1

1

3

Tobacco wares

317

34.8

2.0

1

17

Paintings

224

24.6

3.8

2

61

Prints

261

28.6

4.1

3

29

Mirrors

529

58.0

1.5

1

10

Tea traysb

344

37.7

3.0

3

18

a Many serving items were used interchangeably, as is confirmed by the 55 cases of coffee wares and three cases of tea wares specifically described as for both coffee and tea. Trekpots are not included here.

b These appear to have been wall decorations as well as serving trays.

the various types of families associated with the BWH, the overall sample actually occupied a fairly narrow approximate range between the second and fourth deciles of the larger distribution of social standing (estimated by a combination of housing rents, assets at death, the city income tax records, and citizenship status) in eighteenth-century Amsterdam.23

Tables 16.2 and 16.3 provide an overview of a select group of items and their frequency as found in the households that fell under the purview of the Orphanage’s bookkeeper. What is immediately striking about the data is the absence of even basic goods in many of these homes. Nearly 15 per cent of the households examined did not have so much as a single possession recorded. Admittedly, the bookkeeper may have overlooked items he deemed of so little material consequence as to be not worth his effort to record. Nonetheless, the paucity of goods and the pathetic descriptions of some of the enumerated inventories suggest that the cut-off standard for non-reporting was very low indeed.24 We can be fairly confident that people listed with no possessions were in fact people with not much more than the shirts on their backs. For example, just over 3 per cent of the population actually died in municipal

Table 16.3 Frequency of possession of selected goods by marital status (percentages)

Married

Widowers

Widows

Singles

% with inventory entries

92.4

83.6

80.1

98.9

Median number of entries

(65)

(49)

(47)

(29)

Median number of goods

(184)

(112)

(122)

(94)

Beds (all kinds)

87.4

69.6

71.1

26.4

Cupboards/wardrobes

80.6

59.7

59.2

29.9

Tables

81.3

57.7

62.7

20.7

Tea tables

7.9

6.5

7.2

6.9

Spoons

66.5

43.8

48.0

14.9

Forks

5.8

6.5

4.6

3.4

Beer cans/glasses

34.2

26.4

24.9

8.0

Delftware

71.6

44.3

53.2

23.0

Pewter wares

67.3

48.8

49.4

21.8

Pewter plates

17.6

19.4

11.3

5.7

China (porcelain)

50.7

34.3

32.1

20.7

Japanese porcelain

1.8

2.0

1.1

2.3

Coffee wares

70.9

46.8

49.7

21.8

Tea wares

51.1

35.3

38.7

14.9

Teapots/infusers

61.1

42.8

42.2

23.0

Coffee and tea (comb.)

76.6

51.2

55.2

14.1

Sugar bowls, etc.

11.1

8.0

6.4

4.6

Chocolate wares

5.6

3.5

2.0

1.1

Pepper wares

28.1

19.4

19.1

6.9

Salt boxes/cellars

29.9

25.4

23.4

8.0

Mustard pots, etc.

10.4

8.0

6.4

1.1

Tobacco wares

45.3

35.8

28.6

23.0

Paintings

31.6

24.9

22.8

8.0

Prints

38.8

25.9

26.0

22.6

Mirrors

77.1

52.2

54.9

20.7

Tea trays

54.0

30.8

34.1

16.1

care at either the Pesthuis (hospital) or the Gasthuis (old person’s home), and most of these were listed (and appropriately so) as having no possessions. Nearly 30 per cent of the inventories reveal households with not so much as a bed, or a piece of storage furniture, be it even so simple as a basket. In such a context, it is somewhat amazing that over half of the households possessed at least one item for the making of coffee (and slightly less so for the explicit making of tea, although there was a fair degree of interchangeableness here, especially for serving wares). Chocolate was a luxury almost unheard of in this population, with less than 3 per cent of the inventories listing specific goods associated with its preparation for drinking. This is entirely consistent with what we know from the qualitative literature on colonial beverages, which consistently regards chocolate as a real luxury in comparison to tea or coffee. Its near absence here is thus another indication that the BWH sample of inventories really is drawn from the poor end of the citizen spectrum.

Delftware cannot be counted accurately because so many of the inventories enumerated this item with the terms ‘small amount’ or ‘some.’ The number of books found in the inventories may also be suspect on account of this problem, although it was not as prevalent as for Delftware. Those entries that were given imprecisely, but in the plural, were assigned a quantity of‘2’ for the purposes of the calculations here.

A seemingly less-expected result, especially given the strong tradition of commercial brewing in Dutch economic history, is the relative scarcity of households reporting specific drinking vessels for beer (either the bierkan or the bierglas). A scant quarter of all households had one or more of these items, and even among married heads of household, the incidence rises only to one-third. Of course, people could consume beer in a wide variety of vessels, not all of which need have been identified for that specific purpose. Even if we expand the category to include all generic glasses (that is, items listed as glas and kan without bier as the prefix), the incidence rate moves only slightly upward to 30 per cent. What should we make of such low inventory numbers, knowing that beer continued to be an important source of grain calories for the poor throughout the eighteenth century?25 One likely factor is that beer can be consumed without the benefit of single-purpose glassware. Thus, the general poverty of this sample might be reflected in the inability to acquire specialized accessories. A more interesting possibility, however, is that we are seeing the culmination of a trend that historians of Dutch material culture have already located in the seventeenth century, namely the systematic substitution of fine earthenware for copper and especially pewter objects, a trend that Harm Nijboer sees as part of a ‘shift from hoarding towards consumption.’26 This broader decline in pewter ownership as a medium for storing wealth, and the simultaneous shift toward object acquisition for its decorative or functional use, seems to be well in evidence in the Orphanage population. If we consider the distribution of the remaining specified beer-drinking vessels across demographic groups, especially in comparison with the comparable rates for tea and coffee ceramics, it is possible to discern ownership for use rather than ‘hoarding.’ For every kind of drinking vessel, households with a married head enjoy the highest rates of ownership. However, the rank

Porcelain for the poor 399 ordering of widows versus widowers switches between beer and caffeinated beverage accessory ownership. Widows were less likely than their male counterparts to own specific items for drinking beer, but more likely to possess specific items for drinking or making tea and coffee, accurately reflecting the gendered nature of the two kinds of sociability. Overall rates of pewter ownership remain comparable for both male and female elderly, but beer cans and glasses specifically find more room in the inventories of men than women. It seems that the much-discussed eighteenth-century transition from alcohol to caffeine as the drug of the people was indeed a phenomenon led first by women.

These gender differences aside, the high incidence of coffee and tea wares among the whole Orphanage population is entirely consistent with the argument that coffee and tea were no longer luxury commodities by the middle of the eighteenth century. But it is hardly definitive proof of that fact. In order to verify that the households with these goods represented more than just the wealthiest half of the inventoried population, it is helpful to assess the financial profiles of households sorted by their ownership of a variety of goods, not just tea and coffee wares. Table 16.4 reports a rank ordering of the wealth profiles of a variety of household groupings, determined by the presence of particular items in their inventories. The poorest grouping consists of those households that did not own so much as a bed or mattress. These 260 households had a median asset value of a scant 0.5 guilders. By contrast, the 650 households that did own a bed or mattress enjoyed substantially higher median assets of81.3 guilders. The list continues from this point in ascending order of the median asset values associated with the different groupings of the households. (For reference, the full distribution of total assets is given for all 910 valued inventories at the bottom of the table.) Obviously, the rank order of any particular item of material culture depends somewhat on the arbitrary composition of the list itself. Nonetheless, the indication of the financial position of certain types of households relative to others is illuminating. Not surprisingly, of all the items associated with the consumption of colonial beverages, Delftware has the greatest downward reach, followed closely by tea and coffee wares generally, tea and trekpotten (that is, infusion pots), porcelain, and then (specifically) tea wares.

The so-called trekpotten are numerous and a source of potential confusion. In Table 16.2, 422 households are reported as having had at least one teapot or infuser. But the literal word teapot (theepot) only appears in four of the inventories, two of which date from the late 1770s, one from 1760, and the earliest from 1747. All of the remaining inventories record having at least one trekpot, a word that in modern usage does denote a teapot. However, its original meaning was any pot in which leaves could be infused; that is, steeped without boiling. It could be the case that all of the trekpotten belonging to the inventoried households were in fact already being used primarily for the steeping of tea, regardless of what might have been their usage in an earlier century. But it is worth noting that only 360 households left a record of having possession of at least one item which was used explicitly for the serving or preparation of tea; that is, these households owned items which were prefaced

Table 16.4 Quartile distribution of household assets in guilders (by possession of selected goods and rank ordered by median values)

Households by items owned

N

Household assets in guilders

Qi

Median

QJ

Owns no bed

260

0.0

0.5

29.3

Owns at least one bed

650

31.5

81.3

248.3

Cupboard/wardrobe

571

35.0

87.0

255.0

Delftware

492

42.8

98.9

257.7

Mirror

527

44.0

103.6

276.6

Coffee/tea wares (all)

533

50.9

114.0

319.6

Lakens (Dutch woolen)

487

53.3

116.0

323.5

Pewter wares

476

55.0

119.8

307.0

Teapot/irefepoi

421

58.5

138.8

318.6

Cottons (Asiatic fabric)

213

62.0

142.0

332.6

China (porcelain)

341

62.5

147.0

345.1

Painting

225

53.3

150.0

335.2

Tea wares (not including

360

66.5

165.5

366.1

trekpots)

Hanging cupboard

142

62.0

170.0

362.1

Muslin (Asiatic fabric)

165

79.0

172.1

334.0

Books (all types)

196

79.1

174.1

364.1

Bible

180

99.5

186.0

437.0

Damask (European fabric)

119

87.5

190.0

383.6

Chest of drawers

97

75.0

194.0

451.4

Tobacco wares

222

91.2

194.0

399.1

Cabinet

66

67.0

203.4

388.0

Beer cans/glasses

241

93.5

217.4

470.6

Desk

103

89.0

222.5

591.5

Silver item

226

110.5

223.5

528.8

Tea table

64

63.5

230.8

520.6

Timepiece

170

101.0

236.5

565.1

Silk (Asiatic fabric)

205

110.5

246.5

481.9

Floor mat/carpet

61

131.2

247.2

470.7

Velvet (European fabric)

62

95.0

247.4

548.3

Sugar bowl

74

140.0

268.5

651.1

Fork

48

140.5

272.0

508.6

Chintz (Asiatic fabric)

132

131.1

272.4

601.3

Gold item

112

163.0

283.5

533.7

Chocolate wares

25

150.0

297.6

591.5

Scientific instrument

30

173.5

329.7

807.0

Inkwell

44

239.7

359.1

953.6

N

10%, QI

Median

Q3 90%

95%, Max

Asset profile of all 910

0.0 13.0

52.8

183.3 494.7

863.5 8,127.3

households

with the word thee, as in theekop (teacup), theeketel (tea kettle), or theelepel (teaspoon), to name the three most common examples. An additional 127 households had only a trekpot and no other specifically named tea service items. The presence of the infusion pot would have allowed them to steep tea, but need not necessarily indicate that they did so. Other kinds of leaves, particularly herbs for medicinal purposes, had been steeped prior to the introduction of tea, and this may well have been the use to which at least some of these infusion pots were employed. Much less common (only 66 cases) were the households that had explicit tea brewing or serving equipment, but no trekpot.

Given the cultural hierarchy implicit in the history of the trekpot, it is not surprising then that the households that had specific items for use with tea ranked as wealthier than those with only an ambiguous access to colonial beverage consumption.

Mixed right in among these goods on the asset-ranking list are mirrors, pewter wares, and paintings (in every case with neither subject nor attribution): respectable commodities to be sure, but none of which would have been considered especially rare or luxurious. The households that owned books; silk and cotton chintz textiles; beer-drinking vessels; precious metals; new types of furniture such as chests of drawers, cabinets, and desks; timepieces; floor carpeting; and indeed chocolate wares were much more financially substantial, even if many of these goods do not resonate for historians as particularly exotic or exciting. Given the relative position of the households containing tea and coffee service items when compared with a wide variety of other distinctive types of items, it seems reasonable to conclude that the material culture of colonial beverage consumption was no longer terribly exclusive by the middle decades of the eighteenth century.

Nonetheless, we have good reason to believe that this had not always been the case. The BWH data still need to be incorporated into the larger phenomenon of increasing specialization in consumer wares which took place over the course of the eighteenth century, of which the slow introduction of named teapots in place of the more general trekpotten is but one example. The complete data do not cover a long enough period of time for an extensive investigation into this question, but the archives of the BWH do include a scattering of records of this type from the period prior to 1740. I have found 35 inventories drawn up between 1646 and 1674, and another 13 drawn up between 1700 and 1731. These early inventories are not at all as socially comprehensive as the systematically recorded inventories of the mid-eighteenth century. Rather, internal evidence suggests that they represent only the most prosperous end of the spectrum of households associated with the institution. While they are not all valued consistently, the ones for which asset totals can be calculated indicate that these were households which would have been located comfortably among the highest wealth category of BWH affiliates half a century later. Yet among the seventeenth-century inventories, we find not a single good specified as being for the consumption of either tea or coffee, and only one inventory that lists any kind of porcelain — in this case, a broken cup and one mustard pot. By the turn of the century, however, the picture had changed radically. Of the 13 inventories which date from 1700 to 1731, six, or nearly half, record tea goods of one kind or another, and all but one of those also record coffee wares. The most materially complex of these households (dating from 1731) also includes a special cup for the drinking of hot chocolate. Clearly, by this point in time, the material culture of colonial beverage consumption had begun to penetrate the upper reaches of the segment of society whose children could be found in institutional care following the death of their parents. While the exact parameters of this social segment can only be demarcated in a general way, the timing of the spread of tea and coffee wares into the records of the BWH nevertheless mirrors closely both the trade statistics reported on at the outset of this discussion as well as the probate inventory data collected elsewhere for what were certainly more well-to-do populations.

It is, of course, also possible to look for a time trend in the more complete data from the middle of the eighteenth century onward. A simple first step is to investigate whether there was any change in the density of ownership of tea and coffee wares between the middle and the later decades of the century. Table 16.5 records the same information as Table 16.2 for the colonial beverage items (including sugar pots and beer glasses for comparison), with the inventory data divided more or less in half at January of 1760 (488 inventories were recorded from 1740 to 1759 and 424 from 1760 to 1782). Two minor but opposing trends are immediately apparent. The percentage of households participating at all in the material culture of hot beverage drinking falls, if only very slightly, between the two periods.27 This is true for every item except sugar bowls and chocolate wares, which increased slightly, but of course, the absolute numbers for the latter are very small indeed. Yet at the same time, the size of the collections for those households participating in this material culture was increasing, although not to an extent that rules out the possibility of a result generated by measurement error. It is the case that part of the fall in incidence was due to the increasing percentage of inventories completed for individuals or households that had no possessions whatsoever. In the first half of the sample, only 12 per cent of the inventories are of this type, while that share is 17.7 per cent in the second half. Yet even when we factor out the greater percentage of inventories in the latter period that had no possessions at all, participation in this particular material culture was still less common in 1760—1782 than it had been in 1740—1759. These adjusted percentages can be found in the last column of Table 16.5.

Several puzzling questions arise out of these observations. The most fundamental is concerned with the representativeness of the inventory-making process itself. Perhaps, the bookkeeper’s tolerance for making records of people with either few or no possessions was increasing, thereby leaving a record of Orphanage affiliates who would earlier have gone unremarked. Or perhaps, the population that required the services of the BWH (and managed to become eligible for them) was increasingly drawn from lower levels of the Amsterdam social order than in earlier times. A last possibility is that the larger population of the city was getting poorer, reflecting the general economic decline and financial strain so characteristic of the second half of the century. Enough remains unknown about changes over time in Amsterdam’s wealth and income distributions that it is impossible to fully resolve this uncertainty. Nonetheless, there is plenty of corroborating evidence to suggest that the lower orders of the urban population were in fact feeling more financial strain in the last decades of the eighteenth century than they had previously. Certainly, there can be no doubt about the outcome of these changes for the coffers of the BWH, for indeed, the later inventoried households are both demographically and financially weaker than their peers of only 20 years prior. The share of married couples in the collection falls by

Table 16.5 Frequency of possession and number of colonial beverage goods in two time periods

N

%of

inventories

Mean

Amsterdam BWH inventories

Goods per

inventory

% of inventories with enumerated goods

Median

Maximum

Panel A 1740-1759 (N =

488)

Coffee wares

263

53.9

6.4

2

199

61.2

Tea wares

204

41.8

3.5

2

36

47.4

Teapots/infusers

245

50.2

3.2

2

23

57.0

Coffee and tea (comb.)

296

60.7

8.1

3

206

68.8

Sugar bowls, etc.

35

7.2

2.5

1

10

8.1

Chocolate wares

12

2.5

6.3

4

33

2.8

Del ft ware

274

56.1

2.8

2

45

63.7

China

190

38.9

32.2

12

350

44.2

Beer cans and glasses

136

27.9

1.2

1

7

31.6

Panel B 1760-1782 (N =

424)

Coffee wares

219

51.6

8.6

3

87

62.7

Tea wares

156

36.8

5.8

2

94

44.7

Teapots/infusers

176

41.5

2.7

2

22

50.4

Coffee and tea (comb.)

232

54.7

12.0

4

120

66.5

Sugar bowls, etc.

38

9.0

2.7

2

10

10.9

Chocolate wares

13

3.1

5.2

5

12

3.7

Del ft ware

218

51.4

5.8

2

73

62.5

China

149

35.1

25.4

11

412

42.7

Beer cans and glasses

105

24.8

1.3

1

11

30.1

Panel C Estimation of confidence intervals for difference between proportions in 1740—1759 and 1760—1782

Point difference

Standard error

Lower limit

Upper limit

Coffee wares

0.023

0.03314

-0.04195

0.08795

Tea wares

0.050

0.03236

-0.01342

0.11342

Teapots/infusers

0.087

0.03294

0.02244

0.15156

Coffee and tea (comb.)

0.060

0.03276

-0.00421

0.12421

Sugar bowls, etc.

-0.018

0.01817

-0.05361

0.01761

Chocolate wares

-0.006

0.01099

-0.02754

0.01554

Del ft ware

0.047

0.03307

-0.01782

0.11182

China

0.038

0.03201

-0.02473

0.10073

Beer cans and glasses

0.031

0.02919

-0.02621

0.08821

over six percentage points, while the percentage of never-married almost doubles across these two time periods. Moreover, median household asset values were edging downward over time as well despite the increasing spread generated by the most substantial of the inventories. Yet regardless of the larger economic forces at work behind these numbers, what seems certain is that there was a threshold in the very low reaches of the social order below which it was difficult for the material culture of colonial grocery consumption to penetrate. For even while households above that threshold were clearly increasing their collections of coffee- and teacups, spoons, saucers, pots, tins, and so forth, it is likely that a narrowly increasing share of the households was shut out altogether. It seems likely then that the increasing severe financial hardships of the latter eighteenth century worked to intensify social differentiation, at least as manifested in the capacity of ordinary people to own Asiatic serving wares.

From ownership to consumption

Nonetheless, the evidence yielded by the after-death inventories collected by the BWH leave little room for doubt that many economically marginal (dare we say desperately poor?) citizen households in Amsterdam had incorporated the material artifacts of tea and coffee drinking into their lives by the middle decades of the eighteenth century. But what can we say with confidence about their actual consumption of the beverages themselves? This is, of course, not typically a question for which after-death inventories are well suited.28 Once again, however, we are aided in our quest by the remarkably unusual bookkeeping practices of the BWH. For among the items listed in these inventories, despite being of no further value to the Orphanage (hence they are always listed as per memorie, that is, just for the record), are the as yet unreclaimed pawnshop tickets of the deceased. While these records offer by no means a full accounting of the pawnshop activity of the inventoried population, they are nonetheless suggestive about the kinds of goods that did and did not figure importantly in people’s pawning strategies.

From the total population of 912 decedents, 128 died with (a total of 960) items still at the pawnshop. The majority (61 per cent) of these outstanding pawns were for items of clothing and dress accessories, with another 14 per cent of them for jewelry. Dishes and other kitchenwares accounted for only 12 per cent of the pawns, with even smaller shares taken up by fabrics, bedding, and luxury items such as books or clocks.29 The type of items that are likely to end up at the pawnshop is an outcome of at least two considerations: patterns of ownership of goods and the intensity of use of those goods. Of course, households could only pawn goods they already owned, but they presumably also tried to avoid pawning those items they needed most for daily use. Perhaps, the potential harm that might befall different items at the pawnshop was also a consideration; households might want to avoid pawning items especially susceptible to breakage. The relative dearth of books, timepieces, and other luxury items among this population accounts for their scarcity among the pawned goods, as likewise, the preponderance of clothing in the inventories explains the predominance of such goods at the pawnshop. But dishes and kitchen items are relatively scarce at the pawnshop. In particular, those items associated with the consumption of colonial beverages are underrepresented. No sugar accessories or porcelain of any kind appear among the pawnshop tickets, reflecting both the scarcity of the former, and perhaps the breakability of the latter. But even the more plentiful and less fragile ordinary tea and coffee goods such as cups, boxes, pots, kettles, mills, and spoons are remarkable for their limited presence at the pawnshop. Of the 121 households that did leave pawned items, but did not pawn tea or coffee

Table 16.6 Pawnshop evidence of tea and coffee wares

Panel A: Households with pawnshop tickets for tea and coffee wares“

Year

Decedent

Assets^

Pawned items

Value of ticket1

1740

Married male

82.30

1 tea kettle

2.0

1741

Married female

248.00

Set of 5 Delft cups

  • 3 tea boxes (glass)
  • 14 pairs of teacups/saucers
  • 6 trekpots (probably teapots)

NAC

1741

Married male

101.50

1 tea kettle

4.0

1745

Widower

657.30

2 tea boxes

36.0

1745

Married female

13.00

2 coffee cans

1.25

1751

Widow

102.13

1 coffee can

2.0

1759

Married female

808.08

1 tea box

54.0

Panel B: Financial profile o f households with pawnshop tickets

Household type N

Assets (guilders)

Pawnshop tickets (guilders)

Mean

Median

Mean

Median

All with pawn tickets'1

126

208.5

64.0

33.4

17.9

Pawn tea and coffee wares

7

287.5

102.1

113.4

63.5

Did not pawn tea or coffee

119

203.8

61.8

28.7

16.5

Panel C: Possession o f colonial accessories in households without tea and coffee wares among their pawned items

Type of good

N

(households)

Number of goods

Potential pawn sharee

Mean

Min

Maxi

Delft pottery

89

5.1

1

73

73.5%

Tea and coffee

98

9.2

1

120

81.0%

wares

Porcelain

65

31.9

1

213

53.7%

Sugar pots

13

2.2

1

9

10.7%

a No households pawned porcelain wares of any kind nor any sugar pots.

b Household assets and the value of the pawn tickets are all given in guilders.

c These items were valued together with a number of other household items, including a porcelain chest, a cabinet, and other dish wares, for a total of 46.0 guilders. They were pawned to a private individual as surety for a cash loan.

d Two households are not included here despite having many listed possessions as well as pawnshop tickets because the inventories were not valued by the bookkeeper.

e The potential pawn share represents the number of households which did pawn something, but not tea or coffee wares, but which could have pawned the various items listed above based on their possession of them. Thus, the percentage is calculated by N/121.

goods, 81 per cent of them could have done so based on the presence of such goods in their inventories. Is this in fact evidence that people considered the items required for the consumption of colonial beverages to be essential for everyday use, and thus, despite their often obvious value, not suitable items to deposit on pawn?

One way to think about this question is to look more closely at the few households that had pawned tea and coffee goods. Panel A of Table 16.6 lists the seven households for which this was the case, along with a list of the items themselves and the redemption value of the tickets. As the summary financial information recorded in panel B of Table 16.6 shows, these seven households were quite prosperous by the standards of this population, and the average value of their outstanding pawns was substantially higher than for the much larger group which did not pawn any tea or coffee goods. Moreover, they pawned out of their abundance. All seven of these households had additional, indeed greater than the median number of, tea and coffee goods remaining in their inventories. Presumably, these households could afford to pawn some of their tea and coffee wares without interrupting the rituals of consumption at home. If tea and coffee wares were acquired primarily for the status they imparted as items of display rather than for use, it seems likely that they would have found their way more often into the pawnshop, as we see with other discrete objects of value such as jewelry and precious metal wares. It is, of course, possible that pawn shops themselves were reluctant to take possession of tea and coffee wares, either because the resale market for them was small, or their fragility made them difficult to hold in storage. However, given the evidence presented below about people’s willingness to hold onto and use damaged or broken tea and coffee wares, it seems likely that the second-hand market was in fact a thriving one. It should not have been a major impediment to the pawning of cups, saucers, pots, tea boxes, and so forth, if people had wanted to do so.

The high number of tea and coffee goods described in the inventories as old, chipped, and/or broken is yet another important indicator that the households associated with the Orphanage were indeed consumers of caffeinated beverages. To the extent that porcelain was acquired for purposes of display, it is arguable that the quality of being broken would obviate the value of holding onto the item. However, a chipped or partly broken dish could still be functional. Almost 72 per cent of all households that had porcelain of some kind or another had at least one broken piece. Moreover, most of this porcelain was chipped or broken, because for those households with any broken china at all, nearly 95 per cent of all of their porcelain was described as such. Given the material fragility of porcelain, and the economic fragility of this population, the high incidence of broken dish wares is not terribly surprising, but it is suggestive about the uses to which such dish wares were put. Display seems to have been much less important than use.30

Finally, what direct evidence is there of the colonial groceries themselves? Only six inventories indicate the presence of sugar, six the presence of tea, and nine the presence of coffee. All of these cases appear to be ones in which the commodity in question was part of a stock of ‘shop goods’; that is, they

Table 16.7 Stocks of colonial groceries

Year

Decedent (assets)

Grocery item

Unit price

Value of entry

1741

Married male

200 pondena

@0.3

60 guilders

(1,184)

coffee

  • 20 ponden coffee
  • 30 ponden tea
  • 12 ponden sugar

guild./ pond

@ 1.25 guild./ pond

Valued with other goods

37.5 guilders

Valued with other goods

1742

Married male (516)

Some coffee

Some tea

5 ponden tea

Valued together with thread for 14 guilders

Valued with tea boxes for 7 guilders

1742

Widow (372)

4 tonnen and 50

ponden coffee

  • 3 ponden tea
  • 30 ponden sugar

Valued together with a mill and bins for 41 guilders

1742

Widow (251)

Small amount of sugar

Valued with some meat, beans, meal, gort, etc. for 30 guilders

1745

Married male (651)

Some coffee

Valued with other goods

1751

Married female

96 ponden coffee

@0.3

Valued at 28 guilders

(240)

1 pond tea

guild./ pond

Valued with other goods

1752

Widower (2,770)

Some sugar

Valued with currants tor 6.5 guilders

1758

Widow (595)

Small amount of coffee

Small amount of tea

Valued together with other goods

1760

Widow (864)

  • 1 restandb coffee
  • 2 restand sugar

40 guilders

Valued with meal, peas, gort, soap, salt, etc.

1766

Married male (2/5)

Some coffee

Valued with many other goods

1770

Married male (249)

  • 1 restand sugar
  • 1.5 ponden nutmeg

Valued with currants and candy for 5 guilders

Valued with other goods

1776

Widow (2,541)

220 ponden coffee

@ 0.25 guild./ pond

55 guilders

a Pond = 0.494 kilograms.

b Restand = remaining amount or leftover from a larger stock.

were stocks destined primarily for retail distribution rather than personal consumption. Not surprisingly then, there was a fair degree of overlap in these inventories, with five households stocking tea along with coffee, and some of these stocking sugar as well. Table 16.7 reports summary information on the 12 inventories that held these stocks as well as detailed information on the stocks themselves where available. Clearly, a few of the individuals in this sample were engaged in fairly sizeable retail operations (and these tended to be those who also had considerable household assets), but the majority must have been engaged at a fairly low level. Indeed, in some cases, it would seem that the main activity of the inventoried shop was in other goods, with coffee distribution as a sideline. For example, Dirk Milar, who died in 1766, left a large variety of fabrics in his shop, but also a small amount of coffee beans and a mill.

Additional information on the possession of colonial groceries can also be gleaned from the debt records associated with each of the inventories. In fact, it is here that we find much more evidence of the consumption (and redistribution) of coffee and tea in particular. Sixty-five inventories record debts left outstanding at death for purchases of coffee ranging in value from 15 stuivers to 328 guilders and 5 stuivers. Forty-six inventories record debts for purchases of tea, although generally the amounts seem to have been smaller. The largest debt specifically for tea was only 21 guilders and 10 stuivers (some of this is attributable to the much lower weight of a per-cup quantity of tea leaves than coffee beans, but it also seems to be the case that larger stocks of coffee were purchased at a time). As we would expect from the information recorded among the shop goods, a majority of these cases (38) actually left debts for both tea and coffee. Two of the cases also left debts for sugar, and an additional case had a very small debt for chocolate.

These numbers are still small, however, in comparison with the 533 inventories that listed at least one object specifically used in the preparation or serving of hot beverages. For many of the households in the sample, tea and coffee must have been acquired in very small amounts for relatively immediate consumption and thus do not show up in the inventories. Further evidence of this pattern of purchasing can be inferred from the relatively small size of the majority of debts for tea and coffee. In this regard, they are not at all unlike other everyday foodstuffs that are almost non-existent among the enumerated goods, but show up frequently among the petty debts. Dependence on the local grocer must have been widespread, particularly at the lower end of the economic spectrum. Small-scale retailers, like Aaltje van Dijk, who died in 1751 leaving a stock of 96 ponden of coffee and an additional pond of tea - located as she was in the low-prestige Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC) warehouse district of the Eastern Islands — must have been well situated to fill that need. Given the crowded and damp conditions of most low-rent dwellings in Amsterdam, concomitant with the proximity of small retail establishments, it would hardly have made sense to act otherwise. Indeed, it seems likely that many poor households that may have consumed tea and coffee from time to time could do so only in retail establishments because they simply did not have the equipment at home to do otherwise. Fortunately, for them, they did have neighbors, who were also proximate in social distance, who could fill that need.

Conclusion

All of the evidence presented here points to the increasing consumption of colonial beverages, and their closely related material culture of ceramics, broadly across the social spectrum. Moreover, the disparate sources of evidence reassuringly point in a common direction. The widespread diffusion of a new cultural behavior is entirely consistent with the following documented phenomena: the dramatic increase in VOC and East India Company shipments of tea and coffee into Europe — not to mention the well-documented expansion of their powerful European complement, sugar; the geographical spread of bean and leaf cultivation among Dutch and English colonial possessions; the expansion of independent small-scale producers alongside the colonial plantation systems;31 the secular decline of prices at European ports; the rapid and extensive spread of the artifacts associated with hot beverage consumption in after-death inventories drawn up in both urban and rural communities, both at the coast and at more inland locations; the emergence of local industries, first in Delft, then in England and elsewhere on the continent, to imitate the Asian manufactures associated with the preparation and service of hot beverages; and the seeming reluctance of households to part with their tea and coffee goods, even when broken, despite the temptation of their cash value at the pawnshop. These are not the likely attributes of a trade catering to a ratified and luxurious habit restricted to only a small elite.

The evidence drawn from the after-death inventories of the Amsterdam Municipal Orphanage is particularly compelling in this regard. As the household asset ranking by evidence of material possessions indicates, the consumption of colonial beverages really did extend well down into the lower reaches of society, just as many social commentators had asserted. It is perhaps not surprising that such things as timepieces, jewelry made from precious metals, and scientific instruments would only be accessible to the wealthiest of decedents. But tea and coffee wares seem to have enjoyed a wider distribution than even simple books or the Bible. They certainly were more accessible to the lower sorts than the other commodities being brought into Amsterdam by the VOC in prodigious quantities, particularly Asian textiles such as silk and cotton chintz. Perhaps, the relatively different extent of the social depth of these two markets reflects the presence of suitable, if not as desirable, alternatives for the textiles. Light woolens continued to be worn in great quantity in the eighteenth century, and there were cotton and linen alternatives that were much less expensive than chintz. But in the case of colonial beverages, once someone was hooked on the sweetened and caffeinated brews, it was hard to find a substitute at any price. The meteoric rise in the share of VOC activity devoted to the transportation and ultimately cultivation of tea and coffee, both goods that began the seventeenth century with no market identity whatsoever, is certainly strong testimony to this fact.

Notes

1 Anne E. C. McCants, ‘Poor Consumers as Global Consumers: the Diffusion of Tea and Coffee Drinking in the Eighteenth Century,’ The Economic History Review, 61.SI (2008): 172—200; and Maxine Berg, ‘Britain’s Asian Century: Porcelain and Global History in the Long Eighteenth Century,’ in The Birth of Europe: Culture and Economy, 1400—1800, Essays in Honor of Jan de Pries, ed. Laura Cruz and Joel Mokyr (Leiden: Brill, 2010), 134-156.

Berg, ‘Britain’s Asian Century,’ 141.

Hann Nijboer, ‘A Product for “Feasting the Eye and Ostentation”: The Market for Dutch Porcelain,’ in Pretty Dutch: 18th Century Dutch Porcelain, ed. Ank Trumpie (Rotterdam: 010 Publishers, 2007): 25.

The expansion of coffee consumption in eighteenth-century Damascus spurred a similar boom in the import of Chinese porcelain despite the fact that this region had long enjoyed a high-quality indigenous tile and ceramic sector. Indeed, as the century progressed, Damascenes increasingly turned toward imports of the European imitators as their cheaper substitute for Chinese wares, allowing the local industry to decline and eventually die out. James Grehan, Everyday Life and Consumer Culture in Eighteenth Century Damascus (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2007), 137—139.

Thera Wijsenbeek-Olthuis, ‘Van Medicijn tot statussymbool: koffie thuis in de zeventiende en achttiende eeuw,’ in Koffie in Nederland: vier eeuwen cultuurg-eschiedenis, ed. Pirn Reinders and Thera Wijsenbeek-Olthuis (Delft: Gemeente Musea, 1994), 111.

Ibid.

Hans van Koolbergen, ‘De materiele cultuur van Weesp en Weesperkarspel in de zeventiende en achttiende eeuw,’ in Aards geluk: de Nederlanders en hun spullen van 1550 tot 1850, ed. Anton Schuurman, Jan de Vries, and Ad van der Woude (Amsterdam: Balans, 1997), 145.

Ibid., 127-128.

Hester Dibbits, Vertroumd bezit: materiele cultuur in Doesburg en Maassluis, 1650— 1800 (Nijmegen: SUN, 2001), 160, 321-326.

Ibid., 18.

Thera Wijsenbeek-Olthuis, Achter degevels van Delft: bezit en bestaan van rijk en arm in een periode van achteruitgang (1700—1800) (Hilversum: Verloren, 1987), 453-454. Ibid., 346.

Bruno Blonde and Ilja van Damme, ‘Consumer and Retail ‘Revolutions’: Perspectives From a Declining Urban Economy: Antwerp in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries’ (paper presented at the 14th International Economic History Association Congress, Helsinki, August 21—25, 2006), accessed April 13, 2012, http://www.helsinki.fi/iehc2006/papersl/Blonde3.pdf, 4.

Ibid., 12.

Ibid., 5, 12.

We should, of course, never underestimate the capacity for families to squander petty as well as substantial legacies in costly legal struggles. Nonetheless, it seems safe to assume that the selection bias against very poor households appearing in the Notarial Archives was a powerful one.

Internal evidence suggests that household inventories had been collected prior to this date by the BWH, but the systematic record of them in bound volumes only begins in May 1740. The volumes extend forward to 1809, and an additional 600 inventories are currently being transcribed and data checked for future addition into the database.

Anne E. C. McCants, Civic Charity in a Golden Age: Orphan Care in Early Modern Amsterdam (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997), 22—23.

The city estimated the yearly cost of care per child in the BWH to be 150 guilders at the close of the eighteenth century. Ibid., 194.

These figures are in striking contrast to those calculated by Faber in the only other published study of probate inventory records from Amsterdam. He looked at a sample of inventories from the Notarial archives for the years 1701-1710, including individuals located across all five classes of the prevailing burial tax system. Even among those from the lowest burial tax class, the pro Deo group that paid nothing, the average net worth after paying the death debts was a substantial 3,334 guilders. For the highest burial tax class, it was a staggering 71,789 guilders. Johannes Faber, ‘Inhabitants of Amsterdam and their Possessions, 1701— 1710,’ in Probate Inventories: A New Source for the Historical Study of Wealth, Material Culture and Agricultural Development, ed. Anton Schuurman and Ad van der Woude (Utrecht: HES Publishers, 1980), 155.

For a much more thorough parsing of the wealth profiles of the families associated with the BWH, and for a complete discussion of the location of this sample within the wealth distribution of the city as a whole, see ibid.

The data in all tables in this chapter are drawn from Gemeente Archief Amsterdam, particulier archief 367, oud archief 652—688.

Anne E. C. McCants, ‘Inequality among the Poor of Eighteenth Century Amsterdam,’ Explorations in Economic History 44 (2007): 14—15.

‘Some old worthless junk’ is one such comment that appears with regularity.

For a discussion of beer in the diet of orphans, see McCants, Civic Charity in a Colden Age, ch. 3.

Harm Nijboer, ‘Fashion and the Early Modern Consumer Evolution: A Theoretical Exploration and Some Evidence from Seventeenth Century Leeuwarden,’ in Retailers and Consumer Changes in Early Modern Europe: England, France, Italy and the Low Countries, ed. Bruno Blonde et al. (Tours: Presses universitaires François-Rabelais, 2005), 22—23.

It is worth noting, however, that these participation percentages from the two time periods are for the most part insufficiently different to suggest with 95 per cent confidence that they are in fact drawn from populations with fundamentally different consumer characteristics. Only the incidence of teapot possession falls sufficiently over time to generate non-overlapping confidence bounds on the two point estimates, as indicated by the fact that both the upper and the lower confidence limits reported in panel C of Table 13.5 have a positive sign.

For a provocative discussion of the systematic under-reporting of ceramic wares in household inventories as checked against archaeological finds, and the concomitant conclusion that consumption of beverages in ceramic vessels was even more widespread than inventories would indicate, see John Bedell, ‘Archaeology and Probate Inventories in the Study of Eighteenth-Century Life,’ Journal of Interdisciplinary History, 31 (2000): 233—238.

Anne E. C. McCants, ‘Goods at Pawn: The Overlapping Worlds of Material Possessions and Family Finance in Early Modern Amsterdam,’ Social Science History 31 (2007): 227.

This conclusion is very similar to the one reached by Overton, Whittle, Dean, and Hann in their comprehensive study of probate inventories in Kent and Cornwall, England, over the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. They argue on the basis of evidence internal to the inventories that the acquisition of more and more varied household goods over time reflects the desire for additional comfort more than the emulation of fashion by social inferiors (Mark Overton et al., Production and Consumption in English Households, 1600—1750 [London: Routledge, 2004]). For a critique of the standard narrative of exclusive colonial expansion, see William Clarence-Smith, ‘The Spread of Coffee Cultivation in Asia, from the Seventeenth to the Early Nineteenth Century,’ in Le commerce du café avant l’ère des plantations coloniales, ed. Michel Tuchscherer (le Caire: Institut Français d’Archéologie Orientale, 2001), 371-384.

17 Fashioning difference in Georgian England

 
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