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Revisit the past in new colonial exhibition

2003-01-14

Want to sell something? Put the name “Mayflower” on it.

Need to emphasize the quality and workmanship of your product? Call it the “Pilgrim” or “Revere” model.

This marketing technique may not sound very sophisticated these days, but from the late 19th century through the mid 20th century, commercial advertisers used romanticized imagery of America’s colonial past to sell their products.

And it worked.

Pilgrims, Patriots, and Products: Selling the Colonial Image, a new exhibition now on view at The New Jersey Historical Society in Newark, examines the cultural phenomenon of how Americans capitalize on the colonial style. From household appliances and furniture to food, clothing and insurance, American-made products were branded with colonial-sounding names in order to make consumers feel as if, through ownership of these items, they would also live simpler, dignified and more fulfilling lives.

“Sam Adams beer and the John Hancock Insurance Company are familiar brands to us today – most people don’t stop to consider how deliberately these names were chosen,” said Sally Yerkovich, President & CEO of The New Jersey Historical Society. “Finding the connection between our colonial past and America’s mass consumption of brand-name products helps us to better understand the power of preserving history.”

In addition to reproductions of advertisements and other printed materials depicting this “colonial-revival” movement, the exhibition features a wide selection of objects from the Historical Society’s extensive museum collection of New Jersey artifacts.

Iconic images such as President George Washington, New Jersey’s own Molly Pitcher, and Newark founder Robert Treat are emblazoned on everything from centennial coins to furniture to silver, demonstrating the pervasiveness of the colonial craze.

Originated by the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, Pilgrims, Patriots and Products provides a provocative and entertaining glimpse at how readily Americans embraced their colonial past, and how merchants — in the tradition of the “American way” — were eager to cash in on it.

This exhibition was funded in part by a grant from First Union Corporation. It will be on view until August 2003 in the Forbes Gallery located on the 2nd floor. Galleries are free to the public and open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.



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