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‘Tavern Signs: Art And Advertising In Early America’

The image has always been important in advertising, and it was no different for our ancestors in Colonial and early Federal America. Newtown Historical Society will look at a particular form of advertising, the tavern sign, with a look at Connecticut Historical Society’s collection of such signs, in the community room of C.H. Booth Library.

The presentation, “Tavern Signs: Art and Advertising in Early America,” by Richard Malley, will be offered on Monday, September 9, beginning at 7:30 pm.

Businesses have always relied on the visual image to attract customers to their establishments. In an age when illiteracy was still common, a simple image of a book or a mortar and pestle in front of a building might serve to announce the wares within, foregoing the use of any text at all. Cityscapes would be dotted with such signs, while they were less necessary in small towns where residents were more familiar with their neighbors, street layouts simpler, and buildings less numerous.

But what of the stranger passing through? In an age when both the vehicles and the roads limited the mileage a traveler could complete in a day, every town needed to have one or more taverns, each with a prominent sign to mark its place. Often done by an itinerant or local folk artist, the signs could be colorful and creative.

 While the tavern served a major role in providing meals and lodging for travelers who could be expected to arrive at the next way stop exhausted from the primitive travel conditions, the tavern was also often the central informal meeting place for the town’s residents. It was the place for political discussions, socializing, and many activities that were conducted in groups. Larger taverns often provided meeting rooms for fraternal and other groups, and some even had halls large enough to hold balls and dances.

Connecticut Historical Society’s collection of tavern signs is the largest in the country.

Richard Malley has been with CHS since 1990, and is currently Head of Research and Collections. He has a history degree from Providence College, and a graduate degree in United States history from Fordham University. He spent the first several years of his career in the maritime museum field, and has written extensively on maritime and technology topics.

Newtown Historical Society programs are free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served following the presentation.

Reservations are not needed, but additional information is available at www.newtownhistory.org or by calling 203-426-5937.

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