During our series of posts showing the Christmas decorations of Colonial Williamsburg last month, a reader asked an interesting question about one of the trade signs. Wrote Darla Vincent: "Can you please tell me what type of establishment this is? I cannot tell from the sign what the building is." The sign that puzzled her appears left (and check here for more about that dangling royal effigy.)
Often the images painted on 18th c. signs indicate the trade practiced within, or what the owner sells, such as shoes on the shoemaker's sign, and a waistcoat on the tailor's. But while this looks like the picture of a hay-rick, it seems unlikely that hay would be sold from a house-front shop in the middle of town. Because the building is not open to the public, no information about it appears on the historic area maps.
Mystified, we went straight to the ever-obliging experts at Colonial Williamsburg. Their explanation:
This house belonged to Dr. Peter Hay. The sign represents his apothecary shop, but is associated more with his personal name (the haystack) than with his trade. That's likely because, according to his 1766 obituary in both the Virginia and Maryland Gazettes, he was an especially well-known physician (especially when it came to midwifery skills), so people didn't need to know what he did, just where to find him. Incidentally, his wife Grissell operated a boarding house out of their home after the doctor died, so the sign could have continued in business (so to speak) after that.
Many thanks to Darla for her question, and to Colonial Williamsburg for the answer. Now click here for a picture quiz: can you match the Williamsburg sign with the appropriate trade?
There’s a big difference in how we use history. But we’re equally nuts about it. To us, the everyday details of life in the past are things to talk about, ponder, make fun of -- much in the way normal people talk about their favorite reality show.
We talk about who’s wearing what and who’s sleeping with whom. We try to sort out rumor or myth from fact. We thought there must be at least three other people out there who think history’s fascinating and fun, too. This blog is for them.