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Hand bill of John Centlivres, Swiss Linen seller, Founder's Court, Lothbury

P.12667-R

John Centlivres (died 1791) sold 'Swiss linens' in Lothbury, a part of London then dominated by metal foundries, an odd choice of location from which to sell clean fabric. Centlivres was an aggressive salesman, who placed more advertisements in London papers than any of the other shopkeepers represented in the Fitzwilliam museum's collection. His first advert was posted in 1752 and they appeared regually until his death in 1791. In some notices, the linen (shirting, sheeting, diaper tabling, diaper napkining) is overwhelmed by a description of his 'genuine arquebusade water', which is mentioned here at the bottom of the sheet. This was a sort of distilled water made from a variety of aromatic plants including rosemary and mille-feuille, and was apparently imported from Switzerland. Centlivres claimed it could be used as a remedy for gout or for 'curing wounds, cuts and bruises inward or outward, clean[ing] old ulcers, tak[ing] out blackness and inflammation from the eyes, or any other part, proceeding from violent blows, or other accidents, and prevent[ing] mortifications'.

The dominance of the patent medicine in the adverts suggests that it was a good source of income, probably far more so than the linen. No doubt because of this Centlivres became embroiled in a heated public dispute with a man who sold another type of the same substance. In 1775 Centlivres wrote:

...Levade's Arquebusade Water is perfect; I apprehend nothing can exceed perfection. These certificates are granted to prevent counterfeits; but it seems the young man wants to use his, to the prejudice of his countrymen. I have some years ago got one Guex silenced, at Lausanne, for mentioning that his Water had a superiority of others: others may meet the same fate.
(Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, 22 September 1775)

The young rival, F.S. Secretan, seems to have enjoyed winding the older man up. He placed a notice in the same paper three days later under the heading 'A card for John Centlivres':

You have in a very gross manner, and very inconsiderately, made use of the word 'untruth' in your advertisement of the 22d instant, in this Paper; know, Sir, that I have advanced nothing regarding Mr. Struve's excellent Arquebusade water, but what I can prove to the entire satisfaction of every one, except you ... You give to understand, that you could get me, or Mr Struve, silenced, for giving out his said Arquebusade Water, as superior to others. I heartily laugh at your presumption: do Mr Centlivres, for your own sake, be silent yourself!
(Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, 25 September 1775)

Unlike engraved trade cards and bill heads, letterpress sheets are not usually illustrated and would have been far cheaper to produce. Letterpress was frequently used for tradesman's lists, where a proprietor attempted to list his or her entire stock in abundant, often bewildering, detail. The text usually appeared in columns on the sheet, such as can be seen on those produced by the firm Gubbins & Guest. Higher-ranking tradesmen looked down on this method of advertising. Josiah Wedgwood, expressly did not want his name printed on any hand bills, considering them worthy of only 'common shopkeepers', and that such a step would 'sink [him] exceedingly' (letter dated 7 December 1772).

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