by Robert Ball Hughes, 1852
at Reading & Co.'s Tea Store
198 Washington St., Boston
Redding and Company issued a trade card that carried the above engraving by Hammatt Billings, Esq., and is taken from a statue of a Chinaman, of half life size, modeled by Ball Hughes, Esq., from an original done in China.
We called attention, in our “ Odd Minutes” last week, to a little statue of a Chinaman by the well-known artist Ball Hughes, which stands at the door of the China Tea-store in Boston. We print below a letter which we have since received from a correspondent signing himself “ An Admirer of Ball Hughes,” who thinks that “ we have injured him and his work ” by our “ faint praise.” We print the letter in order that it may appear more clearly how sincere we are when we say that we had no intention of disparaging Mr. Hughes or his Chinaman in our remarks. We characterized the “ shape of the head and the expression of the face ” as being “ really amusing.” This does not seem to us faint praise. What epithet should we apply to them? Our correspondent's own letter goes to show that we could not say they were “ classic.” We meant to intimate that the statue was life-like and natural enough to excite the same emotions which would be excited by the sight of a live Chinaman in our streets; and, like the neighing of the horses at the picture of Apelles, it seems to us that this should be considered as real commendation. We said moreover that it “ is a pretty figure, and characterizes well the peculiarities of the singular race who enjoy a monopoly in the growing of tea.” However, our correspondent shall speak to our readers for himself:—
“TO THE EDITOR OF TO-DAY.
“ DEAR SIR, — In your notice of the stone figure modelled by Ball Hughes, and which now stands at the door of 198, Washington street (Redding & Co.'s tea-store), it appears to me you have said too much, or rather too little. The faint praise which you give Ball Hughes, in this instance, injures him and his work; as is apparent when you consider that he stands first in his art, and was never known to turn any thing out of his hands imperfect. Besides, you should know that it cost him the labor of four months, and is esteemed by him one of his best performances. No one knows but an artist (probably) the difficulty of producing a Tartar or Chinese cast of countenance, when the Grecian style of face has been followed for years; and yet, in this statue, modelled by Mr. Hughes, you see the Chinese features, and an expression at once native and agreeable. The common plaster figures which exist in every direction about the town tend to lower and degrade the effort of the artist in this instance ; and he labors under the difficulty of representing a figure, which, by common consent, is not held as classical. Nevertheless, it is a figure which pleases ; and not only pleases, but wins upon you the more you see of it: in short, the eye loves to dwell upon it!
“ Hoping, my dear Sir, that you will look again at it, and be struck with its beauty and merit as I am, —
I faithfully subscribe myself,
“ AN ADMIRER OF BALL HUGHES.”
“...For another tea distributor, statues played a major role in its aggressive advertising campaign. Redding and Company of Boston promoted its statues as spectacles that were worthy of the public’s interest and that the competition could not match. People might come to see the statues and, once inside the store they would, the company hoped, also purchase tea. To increase public awareness of the attraction, Redding and Company issued a trade card that carried a picture of one of the statues and provided the following information about it:
The above engraving is by Hammatt Billings, Esq., and is taken from a statue of a Chinaman, of half life size, modeled by Ball Hughes, Esq., from an original done in China. Duplicates of this statue are to be seen at the Branch Tea Stores of REDDING & CO., at No. 78 Hanover Street, and No. 43 Beach Street. . . . These are COLORED; but the first copy, in STONE, may be seen at the Principal Tea Store, No. 198 Washington Street. The object of these statues is to adorn and designate these well-known Tea Depots, and at the same time to protect the public from imposition in cases where the style of Redding & Co.’s Stores, and their Signs, are used. [Emphasis added.]
Just as Great American modified a watercolor by Tingqua for its posters, so too did Redding and Company replicate an original Chinese statue to suit its marketing needs. It apparently purchased the prototype from a Chinese sculptor and then had copies made for display in its several stores. In addition, the company also claimed that, by providing consumers with a fail-safe method for identifying the genuine stores, its prominently displayed statues protected the public from being deceived by imitators. Regardless of whether impostors actually existed, the company probably did feature the statues in its advertising to help consumers distinguish Redding and Company from the competition...
Description of image: Redding and Company (trade card).
Source: Warshaw Collection of Business Americana—Tea, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Behring Center, Smithsonian Institution.”
last update 3/31/2013
For noncommercial use, Copyright David E. Brown 2008-2013