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Edwin J. Gillies & Co.

The sacks in the foreground of this trade card for Edwin J. Gillies & Co. show that in the last decades of the nineteenth century, grocery stores still sold bulk unprocessed coffee beans, which had to be roasted in a skillet and ground before they could be used. However, the majority of the coffee pictured is packaged in tins, which indicates that it has been prepared for brewing at the factory.

The image’s exclusion of a coffee grinder, once ubiquitous in grocery stores, is telling. According to advertisers, the company’s pre-roasted and pre-ground coffee has made this machine obsolete; their product is truly convenient.


Edwin J. Gillies & Co. (New York), Gillies’ Teas and Coffees, c. 1870–1900.
Chromolithographed trade card, (3 5/8 x 5 ½ in).

The stereotyped “Dinah” figure who is brewing coffee on the tins on the left side of the counter and on the sign at the upper right sends a similar message to potential customers, who were assumed to be upper or middle class and white. The trade card hints that buying no-fuss Gillies’ Coffee is the modern equivalent of transferring the manual labor of the kitchen to a black domestic.


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