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August 30, 2021

“The Vertue of the COFFEE Drink”: The Earliest Known Advertisement for Making and Selling Coffee, circa 1652

Apparently, around 1652, an English merchant, Daniel Edwards, brought Pasqua (as he was probably known) from Smyrna (now Izmir) in Turkey to London as a servant to prepare the coffee to which Edwards had become accustomed on his travels abroad. Edwards himself is noted in The Little London Directory of 1677, a compilation of well-known merchants and bankers of the time. The Directory lists a “Dan. Edwards [of] Walbrook” as one of the “most eminent merchants of the period.” Every day in Edwards’ home Pasqua expertly prepared coffee for Edwards and his business associates, who ritually, and perhaps habitually, appeared early every morning. Edwards thought that sharing his coffee would foster goodwill and more business. Instead, with the daily intrusions, Edwards discovered that he could not escape his home early enough to conduct his business.

Thus, Edwards set up Pasqua in a shed in a churchyard in St. Michael’s Alley, Cornhill, where Pasqua could sell coffee. However, fearing competition, the nearby ale-sellers petitioned the mayor to remove Pasqua, who was not a freeman, from his shed. Pasqua’s business was saved by the intervention of Christofer Bowman, the free coachman of Daniel Edwards’ father-in-law, a Walbrook alderman named Hodge. Pasqua and Bowman became partners, but because of some unknown misdemeanor, Pasqua was forced to flee England at an unknown time, almost certainly before 1662. Parish records of 1662-1663 list a Christofer Bowman but no Pasqua Rosee (Lillywhite 1963, 438). Bowman moved the business from the shed, possibly to a tent, and ultimately to a building, which Bowman called “Pasqua Rosee’s Coffee House.”

The fate of Pasqua is unknown, although Robinson posits that he may have fled to Holland. However, his fortunes may have been profitable, at least if one can speculate on two 400 year old advertisements. The British Museum in London holds the “earliest known advertisement for making and selling coffee.” The advertisement originated between 1652 and 1666 and has been attributed to Pasqua. It reads in part: “The Vertue of the COFFEE Drink. First publiquely made and sold in England by Pasqua Rosee ... Made and Sold in St. Michael’s Alley in Cornhill, by Pasqua Rosee at the Signe of his own Head.” Unfortunately, the buildings in St. Michael’s Alley, including the coffee house, perished in the Great Fire of London in 1666.

A 1652 handbill advertising coffee for sale in St. Michael’s Alley, London. It is held in the British Museum.

Pasqua Rosee’s Coffee House was followed, also in 1652, by the Grecian Coffee House, which remained open until 1843, when the age of the coffee house largely expired. With coffee being advertised as curing “dropsy, gout, and scurvy”, coffee houses exploded in the 1700s, at one point numbering 3000 in London alone. They continued to prosper through 1809-1810, when a growing alcohol sobriety and a reduction of coffee taxes made coffee rather than old porter  or purl and gin the breakfast beverage choice. Business was so good that each coffee house even issued its own token, which could be used as currency at the issuing coffee house.

Coffee houses opened at 5 or 6 A.M. and closed at 10 P.M. or later. Customers might be charged a penny for admission and twopence for coffee or tea. The coffee house consisted of a large room that contained several tables for reading and writing. The room was similar in appearance to beer drinking rooms at some college student unions, or to “oak” or “cedar” rooms in bars that long for a wood motif. A customer might be charged half a crown (thirty pence) extra for the use of pen, ink, and paper for the season. Boys would rush about serving favorite dishes and chocolate, coffee, and tea, all of which were warmed on a large fire. The long bar near the fire held the pots that contained whatever bubbling brew had just been heated to a boil. History saw its first “barmaids” when coffee house owners hired the most attractive females available to take the particular brew from the bar to customers who were sitting throughout the coffee house.


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