by Constance Hall Jones
Newspaper advertisement placed in the Richmond, Virginia Daily Dispatch, September 2, 1862, by William B. Jones of Jones & Company, 15th Street between Main & Cary Streets, Richmond, Virginia.
The Confederate Conscription Act of April, 1862 established that any white male between the age of 18 and 35 was required to serve a term of three years in the Confederate Army. One highly controversial provision of the Act was the ability of potential conscripts to hire a substitute to serve in his place. The substitute could not be otherwise eligible for the draft, yet had to be physically fit for duty. Substitutes were in high demand, particularly among wealthy businessmen like William B. Jones, who saw a greater opportunity for profit surviving the Confederacy from outside its ranks.
There are several interesting details included in this brief ad, but one of the most obvious and striking ones is the upside-down, initial capital “S” in the first letter of the first line of text. The placement of the letter in this fashion is not an accident. Even the most poorly qualified letterpress compositor would have had difficulty placing this letter upside-down accidentally, as the lead the is weighted and notched at the bottom of the block in order to prevent just such a mistake. Upon inspection it would have been impossible to miss the out of place notch and the broken line of type in the set. This placement was almost certainly done on purpose in order to call attention – most likely in a back-handed, negative way – to the subject matter of the ad.
It’s worth noting that the compositors and other staff at the Daily Dispatch were familiar with William B. Jones, as he spent a good deal of money weekly with the newspaper, placing advertisements for commission mercantile goods in every edition of the paper, every day of the week. Apparently, the compositors (at least) were not concerned about sticking a thumb in the eye of this particular regular customer. William B. Jones may not have been particularly well-liked around Richmond.
* * *
Newspaper advertisement placed in the Richmond, Virginia Daily Dispatch, November 30, 1864, by William B. Jones of Jones & Company, 15th Street between Main & Cary Streets, Richmond, Virginia.
The things that concerned William B. Jones at the height of the war, during the worst of Richmond’s wartime deprivations, are potentially revealing of the man’s character. This advertisement appeared alongside tear-jerking pleas from mothers trying desperately to locate sons lost on the battlefields around Richmond.
The “carbuncle in Etruscan gold” may have looked something like the cufflink image below, which is a typical example of revivalist style jewelry popular among the monied classes during the Victorian era.
* * *
The “Engaging the Civil War” Series is published by Southern Illinois University Press in collaboration with Emerging Civil War.