Clearly Esther DeBerdt Reed was rather homesick when she came here as the bride of Joseph Reed in 1770. She wrote her brother Dennis in December: ” America . . . is a fine country, but to compare it to England in any respect, except the clear weather, is wrong, for it will not bear the most distant comparison: however, with the hope of returning, I can spend some time here without repining, and with the hope of seeing you here, I keep up my spirits.” I was interested in the postscript to this letter which lists items she wanted her brother to purchase for her.
I will just repeat the things I mentioned for you to buy for me:—A fine damask table-cloth, largest size, price £1 1s., and one of the next size; a very neat fan (leather mount, if it is to be had), handsome for the price, if not, paper,—the sticks not very broad, the fan middling size, a guinea, or 25s.; set of dressing-boxes, the largest box in the shape of a fan, not too many in a set. Perhaps I have forgot some things here which I mentioned in my former letter, but if that comes to hand, you will buy all I have sent for, and I add, needles, from No. 5 to No. 11, a paper of each. a hundred in a paper, a packet of short [pins?] and a packet of middling pins—a packet, I believe, has four papers in each.—I think the best may be bought of Price. I would give anything to be in Price’s or Mr. Anybody’s shop in London, even in Thames Street. To my great consolation, here is a street in Philadelphia very like Thames Street, and I rejoice when I can go that way. . . . Pray buy the post-chariot neat, and painted in taste, and it’s very necessary the harness should be neat, as we shall want something to set off the horses.
Esther’s request for large numbers of pins may seem a bit odd until one realizes that pins were used to attach various parts of a gown together: sleeves to a bodice, for example. For more about the use of pins in clothing see this post. As relations between Britain and the colonies worsened resulting in boycotts of British goods, pins became very scarce. The dressing boxes that Esther requests are probably boxes or cases for lotions, powders, jewelry, etc. that could be found on a lady’s vanity. One wonders about the fan-shaped one she specifies. Could it have been for storing fans? Her reference to a set indicates that the boxes were small, not the sort of traveling cases that were becoming popular: fitted out with compartments for jewelry, bottles for lotions, cosmetics, and other items for a lady’s toilette that women took with them when they visited friends or relatives for rather long periods of time.