Boston broadside blasting beer: an experimental printing in black and gold

Boston broadside blasting beer: an experimental printing in black and gold

Dod, John (ca. 1549-1645). Sermon on Malt. Boston: [Isaac R.] Butts, [ca. 1840]. Broadside, 24 x 19 cm. Printed in gold ink on paper with a glossy black coating to one side. Some loss to paper and coating at corners. A few marginal cracks and tears, stains to verso.

     An unrecorded Boston broadside of a widely circulated speech on the evils of drinking beer, printed most unusually in gold ink on glossy black stock.

     An English non-conforming minister allied with the Puritans, "Decalogue Dod" (whose surname was commonly rendered "Dodd" by later writers) advocated holy living according to the dictates of the Ten Commandments. The story recounted here is that after making his divine rounds, he was accosted by a rowdy group of students from Cambridge who took his preaching against drunkenness as personal affront. In compliance with their demand that he preach to them on malt, he improvised this sermon on the spot. The sermon is structured around a series of eight acrostics:

The ALLEGORICAL is when one thing is spoken, and another meant; the thing spoken is MALT, the thing meant is the OIL OF MALT, which you rustics make M, your meat, A, your apparel, L, your liberty, T, your trust. The LITERAL is according to the letter. M, much, A, ale, L, little, T, thrift. ... The effects it works in this world are -- in some M, mischief and murder, A, adultery; L, in all looseness of life; and in some, T, treason. Secondly in the world to come. M, misery, A, anguish, L, lamentation -- and T, torment....

Dod's peroration concludes with a damning portrait of the bibulous:

A drunkard is the annoyance of modesty -- the spoiler of civility -- the destroyer of nature and reason -- the brewer's agent -- the ale-house benefactor -- his wife's sorrow -- his children's trouble -- his own shame -- his neighbor's scoff -- a walking swill-tub -- the picture of a beast -- and the monster of a man.

     So long as Massachusetts remained a godly Commonwealth, Dod's inspired words no doubt brought fallen men to their senses. But as the state of religion declined, the audience for the sermon changed. Rather than being regarded as a call for sober self-reflection and repentance, it was embraced by the unworthy as an example of wit, and frequently reprinted in collections of comical anecdotes and issued as a broadside to be hung in alehouses for the amusement of scoffers. We suspect that was the intention here -- a broadside printed in gold on black would display to greatest advantage in a dark room where pints of golden liquid were served.

    To achieve this effect, the printer Isaac Ridler Butts (1795-1882) used an ink made of gold dust and linseed oil, which he impressed upon a glossy black stock. As a book and job printer, Butts produced a wide range of materials between the 1820s and the 1860s, from religious tracts to business manuals, novels, blank forms and circulars. The paper used for this broadside is too thin for wide application, and the gold ink too expensive. We think it likely that Butts kept both in supply for labels. See for example the cover label to the original edition of Nathaniel Hawthorne's Liberty Tree, printed by Butts in 1841:


I. R. Butts, Cover label for Liberty Tree: with the Last Words of Grandfather's Chair, by Nathaniel Hawthorne (Boston: E. P. Peabody, 1841). Photo courtesy of Lorne Bair Rare Books

     Butts' black and gold edition of A Sermon on Malt may have been produced as an experiment. If so, it was a short-lived one: no other copies of his edition of the text have been recorded, and he appears not to have printed any other works in this format. 

     Given the proliferation of craft breweries in Boston, it appears that Dod's efforts to halt the flow of malt were equally unsuccessful.

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