Coffee House Signs in Early Boston

The historic Green Dragon Tavern. (Wikimedia Commons)
For almost as long as the USA has been around, there has been one beverage ingrained into its existence and that beverage is coffee. The center of American coffee house culture and the "capital of coffee drinkers" in New England back in the 17th-early 19th centuries was undoubtedly Boston, Massachusetts.

Coffee was most likely introduced to the US by Captain John Smith, who established the colony of Virginia. During his travels in Turkey, John Smith picked up a knowledge of the world-famous Turkish coffee and most likely transplanted it there with the Jamestown settlement. Coffee officially made its first appearance in the New England colonies sometime between 1660-1670 and not long afterwards, coffee houses patterned after the ones popular in Europe began appearing in virtually all of the British and French colonies in North America.

To advertise and identify these coffee houses, it's only logical that they hung a distinct sign over their entrance!

In Boston, coffee houses started popping up everywhere during the 17th and 18th centuries. Unlike the cozy and contemporary coffee houses we know in our own time that serve treats such as espressos and pastries, these coffee houses were officially known as "coffee taverns" or "coffee inns" and this is very much what they were...minus the liquor in most cases. During this time, Boston was the "cultural capital" of New England. Coffee houses opened up throughout Britain's American colonies during this time, but there were more coffee houses in Boston than anywhere else.   

The first coffee house in Boston or New England as a whole is relatively unknown, but presumed to be the London Coffee-House in Boston, MA. This coffee house was opened in 1689 by book dealer Benjamin Harris, who also sold books in his coffee house. Very little is known about this coffee house, but there is much information available about Boston's other coffee houses from the 17th and 18th centuries. At least one of these coffee houses would play a prominent role in the coming revolution in America....

The most famous Boston coffee house from the Revolutionary War period is the Green Dragon Tavern. This is the pub which became known as the "Headquarters of the Revolution". As we can see at the top of this post, it's also one of the earliest examples of an American coffee house sign! 

This tavern was established sometime around 1654 and is located in Boston's North End. It was the center of social life in Boston and used as a meeting place by everyone ranging from the average Bostonian to officials of the Crown. Prior to the 1776 revolution, the pub was used by a number of anti-British revolutionary groups. The Sons of Liberty planned the Boston Tea Party at this tavern. Paul Revere set off on his famous ride from this tavern after overhearing plans for the invasion of Lexington and Concorde by British forces. After the revolution, a committee of mechanics and artisans gathered at this tavern in 1788 and adopted a resolution urging the adoption of the U.S. Constitution before delegates from the state officially voted to adopt it soon afterwards. 

As we can see from the 1898 engraving at the top of this post and from a picture inside the "new" tavern (which replaced the old Green Dragon Tavern sometime after it was demolished in 1854), the original Green Dragon Tavern building had a medium-sized winged dragon sign hanging over the door. Even though the original sign no longer exists, it occupies a special place in American history and in American signage!

The Crown Coffee House in Boston. (Wikimedia Commons)
Another early and ground-breaking coffee house in Boston was the Crown Coffee House. This coffee house was opened in 1711 by future Massachusetts and New Jersey governor Jonathan Belcher. This was the first coffee house in the US permitted to be called "coffee house" by the British authorities. According to the illustration on the right, above its entrance hung, appropriately enough, a giant sign depicting a crown that made it identifiable to anyone within walking or riding distance. Sadly enough, this coffee house burned down in 1780 during a wharf fire.






Sign of The Coffee Pot circa 1809.  (Wikimedia Commons)

After the American Revolution, coffee houses continued to spring up in Boston and helped perpetuate the coffee culture in the city! Many of these coffee houses - such as The Coffee Pot's sign on the left - had some very distinct signs that contributed to the city's cultured atmosphere. However, at this time, coffee houses in other cities such as New York City and Philadelphia were becoming more and more prominent nationwide. Some, such as the Tontine Coffee House in New York City, would make their own places in American history. 

To this day, the coffee shop culture remains strong in Boston. Most of modern-day Boston's coffee shops as well as the old taverns, inns, and pubs throughout the city have signs of their own that beacon passers-by to come in, sit down, have a cup of coffee, and partake in a slice of American history and culture! These signs continue to help the city of Boston remain one of America's most idyllic and cultured cities. The signs of the coffee houses of old that beaconed the revolutionaries and founding fathers of America through their doors to help shape the destiny of America will forever occupy a place in the nation's history.

Links:
http://greendragonboston.com/ (Homepage of the Green Dragon Tavern.)

POSTED BY Josh
DISCUSSION 2 Comments

2 Responses to : Coffee House Signs in Early Boston

  1. Josh says:

    You are most welcome city!

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