- Purchase/rental options available:
Every parcel of goods shipped across the Atlantic, from the early modern era through the nineteenth century (and beyond), was accompanied by a unique bill of lading. The bill of lading, an essential piece of commercial paperwork, attested that a certain set of goods had been “shipped in good order” and reminded the shipmaster that it was his job to keep them that way. Legally speaking, the bill of lading was a contract, a receipt, and a document of title, all in one. Though the legal power of bills of lading depended entirely on their text, American bills nevertheless began in the early eighteenth century to feature decorations, embellishments, and illustrations. The most popular was a ship sailing inside the embellished letter S of the word Shipped. This image, and others like it, helped the bills’ bearers visualize how material objects were caught up in conceptual frameworks of ownership and nationality. Such images thereby strengthened connections among objects, owners, laws, and nations. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, new visual elements, such as flags, human figures, and seascapes, began to appear on American bills of lading, revealing evolving visions of the relationships among commercial goods, vessels, people, nations, and institutions.