What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?
“It is the last Ball he proposes to make in Charles-Town.”
Mr. Pike, a dancing master who enhanced his image and authority by never including his first name in his advertisements, offered lessons in Charleston for many years. (His earliest advertisement examined by the Adverts 250 Project appeared in the September 2, 1766, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal.) In addition to advertising lessons, he also promoted the balls that he hosted, opportunities for his students to demonstrate the skills they developed and refined under his guidance. Pike encouraged prospective students and their parents to consider those gatherings rites of passage within polite company, provided that they comported themselves well. Accordingly, his marketing efforts sometimes leveraged a sense of anxiety. For instance, when he announced a ball scheduled for December 1772, he advised parents to send their children for lessons “as soon as possible, that he may be enabled to complete his Figures in a proper Manner.” In other words, if they did grant Pike sufficient time for instruction then they risked their children embarrassing themselves at the ball.
Pike did not take that approach when he announced that his “BALL, for the young Ladies and Gentlemen under his Tuition” would take place on the first Friday in April 1773. That may have been because the dancing master had plans to depart the city. (He began placing newspaper advertisements for dancing and fencing lessons in Philadelphia the following year.) Pike proclaimed that this one was “the last Ball he proposes to make in Charles-Town.” That being the case, he no longer needed to resort to the same tactics for attracting pupils. Instead, he attempted to incite demand for tickets by presenting his final ball as a reunion for his students and a farewell fête. Pike invited “former Scholars who chuse to dance at this Ball … to come and practise every Day” to prepare for it. That allowed them to brush up on their skills and perhaps receive some pointers, free of charge, from their former instructor as a gift prior to his departure. Anticipating both “the young Ladies and Gentlemen under his Tuition” and “former Scholars” in attendance, Pike arranged for a retrospective of his instruction and influence in cultivating a genteel pastime in one of the largest and most cosmopolitan cities in the colonies. He hoped that would sell tickets. After all, it was not merely the “ANNUAL BALL” for current students that he sometimes promoted in the public prints but instead his “last Ball” and final chance to partake in one of the gatherings he hosted.