October 21

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Pennsylvania Journal (October 21, 1772).

“MR. SAUNDERS will exhibit his DEXTERITY and GRAND DECEPTION.”

Newspaper advertisements help in revealing some of the entertainments enjoyed by colonizers in the eighteenth century.  For instance, two advertisements in the October 21, 1772, edition of the Pennsylvania Journal promoted upcoming performances and encouraged residents of Philadelphia to purchase tickets.  The first offered feats of “HORSEMANSHIP, BY Mr. BATES,” promising that he did tricks “On ONE, TWO, AND THREE HORSES.”  Bates and his act would have been familiar to regular readers at the time this advertisement appeared, so to entice anyone who had already seen the show to come again he proclaimed that he added “several NEW PERFORMANCES.”  Patrons needed to purchase tickets in advance since “No Money [would] be taken at the DOORS, nor Admittance without a TICKET,” yet they also received a discount for purchasing more than one.  The first ticket cost five shillings and the second only two shillings and six pence.  In other words, Bates advertised a “buy one, get one half off” promotion.

The other advertisement announced that “MR. SAUNDERS will exhibit his DEXTERITY and GRAND DECEPTION … at the Bunch of Grapes.”  Most likely, Hyman Saunders, the illusionist and itinerant performer who previously advertised in newspapers in both New York and Philadelphia, placed this notice.  He boasted that he “had the honour of performing before his Excellency the Earl of Dunmore, now Governor of Virginia … and most of the nobility and gentry in Great-Britain and America, and in particular in the capital cities.”  Saunders described his act as “dexterity by hand, surpassing everything of the kind that has hitherto been seen, or attempted, on this side of the Atlantic,” intending that such hyperbole would motivate readers to come to the show.  As a bonus, they would also see “Mr. ABRAHAM BENJAMIN … exhibit several curious BALANCES,” feats of “DEXTERITY, in a different manner from Mr. Saunders.”  Benjamin previously “had the honour of performing before the King of Denmark, and all the nobility of that kingdom.”  The pedigrees of both performers likely resonated with residents of Philadelphia who aspired to be as cosmopolitan as their counterparts in European cities.  Patrons could purchase tickets in advance at the Bunch of Grapes or “at Mr. Abraham Franks’s, Tobacconist.”  Saunders advised that performances would “continue [on] Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays.”  Colonizers could also hire him for private performances in their own homes, entertaining themselves and guests fortunate enough to receive invitations.

Performers used newspaper advertisements to drum up interest in their performances in early America.  They likely resorted to handbills and broadsides as well, though those kinds of advertisements were more ephemeral.  Itinerant performers depended on publicity to draw audiences to their shows.  Even those who spent some time in town had to resort to promoting their acts to keep audiences coming or coming back for more.

October 16

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

New-Hampshire Gazette (October 16, 1772).

“The Exhibitions will be perform’d as usual.”

In the summer of 1772, an advertiser who went by “the Exhibitor” and “the Projector” sought to establish a series of performances of “several serious and comic pieces of Oratory” in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.  The Exhibitor proposed a subscription series as a means of determining whether sufficient interest existed to make the project viable, encouraging “those Ladies and Gentlemen who are inclined to favour” the proposal to subscribe quickly because “the Season advance, and he is obliged to go to the Southward in October next.”  Those ladies and gentlemen could purchase subscriptions at the printing office.  In addition, tickets for performances were available “at the Printing Office at Mr. Appleton’s Book-Store, and at Mr. Stavers’s Tavern.”

As was often the case with itinerant performers who advertised that they intended to remain in town for only a limited time, the Exhibitor decided to remain in Portsmouth longer than he originally indicated.  In the middle of October, he placed an advertisement to announce that “This Evening … The Exhibitions will be performed as usual, with Alterations.”  In other words, the show continued, but the Exhibitor varied the content to offer something new to prospective patrons who had recently been in the audience.  Readers could procure tickets “at the Printing-Office and the other usual Places.”

The Exhibitor seemed to get assistance in marketing the performance from Daniel Fowle and Robert Fowle, the printers of the New-Hampshire Gazette.  In the October 16 edition, they concluded the news from Portsmouth with a short blurb that reported, “The Actors at the Academy-House in this Town, give general Satisfaction to large and polite Audiences.  The usual Evenings proposed for this Entertainment are Mondays, Wednesdays and Friday Evenings.”  The Exhibitor’s new notice appeared immediately below that review; news content selected by the editor flowed seamlessly into an advertisement.  The Fowles may have done so as a service to the community if they recognized the benefits of having local productions inspired by “the Entertainments at Sadler’s Well’s,” a renowned theater that had been operating in London since 1683.  In addition, they may have received commissions on the tickets they sold, making the success of the Exhibitor’s venture worth promoting with a short puff piece embedded in the news.

June 19

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

New-Hampshire Gazette (June 19, 1772).

“A Subscription … for the Amusement of the Public.”

The performance of “several serious and comic Pieces of Oratory, interspers’d with Music and Singing” first advertised in the June 5, 1772, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette expanded into a series, even though the initial advertisement promoted an event for “This EVENING.”  The following week a similar advertisement appeared, with a few modifications.  It clarified that the performance would “begin at Eight o’Clock” and cautioned “No Person to be admitted without a Ticket.”  That implied that the previous performance had been so popular or had incited so much interest the next performance that colonizers interested in attending needed to secure admission in advance.

The advertisement ran in a third consecutive issue of the New-Hampshire Gazette, though greatly expanded with news that “the Exhibitor” had received such “great Encouragement” that he wished to satisfy “the natural Propensity the Ladies and Gentlemen seem to have [for] Dramatic Entertainments” that he created a subscription series to include “new and surprising Performances never seen in this Country, consisting of Italian Dances, and Pantomimical Interludes in Grotesque Characters, with elegant Scenes and Machinery and every other Decoration.”  The Exhibitor compared the elaborate productions to performances at the famous Sadler’s Wells Theater in London, suggesting that audiences would partake in similar cosmopolitan entertainments in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

The Exhibitor, who also referred to himself as “the Projector,” listed ticker prices for both subscribers and non-subscribers.  He promised that “Tickets will be transferable,” encouraging colonizers to invest in subscriptions together if they were not interested in attending twelve performances or found the price for the entire series too exorbitant.  He assured readers that “Subscribing is only fixing the same Price,” but purchasing subscriptions had the advantage of making it possible “to put the Design in Execution.”  If the Projector did not receive “a certain Number” of subscriptions then he would not be able to stage the performances; he warned that he “cannot proceed till a sufficient Number is subscribed.”  Anyone interested in the proposed series needed to act quickly, especially since the Projector planned “to go Southward” in October.  He encouraged “Ladies and Gentlemen who are inclined to favour the above Scheme” to “be expeditious in signing.”

Residents of Portsmouth and nearby towns had an opportunity to attend a series of performances at which “no Expence will be spared to have every Decoration the Country can afford,” but only if enough of them purchased subscriptions to support the endeavor.  The advertisement’s decorative border, unique in the New-Hampshire Gazette, suggested that the Exhibitor fulfilled his promise of visual spectacles to amuse his audiences.  The Exhibitor also intended for his descriptions of upcoming acts and comparison to a renowned theater in London to incite interest in a subscription series, even among those who attended previous performances.  Today, theaters and performing arts centers market subscriptions to their patrons, but that method of selling tickets is not a recent innovation.  The practice was already in place in the eighteenth century.

June 7

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?

New-Hampshires Gazette (June 5, 1772).

“This EVENING … will be Exhibited several serious and comic Pieces of Oratory.”

Newspaper advertisements testify to the entertainment and popular culture enjoyed in the colonies in the eighteenth century.  A notice in the June 5, 1772, edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette informed the public that they could attend “several serious and comic Pieces of Oratory, intersper’d with Music and Singing” at the “new Assembly-Room” in Portsmouth that evening.  The sponsors created a network for distributing tickets.  Those interested in the performance could purchase tickets in advance “at the Printing-Office, at Mr. Appleton’s Book-Store, and at Mr. Stavers’s Tavern.” The sponsors also included a nota bene to address potential concerns about the content of the performance: “the Public may be assured, that nothing will be delivered in the above Exhibition, but what is conducive to, and consistent with Politeness and Morality.”  Neither the “comic Pieces” nor the songs would be ribald or bawdy.

The design of the advertisement increased the chances that readers would take note of it, especially important for an “Exhibition” of oratory and music scheduled for the same day the newspaper that carried the advertisement was published.  The first line operated as a headline, announcing “This EVENING” in a font larger than any in the rest of the notice.  In addition, a decorative border, comprised of printing ornaments, encircled the advertisement, setting it apart from other content.  It was the only item in that issue, whether or news or advertising, that featured a border.  Furthermore, the printers rarely used borders in the New-Hampshire Gazette, making this advertisement even more noteworthy to regular readers.  Its placement on the page also encouraged attention.  It ran in the upper left column, the first item on the third page.  With limited time to sell tickets and attract an audience for the performance, the sponsors depended on both copy and innovative graphic design in their marketing efforts.

December 31

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (December 31, 1770).

“Exhibiting his Art of Dexterity of Hand.”

As 1770 came to an end and 1771 began, William Patridge, an itinerant performer, took to the pages of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury to inform residents of the busy urban port that he provided entertainments for “every admirer of REAL CURIOSITIES.”  Patridge rented “a large and commodious room … fitted up in a genteel Manner” for giving performances on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

His show consisted of several acts, including “Dexterity of Hand,” “Mr. Punch and his merry Family,” and an “Italian Shade.”  Patridge included additional details about each in his efforts to entice audiences to attend his performances.  He described his “Italian Shade,” mostly likely some sort of illumination, as “so much admired in Europe.”  Audiences on the other side of the Atlantic had been impressed and delighted by this portion of his show, Patridge seemed to suggest, so residents of New York would not want to miss such an acclaimed exhibition.  The portion of the evening devoted to “Mr. Punch and his merry Family” presumably involved a puppet show.  Patridge incorporated “new Alterations every Evening,” making each performance different from any other.  Members of the audience who attended more than one performance would experience something new each time.  When it came to the “Art of Dexterity of Hand,” Patridge declared that he practiced “a new Method different from other Performers.”  Even if readers had seen Hyman Saunders perform when he spent several weeks in New York in November, they supposedly had not seen anything like Patridge’s sleight of hand.

Patridge also saw to the comfort of his audience.  In addition. To selecting a “commodious room … fitted up in a genteel Manner,” he also pledged that he had “taken proper Care to have the Room well aired” for those who saw his show.  He offered “all Accommodations,” though he did not go into greater detail.  He likely expected that residents of the city would already be familiar with “Mr. Mc. Dougall’s” establishment “at the sign of Lord John Murray, in Orange-street, Golden-Hill.”  For those “Gentlemen and Ladies” who did not wish to mix with crowd at one of Patridge’s performances at that location, he also gave private performances in their homes, provided that they gave “timely Notice.”  Patridge hinted at a higher level of refinement and status; rather than attending a performance, those “Gentlemen and Ladies” could have a performer attend on them.

Eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements reveal a variety of entertainments and amusements available to colonial consumers, a range of popular culture options available to them.  Itinerant performers depended on those advertisements to make the public aware when they arrived in town and what kinds of diversions they offered.  Although Patridge did not do so, many also declared that they would be in town for only a short time, attempting to incite greater demand by making their performances scarce commodities.  Still, Patridge did not merely announce his presence in New York.  Instead, he resorted to other kinds of appeals to attract audiences for his shows.

November 1

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

New-York Journal (November 1, 1770).

“New and astonishing performances in the dexterity of hand.”

Eighteenth-century newspaper advertisements sometimes provide insight into the popular culture and entertainment of the day, including concerts and shows by itinerant performers.  In their advertisements, many performers exhibited their showmanship to prospective audiences as part of their efforts to incite interest and convince them to see their acts in person.  For instance, in an advertisement in the New-York Journal, one illusionist, the “celebrated HYMEN SAUNDERS” who had “Just arrived from EUROPE.” proclaimed that his show included “several new and astonishing performances in the dexterity of hand, different than what has been hitherto attempted, and such as was never seen in this province.”  Saunders expected the novelty of his act to attract the attention of curious colonists.  He further described his performance, whetting the appetite of the public.  “His dexterity of hand, or grand deception,” he trumpeted, “will consist of a variety of entertaining as well as surprising tricks.”  He had so much material to amuse and astound his audiences that “his performance will be divided into acts” with a “concert of music” between the acts.  He promised that the room where he performed would be “illuminated,” allowing spectators good views of his sleight of hand, as well as “well air’d” for their comfort.

Saunders’s advertisement was the first one that appeared after the news in the October 25, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal, likely increasing the likelihood that local audiences would take note of it.  He announced that his first performance would take place on October 29, so by the time the advertisement ran again on November 1 and in subsequent issues, readers had already missed out on being among the first to attend the show.  The performer underscored that his “stay in this city will be but a few weeks,” further warning prospective audiences that they had only a limited time to see his “grand deception” for themselves before he departed for other towns.  In addition to his public performances, Saunders also offered a “private exhibition” to those who hired him at least a day in advance.  Like other itinerant performers, Saunders also relied on word of mouth to promote his act, especially after locals saw his “dexterity of hand” in person, but he did not rely on such reviews alone.  Even after his performances commenced, he continued to run advertisements to promote both the show and his persona, the “celebrated” performer who brought a novel act all the way from Europe to the colonies.

September 16

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?

New-York Journal (September 13, 1770).

“The best Clubs, and the greatest Entertainments in this City, were at the above Tavern.”

Samuel Fraunces was one of the most illustrious tavernkeepers of his day.  His fame continues into the twenty-first century, due in part to the quality of the services he provided to guests in eighteenth-century America and in part to the continued operation of Fraunces Tavern as a restaurant and museum at the corner of Pearl Street and Broad Street in New York.  Fraunces advertised the various taverns he operated in the late 1760s and early 1770s.  More than a decade later, he hosted George Washington’s farewell to his officers at the conclusion of the Revolutionary War.

Fraunces ran an advertisement in the September 13, 1770, edition of the New-York Journal to announce the opening of his newest venture, the “QUEEN’s-HEAD TAVERN, Near the Exchange.”  He attempted to downplay the necessity of placing an advertisement even as he promoted the various services and amenities available at his tavern.  He emphasized that during his “many Years” of operating a tavern “the best Clubs” met at his establishment and experienced “the greatest Entertainments.”  Given the reputation he had built, Fraunces “flatters himself the Public are so well satisfied of his Ability to serve them, as to render the swelling of an Advertisement useless.”  Its only purpose, he declared, was to “assure his former Friends and the Public in general, that every Endeavour will be used to give them the highest Satisfaction.”

Yet other “swelling” embellished Fraunces’s advertisement as he attempted to attract patrons.  He noted renovations taking place; the tavern was “now fitting up in the most genteel and convenient Manner.”  He also inserted a nota bene to inform prospective customers that he provided take-out and delivery options for those “who live at a convenient Distance.”  Fraunces concluded with a manicule directing attention to a short note explaining that the “House at the Gardens will be duly attended as usual.”  He referred to another venture that he operated simultaneously, Vauxhall Garden, a restaurant, tavern, and pleasure garden named after the popular site in London.

Fraunces had indeed established his reputation as restaurateur and tavernkeeper before opening the Queen’s Head Tavern in the fall of 1770, yet he did not consider his past success sufficient for attracting patrons to his new enterprise.  Instead, he inserted an advertisement to spread the word about his newest venture, amplifying his reputation in the process.

March 23

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Mar 23 - 3:23:1770 Massachusaetts Gazette Extraordinary
Massachusetts-Gazette Extraordinary (March 23, 1770).

“Will be READ, The Beggar’s OPERA.”

An itinerant performer toured New England in the fall of 1769, placing newspaper advertisements to promote his performances in each town he visited before disappearing from view in the public prints for several months.  He first advertised in Providence Gazette on September 16, then in the Boston Chronicle and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter on September 28, followed by the Essex Gazette on October 10, and, finally, the New-Hampshire Gazette on November 3.  Near the end of March 1770, he reappeared in Boston for a performance advertised in an extraordinary issue of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter.  The performer never gave his name in any of his newspaper notices, instead describing himself as “a Person who has Read and Sung in most of the great Towns in America.”

He updated his repertoire as he moved from town to town, though the Beggar’s Opera was one of his favorites to adapt into a one-man show.  He had previously performed it in Boston, so he may have expected to attract interest in an encore performance rather than present new material.  For those unaware of how one performer could stage the entire Beggar’s Opera, he explained that he “personates all the Charatcers, and enters into the different Humours, or Passions, as they change from one to another throughout the Opera.”  He enticed his prospective audience by promising to sing sixty-nine songs throughout the course of the evening.  This was a spectacle to be seen!

In addition to newspaper advertisements, the unnamed performer likely relied on others means of publicizing his shows.  He may have posted broadsides around town or distributed handbills, though such items were even more ephemeral than newspapers and thus less likely to survive for later generations to examine.  Consider that his advertisement for a performance on Friday, March 23 appeared in an extraordinary issue of the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter published that very day.  Richard Draper did not usually distribute his newspaper on Fridays, but happened to publish a two-page supplement on March 23.  Without it, notice of the itinerant performer’s show that evening would not have been presented to prospective audiences in any of Boston’s several newspapers, suggesting that he made other arrangements to promote it in advance.  The newspaper notice instructed that “TICKETS for admissions [were] to be had at Green & Russell’s Printing Office, and at the Bunch of Grapes in King-Street.”  At the very least, he may have posted broadsides at those two busy hubs for exchanging information.

November 3

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Nov 3 - 11:3:1769 New-Hampshire Gazette
New-Hampshire Gazette (November 3, 1769).

“Tickets for Admission to be had … at the Printing-Office.”

The tour continued! In the fall of 1769 an itinerant performer traveled from city to city in New England, advertising in local newspapers at each stop along the way. His notices first appeared in the Providence Gazette on September 16, then in the Boston Chronicle and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter on September 28, and again in the Essex Gazette on October 10. To entice patrons, he announced that “His Stay will be short” when he arrived in Salem. An advertisement in the November 3 edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette revealed that his stay had indeed been short. Just a few weeks later he was performing, in his own distinctive fashion of reading portions and singing others, “An OPERA, call’d Love in a Village” at “Mr. Stavers’s Long ROOM” in Portsmouth. As usual in his advertisements, he informed local audiences that he “personates all the Characters, and enters into the different Humours or Passions, as they change from one to another throughout the Opera.”

The performer also included another standard element of his advertisements, instructions for prospective patrons to obtain “Tickets for Admission” either at the venue or at the local printing office. Printers played an integral role in his tour “of the great Towns in America.” They not only published the advertisements that informed audiences about upcoming performances, they also took served as an auxiliary box office, selling tickets and collecting money on behalf of the performer. Printing offices were hubs of activity in eighteenth-century America, places where colonists exchanged information in print, in manuscript, and in conversation … yet they exchanged more than just information in those busy spaces when printers took on additional responsibilities for their clients. Sometimes they served as local agents when colleagues issued subscription notices for proposed books. Other times they sold tickets and collected money on behalf of itinerant performers. The services provided by printers extended beyond the publications that came off their printing presses. Colonists regularly had to “enquire of the printer” for purposes other than acquiring information.

October 10

What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago today?

Oct 10 - 10:10:1769 Essex Gazette
Essex Gazette (October 10, 1769).

“Will be READ, A Ballad OPERA.”

Advertisements in colonial newspapers reveal aspects of popular culture in colonial America, everything from fireworks displays to stage performances. Some of them also allow us to trace the routes traveled by itinerant performers who moved from town to town. A series of advertisements inserted in several newspapers published in New England in the fall of 1769, for instance, reveal the itinerary of “a PERSON who has READ and SUNG in most of the great Towns in AMERICA.” In September, he performed a one-man rendition of The Beggar’s Opera in both Providence (advertised in the Providence Gazette) and Boston (advertised in the Boston Chronicle and the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter). He soon moved on to Salem, where he advertised a different show in the Essex Gazette in October.

For this performance, he read “A Ballad OPERA, call’d Damon & Phillida.” The delivery remained the same: “He personates all the Characters, and enters into the different Humours or Passions as they change from one to another, throughout the Opera.” He supplemented the main attraction with “celebrated Songs in the OPERA of Artaxerxes” and “a celebrated CANTATA, called Neptune & Amymone.” Readers of the Essex Gazette, prospective audiences for the performance, may very well have seen advertisements for The Beggar’s Opera in the Boston newspapers, given their circulation beyond the busy urban port and the proximity to Salem. By switching to another opera during his stay in Salem, the unnamed performer presented prospective audiences with something new and novel. To further entice local audiences to attend this new program, the performer added a nota bene advising that “His Stay will be short.” In other words, anyone interested in seeing the performance needed to purchase tickets as quickly as possible or else risk not having a chance to observe this dramatic spectacle before the itinerant performer moved along to another of the “great Towns.” Part of the marketing strategy depended on scarcity, but rather than scarcity of goods it emphasized scarcity of performances and limited opportunities to see the show. The performer challenged readers not to miss an event that would have their friends and neighbors talking long after it was over.