What was advertised in a colonial American newspaper 250 years ago this week?
“Mr. SAUNDERS’s stay in this City will be but a few weeks.”
Like many other itinerant performers, Hyman Saunders, an illusionist, placed newspaper advertisements to inform the public when he arrived in town and to attract audiences throughout his stay. In February 1771, he placed a notice in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury to announce that he planned to “CONTINUE his PERFORMANCES a few Nights” longer in that city, presumably extending his stay. Anyone who wished to see him perform had only a limited time to do so.
Saunders apparently exaggerated how quickly he would move to a new town. Three months later he arrived in Philadelphia and ran an advertisement in the Pennsylvania Chronicle, asserting that his “stay in this City will be but a few weeks.” Once again, he attempted to attract audiences by proclaiming that they could see his show for a limited time only. Local audiences had two options for seeing Saunder’s show, general admission at Josiah Davenport’s tavern or private functions. He gave performances at the Bunch of Grapes on Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday evenings. At other times, he “also performs in private to any select company, at any place they please to appoint.”
Describing his act helped Saunders incite interest among prospective audiences. He declared that they would witness “a variety of new astonishing and entertaining performance, by dexterity of hand, surpassing any thing of the kind that has hitherto been seen or attempted on this side the Atlantic.” Saunders promised a spectacle unlike anything audiences had ever seen. Spread over three acts, his illusions would “deceive the eye of the nicest observer, and appear in a manner supernatural.” Some of those previous observers included “his Excellency the Earl of DUNMORE, governor of New-York” as well as “nobility and gentry” on both sides of the Atlantic. Saunders expected that performing before such dignitaries testified to the quality of the illusions he would soon present to audiences in Philadelphia.
In announcing his arrival and describing his act, Saunders relied on anticipation and exhilaration to entice audiences to catch a performance at the Bunch of Grapes or to hire him for a private exhibition. He asked readers to imagine his show, building a sense of anticipation that would transform into exhilaration when they witnessed the spectacle of illusions unlike any others previously seen in the colonies. Saunders also encouraged readers to anticipate his departure after a few weeks, warning them not to wait to attend his performance or risk not having an opportunity to see his “dexterity of hand” for themselves.