October 23

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

New-Hampshire Gazette (October 23, 1772).

“He has been oblig’d to take away the upper Gallery intirely.”

As audiences in Philadelphia enjoyed “FEATS in HORSEMANSHIP” performed by Mr. Bates and illusions performed by Hyman Saunders and Abraham Benjamin in the fall of 1772, patrons in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, attended performances “at the ACADEMY ROOM in Pitt-Street.”  A brief advertisement in the October 16 edition of the New-Hampshire Gazette reminded prospective members of the audience that the “Exhibitions will be perform’d as usual” that evening, though with some alterations or variation in the program.  A week later, a new advertisement provided a list of acts for an upcoming performance, demonstrating even to those who had recently attended that the theater offered something new for their amusement and entertainment.  The acts included “THE DEVIL and the DOCTOR, … A DRAMATIC SATIRE,” “A PANTOMINICAL ENTERTINMENT in Grotesque Characters, call’d WIN HER, and WEAR HER; or, HARLOQUIN SKELETON,” and an “Interlude of SINGING & DANCING, call’d NAVAL GLORY; or, the BRITISH TARS TRIUMPH.”

The advertisement advised that the doors would open at five o’clock and the performance would begin “Punctually” at six o’clock.  Patrons might wish to arrive early to claim their spots for viewing the various acts, especially following a reconfiguration of the Academy Room.  The notice acknowledged complaints “that the first Gallery was very In-commodious.”  To make the experience more comfortable and, in turn, more enjoyable for the audience, “Mr. MORGAN takes this opportunity of informing the TOWN, that has alter’d [the Academy Room}as much for the better as the House will allow.”  In order to do so, “he has been oblig’d to take away the upper Gallery intirely.”  That may explain why the advertisement gave the prices for tickets at “3, & 2 Pistereens each” compared to the “3, 2, and 1 Pistereen” in the previous notice.  Admission to the upper gallery, no longer available, had apparently cost one pistareen.  That portion of the advertisement demonstrates that performers promoted more than just the spectacles on the stage when they marketed their shows.  In this advertisement, the space in which the performances took place was just as important as the program of satires, pantomimes, and songs.  Those acts could have been performed in any tavern, but utilizing a space specifically adapted for the comfort and convenience of audiences enhanced the experience of attending the shows.

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.

September 27

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (September 21, 1772).

“As yet there has not appeared an American Edition of this valuable Piece, what few came over were soon snatch’d up.”

Thomas Nixon sold several books at “his Shop at the Fly-Market” in New York in the fall of 1772.  In an advertisement in the September 21, 1772, edition of the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury he promoted “THE celebrated Lecture on HEADS, by George Alexander Stevens” and “the Devil upon Crutches in England, or the Night Scenes in London, a satirical Work, written upon the Plan of the celebrated Diable Boiteua of Monsieur La Sage, by a Gentleman of Oxford.”  Both books had been published in Philadelphia, The Celebrated Lecture on Heads by Samuel Dellap, whose name appeared just as prominently in the advertisement as Nixon’s own, and The Devil upon Crutches by William Evitt. According to Isaiah Thomas, Dellap traveled frequently between Philadelphia and New York, transporting books from each location for sale in the other.

Nixon composed an advertisement that deployed the popularity of those works to market them to consumers in New York.  To entice readers to purchase Stevens’s satire on fashion and physiognomy, Nixon proclaimed, “These Lectures have been exhibited in London upwards of One Hundred successive Nights, to crowded Audiences, and met with the most universal Applause.”  Consumers could experience that sensation themselves, though tangentially, by acquiring their own copies of the “celebrated Lecture.”  The advertisement went into even greater detail about audience reception of The Devil upon Crutches.  “This Satyre,” Nixon explained, “is universally approved of by all Ranks of People in Europe, and all those Parts of America where it has made its Appearance.”  The bookseller attempted to use the strength of sales elsewhere to influence local consumers, reporting that “six large Impressions were struck off in London in one Year, besides several other Impressions printed in Dublin and Edinburgh.” A few copies found their way to the colonies, met with such demand that they “were soon snatch’d up, tho’ sold at no less Price than 5s.”  Rather than five shillings, Nixon offered the first American edition of only two shillings, surely a bargain for readers who wanted to partake in the phenomenon of The Devil upon Crutches.

Today, publishers regularly cite bestseller lists and the number of copies sold in their efforts to convince consumers to purchase books that have already achieved widespread popularity.  Nixon devised a version of that strategy when he marketed The Celebrated Lecture on Heads and The Devil upon Crutches in New York during the era of the American Revolution.

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.

February 4

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

New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury (February 4, 1771).

“He intends to CONTINUE his PERFORMANCES a few Nights.”

When Hyman Saunders, an illusionist, arrived in New York from Europe in the fall of 1770, he placed an advertisement in the New-York Journal to introduce himself and invite colonists to attend performances “at the house of Mr. Hyer, on Hunter’s Quay” or schedule a “private exhibition.”  Saunders encouraged the curious to see his show as soon as possible or risk missing it because his “stay in this city will be but a few weeks.”  Itinerant performers often deployed that strategy for inciting interest in the spectacles they offered to prospective audiences.  They created a form of scarcity when they stated that they would remain in town for only a limited time.

Sometimes itinerant performers did move to the next town fairly quickly.  Consider, for instance, the series of advertisements placed by an unnamed performer “who has Read and Sung in most of the great Towns in America” in the Providence, Boston, Salem, and Portsmouth in less than two months in the fall of 1769.  He offered a few performances in each place before moving along to the next.  Other performers attempted to encourage interest by proclaiming that they would soon depart for other places, but then remained much longer.  Such was the case for Saunders.  On February 4, 1771, he inserted an advertisement in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury.  He no longer included his first name, perhaps believing that he achieved sufficient local celebrity in the three months he already spent in New York to dispense with such a detail.  He also eliminated the description of “variety of entertaining as well as surprising tricks” that appeared in earlier advertisements.  Instead, he simply announced that he “intends to CONTINUE his PERFORMANCES a few Nights … longer in NEW-YORK.”  That he remained in the city at that time was not by his own design but instead in response to the “PARTICIULAR DESIRE of several Ladies and Gentlemen,” or so he claimed.  Saunders sought to give the public what they wanted.  To that end, he also continued offering private shows “to any select Company,” suggesting another trajectory of demand for his “astonishing performances in the dexterity of hand.”

When they advertised, itinerant performers often emphasized that they would be in town for only a limited time so colonists needed to catch their shows before they were gone or else miss out on the popular culture experiences enjoyed by other members of their communities.  Performers often delayed their departures in order to offer additional shows.  Some, like Saunders who remained in New York for months, may not have planned to leave after a short time at all, but others did move along fairly quickly.  Even though he already remained in town for three months, Saunders attempted to leverage uncertainty about his departure in order to incite demand for his upcoming performances.

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.

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.