December 31

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

South-Carolina Gazette (December 31, 1772).

“Mr. SAUNDERS has been honoured with the greatest Applause,, by all the Nobility that have seen his Great Performances.”

Newspaper advertisements allow for tracing the travels of itinerant performers who entertained colonizers as they moved from town to town in the eighteenth century.  Those same advertisements also provide a glimpse of some of the popular culture options available audiences in early America.  Just in time for the new year, the “New Advertisements” in the December 31, 1772, edition of the South-Carolina Gazette included a notice that “THE CELEBRATED Mr. SAUNDERS Will exhibit his DEXTERITY and GRAND DECEPTION.”

Hyman Saunders, an illusionist, already established a reputation for his “Variety of new, astonishing, and entertaining Performances, by Dexterity of Hand, surpassing every Thing of the Kind that has hitherto been seen, or attempted, on this Side [of] the Atlantic” in New York and Pennsylvania.  Since arriving in the colonies from Europe just over two years earlier, he had moved back and forth between New York and Philadelphia, placing advertisements in the New-York Journal, the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, the Pennsylvania Chronicle, and the Pennsylvania Journal.

To incite interest in his performances, Saunders suggested that colonizers would gain access and enjoy the same entertainments as the better sorts on both sides of the Atlantic.  He trumpeted that he “has been honoured with the greatest Applause, by all the Nobility that have seen his Great Performances in Europe, America, and the West-Indies.”  The illusionist made sure to list prominent colonial officials who had seen his performances, including the governors of Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.  Audiences who came to his show in “STOTHERD’s Long Room” in Charleston or hired him for “private Performances at their own Houses” would join the ranks of “the Nobility and Gentry in Great-Britain, Ireland, and America, and in particular in the capital Cities.”  Residents of Charleston, one of the largest urban ports in the colonies, wanted their town to rank among those “capital Cities.”  Saunders offered them an opportunity to partake in the same entertainments previously enjoyed by their counterparts in other “capital Cities” in the colonies and throughout the British Empire.

Like other itinerant performers, Saunders resorted to newspaper advertisements to announce his arrival in hopes of inciting interest in his performances.  He gave a preview of the wonders that audiences would witness, noting that he earned “the greatest Applause” from audiences that included “the Nobility and Gentry … in capital Cities.”  Upon purchasing tickets “at ONE DOLLAR each,” colonizers from various backgrounds could experience the same entertainments, but the better sort concerned about the prospects of rubbing elbows with the masses could also schedule private performances that enhanced their own status and Saunders’s acclaim as well.

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.

June 7

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

Jun 7 - 6:7:1768 South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal
South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal (June 7, 1768).

“Mr. STRATON will begin a Course of LECTURES.”

Schoolmaster Osborne Straton frequently advertised his “British Academy on the Green” in the newspapers published in Charleston in the late 1760s. Although he usually sought students who would enroll in his academy, on occasion he offered other opportunities for instruction to the residents of the city. For instance, during the summer of 1768 he delivered “a Course of LECTURES” that took place on Thursday and Saturday afternoons. Straton established a theme for his lecture series, proposing to explicate “a compleat System of Arithmetic, Geometry and Architecture” and promising that each “shall be fully explained, from their first Principles to their Present happy Improvement.”

Compared to the many other schoolmasters and –mistresses that advertised in the South-Carolina Gazette and Country Journal and other newspapers, Straton positioned his British Academy as one of the most elite options available to prospective pupils in the colony. He even concluded his advertisement for the lecture series by noting that he taught Latin and French, reminding regular readers of the extensive curriculum they had encountered in his previous advertisements. For this particular “Course of LECTURES,” however, Straton underscored that he intended to engage general audiences: “The whole to be laid down in a plain Manner so as to be understood even by the unexperienced, for whose Sake this Undertaking is chiefly proposed.” Whether they sought entertainment or elucidation or a combination of the two, Straton invited members of the general public who might not otherwise enroll in his school to benefit from a series of lessons pitched specifically to their level of prior knowledge and experience with the subjects he covered.

Yet he did not throw wide the doors to the British Academy. He expected those who attended the lectures to pay for the experience. He carefully regulated who entered via a system of tickets, sold both by Charles Crouch at the printing office and Straton at the academy. Each ticket “entitle[d] the Bearer to hear eight Lectures.” Straton’s current students who “study any Branch of the Mathematicks” gained free admission, a perquisite of enrolling in his more extensive courses.

The schoolmaster’s verbose advertisements gave readers a sense of the curriculum and teaching style adopted at “the British Academy on the Green.” Even though he oversaw an elite academy, Straton also advertised scholarship opportunities for students who otherwise would not have had the means to enroll in his classes. This lecture series, designed for the benefit of “the unexperienced,” served as another form of outreach to audiences beyond the local gentry. Despite the stuffy persona he frequently cultivated in his advertisements, Starton also managed to communicate an interest in providing educational opportunities for the general public and not just the scions of the elite who could afford to enroll in his academy.