History in the small ads

By Juliana Adelman
No one interested in cultural, or indeed economic, history will doubt the wealth of material that can be gleaned from advertisements.  Newspapers are of course the most abundant source of ads, but I have often found fantastic information about a book publisher’s catalogue or a book store’s stock from magazine covers and wrappings.  Recently a history book on the personal ad has made a bit of a splash (Classified: the secret history of the personal column by, I kid you not, H. G. Cocks).  American PhD student Pam Epstein has blogged some of the nineteenth-century ads that she is using for her research.

At the moment I am reading the Irish Sportsman in an effort to get my head around the market for various animals (especially horses) as well as attitudes to different animal sports.  I have found classified ads to be the most interesting and useful portion of the paper.  In fact, they comprise about 50% of the content.  I now know the average price of having your mare serviced by a stallion in 1880 (about £7 plus 5s for the groom and fees for feed), that pet otters were not uncommon and that dog owners were willing to pay £25 rewards for the return of lost or stolen pets.  For a short while in the 1870s, the Irish Sportsman also seemed to serve as a kind of marriage broker between isolated country folk and lonely city folk.  The following ads are a few of the ones I enjoyed reading, all are from the Irish Sportsman and full date and page references given below each.  Enjoy! (P.S. the image is, unfortunately, not an advertisement I have actually come across.)

Adorable Willie!—Our Carriage at Punchestown will, I hear, be directly opposite the Stand, so you can be on the qui vive.  Mamma, Boys, and Girls are all friendly, but Papa still inexorable.  You are sure to get a good opportunity, if you watch.  I dare not write.  “Ye gods, annihilate time and space, and make two lovers happy” (16 April 1870, p. 1)

Harry B___T is entreated to return to his broken-hearted wife.  Home is desolate and life intolerable without him.  All is forgiven, for love covers every fault.  Return, darling!—Return!—Return! (30 April 1870, p. 1)

Boy Wanted…His principal business will be to look after Dogs (for which he must have a liking) and to mind a Horse (4 June 1870, p. 1, I love the requirement that he like the dogs)

The “OLD MAN’S DARLING” is to meet him, on the day and at the hour named, without fail. (16 July 1870, p. 1)

The “OLD MAN’S DARLING” is a Nasty Disagreeable “Monkey” after all. (23 July 1870, p. 1, So we can presume she didn’t turn up…)

THE “Old Man’s Darling” is very foolish, and certainly most unjust.  Pshaw! Shame! (22 October 1870, p. 1)

AURORA LEIGH—“Fat, Fair, and Forty.” (30 July 1870, p. 1, I don’t follow the code.  Any suggestions?)

MATRIMONY.—A Young Gentleman (who flatters himself that he is good-looking), of refined literary tastes and accomplishments, but afflicted with the failing of “inpecuniosity” [sic] (though possessed of a moderate independent income) is anxious to correspond with a Lady with a view to matrimony.  Applicants must not be afflicted similarly to advertiser…(3 September 1870, p. 1, Well he sounds a charmer, eh?)

THE FAIR ANONYMA.—If the Lady, with the green plaid shawl and diamond necklace who traveled to Dublin by the last train on Thursday in Ballinasloe week and who got in at Mullingar station will communicate her address to “Incognitus.” Office of the Irish Sportsman and Farmer, mutual advantages may ensue. (29 October 1870, p. 1)

MATRIMONY.—An English Gentleman (almost a naturalized Irishman) is anxious to obtain the hand of an Irish lady.  Age and religion immaterial; property indispensable; is good looking; 30 years of age; and flatters himself he would make a paragon of husbands; strictest honour and secrecy may be relied on; Carte-de-visite unnecessary, but may be sent.  Address “Omega,” for three weeks, Office of this Paper.  (12 November 1870, p. 1)

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