Old And Sold Antiques Auction & Marketplace

Please Select Search Type:
Antiques Digest Browse Auctions Appraisal Home

Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Lottery Fever

The American colonies were floated on lotteries. In 1612 King James I granted permission for a lottery "in special favor for the present plantation of English Col onies in Virainia." Royalty, nobility, -entry, and commoners purchased tickets and the vestryman of a London church agreed "to adventure six pounds to the profitte of our church stocke in the lottery for the plantation of Vergenya, and what benefit shall happen shall be for the good of our church."

The drawing, held in the west end of St. Paul's, realized a profit of 29,000 for the colonization company and "one Thomas Sharplys, a tailor" drew the first prize, "foure thousand crowns in fayre plate which was sent to his house in very stately manner."

With such a precedent the colonies gave lotteries their enthusiastic support in the eighteenth century and considered them highly respectable ventures. Eminent men, amon~ them George Washin~ton, bought and sold lottery tickets, Though most colonial lotteries were held to raise money for public purposes, at least one poet recognized their gambling nature:

The name of Lott'ry the Nature bewitches And City and Country ruh Mad after Riches.

Still local governments could find no easier fashion to obtain the money they needed- The profitable Virginia Company set the pattern for raising funds for construction and repair of roads and bridges, the founding of colleges and hospitals. The lotteries were run honestly, yet there existed some sentiment against them, particularly in New England. A number of ministers in Boston in 1699 branded lottery agents "pillagers of the people," and deplored the turning aside of the poor from earnest labor and frugality to throw themselves into the hands of chance. Local governments took care to authorize only lotteries planned to benefit their communities. The city fathers of Philadelphia turned thumbs down in May of 1728 on a proposed venture: "The Board having heard that a Lottery was Intended to be Erected by Samuel Keimer in this city . . . he having sett forth several printed papers for that purpose, the Board sent for the sd Keimer, who came and having heard what he had to say in behalf of the sd lottery, Ordered that no Lottery be held during the said fair."

In an effort to prohibit promotion of lotteries for personal profit an act was passed in New York in 1747 to correct the pernicious consequences to the public by encouraging members of labouring people to assemble at taverns where such lotteries are usually set on foot and drawn.

Frequently the public lotteries distributed more money in prizes than to their avowed objectives. In 1762 Boston had a population of about twenty thousand, around three thousand families. A forty-cent donation from each family would have been sufficient to rebuild Faneuil Hall, which has been destroyed in the big fire of 1761.

The necessity of a large and convenient Hall in such a town as this, upon all Public Occasions, can't be disputed. The Rebuilding Faneuil-Hall has therefore been generally approved of; and the encouragement it will meet with from the Public, will, we doubt not, be in some Measure proportionable to its Importance.

A lottery was held and was a whopping success-for the ticket holders. Prize money ran to $10,800, but the restoration of the hall netted only $1200.

So respectable were lotteries considered that in 1794 the General Assembly of Rhode Island approved this means of completing the building of a church, sanctioning the lottery as a promotion of "Public Worship, and the advancement of Religion." Its managers balanced a high moral tone ("every well-wisher to Society and good Order will become cheerful adventurers") with a simple appeal to greed ("advantageously calculated, there being less than two Blanks to one Prize"). Three thousand tickets were sold at three dollars apiece, whatever the buyers' motives.

Occasional voices were raised, questioning whether the end justified the means, as when a letter appeared in the Columbi'an Centinel, February 26, 1791, citing that, as a zealous enemy to lotteries, the writer had asked whether the General Court of Massachusetts would grant a lottery for the purpose of supplying with a Bible every person in the eastern part of the commonwealth who was unable to purchase one, and reminding the serious reader that there was no injunction against lotteries in that sacred book.

But no quibbles seem to have troubled Americans concerned then as now with education of the young. In the eighteenth century this benevolent disposition was supported by lotteries. The people of Massachusetts liberally supported the Williamstown Free-School Lottery, which was drawn in May 1790. Such institutions of higher learning as Yale, William and Mary, Union, Columbia, Williams, and the University of North Carolina organized lotteries and one held for the benefit of Dartmouth College was advertised in the Salem Gazette in 1796:

Dartmouth College Lottery CLASS SECOND

The -Managers of Dartmouth College Lottery present to the Public the following Scheme of the Second Class, in which they have aimed to meet their wishes by making a larger proportion of valuable prizes than usual; they flatter themselves that the same Public Spirit will be displayed, by encouraging the sale of Tickets in this, that was so fully manifested in the former Class.

The corporation of Rhode Island College (now Brown) lacked funds adequate to "discharge in the best manner the trust reposed in them for the education of youth," so in 1797, the General Assembly of the state of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations granted the right to hold a lottery. There was a sale of nine thousand tickets at six dollars each and $46,000 offered as prize money.

Harvard ran several lotteries during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, one for the building of Stoughton Hall. The college tendered $125,000 in prize money, subject to 12 1/2 per-cent deduction, and itself bought about 330 of the 16,642 tickets sold. Oddly enough, it drew the first prize of $10,000 with one of them. Lotteries were used in the eighteenth century to foster private industries - among the first, grape growing and glass blowing. In 1763 hemp growers of New York were aided by a lottery designed to raise 13,000, and in 1785 Massachusetts allowed the owners of a paper mill in Milton to follow suit. However, there were loud grumblings in 1791, when the Massachusetts Legislature gave a permit to sell lottery tickets to the proprietors of the Beverly Cotton Manufactury, the editor of the Salem Gazette rebutting: "Some people, out-doors, murmur at this as an illjudged act of liberality; but perhaps they are not acquainted with the arguments which induced the grant. The disposition of the Government to foster our infant manufactures is certainly laudable."

The colonists often employed lotteries to raise funds for military defense. King George's War, though mainly fought in Europe, was taken very seriously by New Yorkers who held a lottery in 1746 to provide their city with defensive works.

The arguments of the foremost citizens of Philadelphia-Benjamin Franklin among them-prevailed over gentle Quaker pacifism in 1748 and a lottery was organized to raise 3000 for a battery of cannon to defend the city. In 1745 Massachusetts wanted to send a fully equipped military expedition to the aid of harassed Annapolis, and when taxation was unable to provide sufficient funds, the General Court granted a lottery to cover the expedition's cost. Again, in 1758, Massachusetts authorized a grand lottery of 30,000 "for the intended expedition against Canada" in the French and Indian War, and the Massachusetts lads who fought under General James W'olfe on the Plains of Abraham were outfitted from its profits.

Permission to hold lotteries to clear off mortgages and start small artisans in business was commonly granted, and in 1747 a New York lady proposed a "Charitable Lottery" designed to provide distressed widows and deserving virgins with husbands. New York under the English was a money-crazy town and marriage without a dowry all but impossible. The unendowed tried to remedy their fortunes through lotteries and one spinster, embittered by bad luck proposed:

WHEREAS, by the great and melancholy disuse of holy matrimony in this city Rc province, an infinite number of His Majesty's goad & loving female subjects remain widows, and others are left upon the hands of their parents in the unnatural state of virginity, to the grievous prejudice of the Commonwealth, the insupportable burden of private families, & the unspeakable concern, affliction & grief of the said families. And WHEREAS all ordinary methods to prevent or remedy so great & growing an evil, have hitherto proved ineffectual:

BE IT ENACTED &C. That all the. widows & virgins of the City & Province aforesaid, from the ages of 15 to 50 may & shall be disposed of by lottery, in the following manner, THAT IS TO SAY,

Every unmarried male person of the age aforesaid, in this city & province, that shall be allowed & approved of as proper adventurers in this lottery shall give in their names & take out each one ticket for which he shall pay the sum of 5; And that every widow & virgin shall and may each put in their names gratis.

The great prizes are to be two fortunes of 5,000 each; 10 of 1500; 4 of 2000; 20 of 1000, 40 of 500; 50 of 200; and 100 of 100 each. The second prizes are Beauties in Number 200; Pretty girls, 100; Widows, 500; Agreeables, 200; Good conditioned, 400; Wits, 10; and Housewives, 5. The lowest prizes are: Women of Fashion & Good-breeding, 100; Good card-players, 200; Misses of General Accomplishments, 50; Friskies, 50; Special Breeders, 500; and Saints of the First Magnitude, 150. And in the list of blanks are comprehended all the females of this city & province unmarried within the age aforesaid.

BE IT PROVIDED, That in this present lottery no man shall be permitted to take a ticket who is not worth 500, unless it be such useless and idle persons, who do little or nothing else all day but stroll up & down the streets with a pipe in their mouths smoking; & with respect to All such, it is hereby declared that they shall serve their country this way, seeing that they are or will be of no further use to the community.

AND BE IT FURTHER ENACTED-that whatsoever any man shall draw, whether blank or prize, good or bad, he shall be obliged to husband 8c keep the same; whereby this City 8c Province will be relieved & Discharged of all the present widows and virgins, & of their doleful complaints, & the births, in all probability, increased to near one half the number this ensueing year.

Lotteries came to be held for private projects and ambitious schemes. Colonel Joseph Pendleton of Rhode Island, who had lost an uninsured ship and cargo of molasses in 1750, petitioned for the authority to turn some of his land holdings into ready cash through a lottery. Having realized 15,636 by the sale of chances and paid out (5272 in prizes, the Colonel took the handsome price of 10,364 for his land and the new town that grew up on it took the name of Lotteryville.

In 1776 when the Continental Congress resolved "that a sum of money be raised by way of a lottery, to be drawn in Philadelphia," a lottery wheel existed "in every city and town large enough to boast of a court house and a jail . . . the `State of the Wheel' became as regular an item in the newspapers as the ship news or prices current."

In order to carry on the war against England $10,000,000 was urgently needed, and since the national legislative body had no power to tax, a national lottery was instituted with $5,000,000 in prizes, ranging from $20 to $50,000, though all prize payments over $50 were to be made in the form of promissory notes on the new government and paid off after five years.

The lottery was a disaster, badly managed, with too few tickets sold and the drawing postponed time and again till the young government admitted its failure, earning the ill will of ticket holders.

Lottery brokers came into existence in the eighteenth century. If you could not afford a ticket, the brokers would rent you one for as many days as you liked during the drawings, which were spaced out to prolong the excitement, only one ticket being drawn each day. Unsold tickets rose in price if the main prizes remained undrawn. During the Amoskeag lottery of 1807, a Massachusetts broker advertised:

Further Information.-The Amoskeag highest prize, of Eight Thousand Dollars, is still undrawn, and the wheels are extraordinarily rich, having gained, since the drawing began, upward of Six Thousand Dollars. There is therefore every probability that the scrip will soon rise. Those who intend to purchase for the sake of a chance for the highest prize, are advised to do it before it is drawn out of the wheel, which may be to-morrow. Those who purchased for the sake of a cheap ticket, would do well to wait till afterwards.

The lottery agents utilized frenzied broadsides to ballyhoo tickets that allowed a twenty-thousand-to-one chance of winning a high prize.

If any body wants TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS they are requested to call on JOHN RUSSELL, who will, for a trifling consideration, put them in a way to realize that, or another sum of less magnitude, in the course of September next, when the rich Wheels of Hatfield Bridge Lottery will begin to move.

Crude engravings of the Goddess of Fortune often headed lottery advertisements in newspaper and handbills. The good lady was generally blindfolded and nimbly balanced on a lottery wheel. In one hand she held a paper clearly marked with the high prize, in the other a horn of plenty out of which gold fell freely into the waiting hands of lucky adventurers.

Booksellers and printers generally sold lottery tickets, notifying the public that they conducted a "Fortunate Lottery Office." Agents advertised their names and places of business widely, and advised "all who court the smiles of Fortune" when winning tickets had been purchased in their establishments. Some offices resorted to light verse to entice customers, and Kidder, Gilbert & - Dean, outstanding agents in Boston, brightened their doggerel with illustrations. One such is a woodcut of fishermen casting for large fish labeled with the sums of the prize money:


A NEW LOTTERY SONG. TUNE-"There are sweepers in high life as well as in low." In the fish pond of fortune men angle always Some angle for titles, some angle for praise, Some angle for favor, some angle for wives, And some angle for nought all the days of their lives: Ye who'd angle for Wealth and would Fortunes obtain, Get your hooks baited by Kidder, Gilbert & Dean. Some angle for pleasure, some angle for pain, Some angle for trifles, some angle for gain, Some angle for glory, some angle for strife, Some angle to make themselves happy for life: Ye who'd angle, etc.

Bookmark and Share