Friday, December 2, 2011

The Roman Advertiser

I've been browsing through issues of The Roman Advertiser, a weekly newspaper that premiered in October 1846, but only lasted for the next 3 years. Although it was short-lived, at the time it was important because it provided British and American tourists who didn't speak English with an opportunity to know what was going on in Rome. These tourists would frequently stay in Rome for months, not 3 days like tourists today, so they would become part of this English-language community while they were there. Keep in mind also that "Italy" did not exist as an independent country until 1861, and even then Rome was still an independent country until it was annexed in 1870 (which is why Vatican City is still an independent country). Rome was always a major tourist spot, as you can see from this 1821 painting by Sir Charles Eastlake of A View of Trajan's Forum, Rome (image: YCBA). Painting pictures like this (18 years before photography was officially invented) allowed tourists the opportunity to record visual memories to bring home. In our world, we snap digital pictures and we read our newspapers online, so it was rather exciting to actually turn the pages of a 19th-century newspaper, skimming articles and reenacting what someone else in Rome actually was doing more than 150 years ago. Although I've been focusing on art-related news for my research, I came across a few things today that I couldn't resist blogging about. (Stay tuned for the funny stuff below!)

Even though each issue opened with local news about the Pope and the surrounding Italian states, the real juice was when they talked about the famous people who had come to town and what hotels they are staying in. When the Duke of Devonshire showed up to spend the winter in Rome, the newspaper reported regularly on his dinner parties and the aristocrats he hosted, such as Prince and Princess Torlonia, the Earl and Countess Shelbourn, Lady J. Grey, etc. He also had Mr. and Madame Oury perform concerts for his guests, he a violinist, she a pianist. Although there was social excitement, Mother Nature sometimes got in the way too. In early December 1846, after a storm the Tiber River overflowed and flooded the streets of Rome. Although devastation was more extensive in the Campagna, the city itself had its share of problems. The jeweler Castellani had to take out an advertisement to let patrons know that he had temporarily moved after "being visited by the Tiber in his establishment."

On April 10, 1847, they published an article on current demographics about Rome. At that time, they estimated there were 177,971 people living in Rome. Of this number, 17,606 were domiciled strangers such as John Gibson and other artists living there, which accounted for 10% of the population. There were 32 cardinals, 21 archbishops and bishops, 313 physicians, 223 surgeons, 66 midwives, 339 masters and mistresses of schools, 46,672 shopkeepers, and 16,552 servants. Curiously, they also reported that there were 3,828 Jews living in Rome, which accounted for 2% of the population. To put this all in context, I did some Googling and discovered that at about same time NYC had a population of 371,223, while Paris was at 1 million and London 2 million. In other words, Rome was small in comparison. What is even more staggering is that 1800 years earlier during the reign of Emperor Augustus Caesar, the city of ancient Rome had 800,000 people living in it, and that may not even include the slaves!

Now for the humor. At the end of each issue, there were advertisements. Many of these related to the tourist industry, restaurants and hotels marketing themselves for clients. But there were personal ads also, individuals seeking employment from the tourists. For instance, one young woman was apparently desperate to leave Rome and was willing to work for it: "A LADY wishes to go to England, or Paris, with a family as travelling companion, and would be happy to take the charge of young persons, or to devote her attentions to an invalid." Another woman sought employment in Rome: "WANTS A PLACE as lady’s maid a Swiss who can speak several languages and knows very well her business. The best references can be given." The Swiss maid must have found work, for a few weeks later his mistress was leaving town and wanted to help her find another employer: "A LADY about to leave Rome after Easter, is anxious to procure a situation for her femme-de-chambre (a Swiss, speaking French, German and Italian) whom she can recommend in every respect as honest and industrious, capable of dressing hair, making dresses and getting up fine linen.—Has also no objection to undertake the charge of one child." Women seeking employment as companions, nurses, maids, etc. were not uncommon (image: Justin Cormack's Flickr). A single woman in 19th-century society really had few options if she had been unable to marry. What is very strange, however, is this next ad, in which a man seems to be seeking similar work. I may be reading too much into this, but if I didn't know any better, this guy was looking for his own Sugar Daddy! It ran: "WANTED, by an English Gentleman, of good family, aged thirty, the situation of companion to an Invalid, or Elderly Gentleman, or that of Secretary or Amanuensis. He speaks French fluently, also a little German and Italian; plays on the Organ and Piano with considerable talent; possesses a good voice for reading and writes an excellent hand. Superior and unexceptionable references can be given in Rome, Paris and London." Hey, I could have written that ad! (Well, maybe not.)

Images were not yet regularly appearing in the mainstream press at this time, so advertisers had to rely on clever writing to market their work. If ever you thought bodily concerns were just something we worried about now, think again. Here's an ad for Grimstone's Aromatic Regenerator:
EYEBROWS, MUSTACHIOS and WHISKERS produced in a few weeks, and Baldness removed by the use of GRIMSTONE'S AROMATIC REGENERATOR, an essential spirit, drawn from aromatic herbs and flowers, a few drops of which cure headache in a few minutes; it is also a most delightful, fragrant toilet perfume. Sold only in triangular bottles, protected by the Government stamp, at 4s [i.e. shillings]; double the size, 7s; and double this size, 11s each; enclosed in a Pamphlet, containing testimonials of undoubted authority, entitled "Three Minutes' Advice on the Growth and Preservation of the Human Hair, etc."
It grows hair, removes baldness, cures headaches, AND is a perfume?? No way! Do you think it works? I wonder if anyone has tried it? Well, what do you know...
Mrs. Weekley, of No. 3, Swan-street, Borough, takes this opportunity of publicly thanking Mr. W. Grimstone, of the Herbary, High-gate, for the efficacy of his Aromatic Regenerator, in having completely restored the hair on her head after using it about four months, and her hair is now much stronger and more luxuriant than it was previous to its falling off. Mrs. W. inserts this testimony, thinking that the virtues of his preparation cannot be too generally known, not only in the restoration and production of hair, but in the cure of nervous and other headaches, and will be happy to answer the inquiries of any respectable person.
Technology may have changed, but advertising certainly hasn't!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Prose stylings sure have, though.