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Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

23 August 2010

Tickets and Tokens


I’m sure you’ve heard of people having a box at the theatre, or buying a season ticket for Vauxhall (or one of the other pleasure gardens), or paying to attend a charity ball. But have you ever seen the tickets that were issued for these events? Often, they were actually metal tokens which were inscribed either with a number or the owner’s name. This is a Georgian-era “ticket” for Vauxhall Garden.

There’s a wonderful story from the Annual Register (1822) in which an Italian visitor, Belzoni, recounts the travails of his attempt to attend a very expensive charity performance at the Opera House (a 10 guinea ticket, so roughly a $1000+). The subscription was sold out, but he bought a ticket from a man he knew (Mr. Ebers). When Belzoni arrived at the theatre, he was told the ticket he had had a “wrong ticket” which had been recorded as “lost”, and he was arrested! After protesting, a peer he knew came over and exchanged tickets with him, allowing him to go in while the earl straightened things out. After about half an hour, three Bow Street Runners arrived, arrested him (under the direction of the house manager) and hauled him before the magistrate, Sir Richard Brinie, who was attending the event. No one would listen to his protests that the ticket he now had was from the Earl of Ancram and that the Mr. Ebers who’d sold him the supposedly “wrong” ticket was within. Luckily, the Earl of Ancram saw what was happening, substantiated that Mr. Ebers said he had sold the ticket, and said he would be answerable for it. And finally our poor Italian was free to enjoy the Opera. Though mostly he seems to have spent the remainder of the night walking about, making sure everyone who’d witnessed his ill-treatment knew he had been released and found not to be a ticket thief.

I've never written a plot around a theatre token, but I can see lots of possibilities. I love little details such as this, as they fire my imagination. How about you? Do you kind the minutia of the day inspiring on occasion?

11 Comments:

Anonymous Kathrynn Dennis said...

Occasionally, I'm inspired when I read about the "archeological find of the week"!

Reading about the day-to-day utensils found in the Civil War POW camp that's recently been discovered got me thinking about a new plot line--a period romance that starts with the interred hero contemplating his most prized pocession, a small pocket knife--which he is forced to trade for food.

The knife ends up in the hands of a grifter, who convinces the heroine the hero sold it to him to buy a new lady love a wedding ring....

And so it goes, all inspired from photos of rusty forks and knives, buttons and buckles...things that have been buried and forgotten for 150 years!

10:08 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Isobel, theatre tokens were one of my favorite discoveries at the theatre museum (I forget it's official name, but it's in Covent Garden and connected to the V&A) the last time I was in London. I put in a bit in my unpublished third Charles and Mélanie book where they're quickly getting ready to go theatre to chase down a clue, and she reaches for the token for the Haymarket only to realize she has the one for Covent Garden instead.

1:21 AM  
Blogger Mary Blayney said...

Isobel, you constantly add wonderfuld etails to me knowledge of Regency life. Thanks.

A blank check was the inspiration for my second Harlequin contemporary (a loong time ago) -- I wondered what would happen if someone (in this case my heroine) made the check out for one million dollars. It certainly got the attetnion of the hero.

4:28 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

Fascinating... and no, I'm a bit embarrassed to confess I never thought what such a thing would actually look like.

Though I have wondered about Almack's vouchers -- anybody know?

7:20 AM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

@Pam: I've been looking, but have never found one. I did discover that they used gambling chips (just like poker chips!) at White's.

Recently, I was inspired by the giant salt water croc spotted off the coast of Normandy . . . but two days later it was confirmed to be a log. *sigh*

7:40 AM  
Blogger Isobel Carr said...

In Almack's Revisited (1828) the author refers to a card with "Gentleman's Voucher" printed on it.

In The New Monthly Magazine (1820) there's a satirical poem that reads in part:

Your voucher's issued, duly signed;
but hold--your ticket's left behind.


So clearly there was more to it than just having a voucher or being on the guest list.

A Glance at Almack's in 1829 mentions that the tickets are an outrageous 3 guineas each, so clearly you had to secure permission to buy a ticket (your voucher) and then pay for the tickets themselves.

I can find no mention of the voucher being any kind of token.

8:37 AM  
Blogger Pam Rosenthal said...

great info. thanks. And I do know that the patronesses had 3 baskets, yes, no, and maybe -- and that you might languish in the maybe basket for an uncomfortably long time before receiving your voucher. I researched this for THE EDGE OF IMPROPRIETY, but I can't remember now where I learned it.

8:51 AM  
Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

Fascinating and a great piece of information to tuck into a story some day.

I love those little tidbits that never make it into the history books, but can sometimes tremendous impact on the every day lives of our heroes and heroines.

My current WIP takes place in a house about which I read in doing some casual research. I managed to find a Regency period book about the house and there is so much fascinating information packed into the history of this house I am having trouble deciding which bits to include and which bits to leave out.

4:17 PM  
Blogger Lauren Willig said...

It's the little details like that that make all the difference.... One of the other quirky period tidbits I've loved was the vogue for portraits of eyes. Not the whole person, just the eye. Not something any one of us could ever have dreamed up.

5:20 PM  
Blogger Diane Whiteside said...

Isobel - my grandmother collected antique bottles, based on which ones might tell the most interesting story. One of them saved my heroine's virtue in THE IRISH DEVIL.

I still look around for bottles whenever I'm in an old house! LOL

6:33 PM  
OpenID elysemady said...

Thanks for filling in one of those great details that gets lost in the mists. After all, what Regency author thought, "Gee, better make sure I describe that theatre token for posterity"? I mean, in contemporaries, everyone just 'knows' what a cellphone looks like or what an 'app' is - those mundane details are just assumed or seen as so pedestrian that they defy description. In two hundred years, those sorts of details may get lost, too! :)

Elyse

1:34 PM  

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