An Inquiry Into the History, Art and Craft of the Poster
A History of the Posterguys
Before the Beginning....
After correctly interpreting the conflicting dreams of the Pharaoh Sesostris II of Egypt, the slave Joseph son of Jacob was given a Royal ring of authority and put in charge as governor. Naturally the Pharaoh turned to the local Crier of Tidings, a Theban native who also happened to be a scribe and stonecarver, to ensure that news of this great development would spread far and wide. And he made Joseph go up into his second chariot, the Crier proclaiming that all should bow their knee before him, and that they should know he was made governor over the whole Land of Egypt. – Genesis 41:43
This particular Crier whose name was Hod enjoyed a long, healthy and peripatetic life, dying in the same year as Governor Joseph. Old Hod’s adventures in crying could fill a book of several volumes.
Later when Moses was delayed atop Mt. Sinai in deep conversation with Yahweh among the stars, angelic shophars transfixing his consciousness, his older brother Aaron improved the time by melting down the jewelry of the impatient multitude and forged a golden calf. Who did impetuous Aaron turn to while the new idol still cooled and smoked in the moonlight to declare God’s replacement?
And when Aaron saw the finished idol, he built an altar before it, and made proclamation by a Crier's voice, saying Tomorrow is the solemnity of the Lord. – Exodus 32:5
History offers only the vaguest hints with regard to the fate of this young ‘tomorrow’ fellow, which must be left to Biblical scholars. One can only hope he was well remunerated for his effort.
But when it came time for the construction of the tabernacle of the actual Word of Yahweh, so much gold, silver and other precious fabric, stone and material were contributed by the Jews that it was more than enough to satisfy the Lord. The Crier was again sent for, on this occasion a literate Levite like Aaron himself.
Moses therefore commanded proclamation to be made by the Crier's voice: Let neither man nor woman offer any more for the work of the sanctuary.
And so they ceased from offering gifts. – Exodus 36:6
It’s tantalizing to speculate about the subsequent life of this fellow, who basically went about his round or accustomed route telling the folk to keep their valuables and that they were each one seen as good in the sight of the Lord. Now that’s crying.
The runner Pheidippides bringing the news to Athens of a Greek victory at Marathon who collapsed and died after delivering it is not only an example of the best type of Crier – a personality and will to match the requirements of the job – but most especially an emblem of the fine traits brought forth by the Art and Craft of Crying generally.
Other examples of official ‘Criers’ in the ancient world were the Spartan Runners in the early Greek Empire, and under the Romans the various network of messengers both local and imperial were made Court employees. Praetorian Criers were sent out from the camp at Mars Hill proclaiming throughout Rome and its vicinities, over his initial protest, the reluctant Emperor Claudius as successor of his just assassinated nephew Caligula.
In the dark ages of northern Europe following the collapse of the Western Empire emerged a class of singers and bardic storytellers called ‘skops’ who passed on in alliterative verse an oral tradition of legends and heroes. The first word of Beowulf, ‘hwaet,’ is a call to attention, a skop’s silencing of the crowd anticipatory to the tale to come. In these cases the skop served as the teller and transmitter of his or her own culture throughout the widespread Scandinavian territories of the ninth and tenth centuries, and the shout of hwaet symbolizes the requirements of all Criers.
In medieval England a ‘Town Crier’ or ‘Bellman’ – the bell or a shout of ‘hear all ye present’ succeeding the hwaet of the skop – was “an Officer of the Court who makes public pronouncements as required by the Court” – Black’s Law Dictionary.
Then again these Criers often found themselves impelled by contingencies to make public announcements in the streets above and beyond the pronouncements of Court or Council.
You are the Town Crier at Coventry in Leicestershire, England in the year 1057 AD.
Your official employer the Earl of Mercia, Leofric of Coventry – whom Lord Tennyson will eight hundred years later refer to as “that grim Earl” owing to his grasping and unsympathetic nature – has chosen this year of Our Lord to impose a series of oppressive new taxes upon you and your fellow citizens.
The new taxes upon Coventry were so extreme that if enacted a good segment of the inhabitants were likely to starve before the following spring. Appealing to Leofric’s good-hearted young wife, the teenaged Lady Godiva the mothers and grandmothers of the town begged her to intercede with her husband on their behalf, but he was at best amused at her concern for the poor and eventually grew tired of her persistent demands.
He finally told her that the day she rode naked down the main street of the town before the strike of noon would be the day that he would repeal the harsh new tax and then “parted with great strides among his dogs.”
The Town Crier of Coventry was then called for, an ironmonger named Daniel who arrived for his assignment to find the Lady in the Earl’s stables having her own horse saddled while a pair of serving maids stood by ready to collect and fold or hang her clothes. Daniel was asked to cry the word that she was about to gallop down the street as nude as Eve for the sake of their children’s lives.
The Crier was to add the request that all citizens, for the sake of their Lady’s natural modesty, to shutter their windows and to keep their front doors closed.
“With immense courage, she quickly stripped, and shaking free her knee-length hair, she ran red-faced and breathless to her horse and galloped through the silent and deserted town, to the city gates and back, arriving to the safety of her castle” as the church bells of the town chimed twelve times.
Shortly thereafter Dan the Crier resumed his rounds, announcing to the citizens of Coventry that not only did their Good Lady have her clothes back on and it was all right to re-open windows and leave their houses but also that the hated tax had been repealed by an astonished and embarrassed Earl Leofric.
Her Ladyship allowed Crier Dan to affix the joyful tidings to the front post of the same stable whereupon her empty clothing had been hung for all the town’s folk to see.
In fables and folklore this is referred to as the fulfillment of a Rash Promise, but in the case of Godiva the story is true as cried.
Nine years later when Duke William of Normandy crossed the English Channel with his invading army, he at once sent out military Criers to the west and north of the island to cry his claim to the throne.
One of the two Sacred Books of the ancient Kurdish Yazidis is the Kitâb al-Jilwah aka Book of Revelation, ascribed to Šeiḫ ‘Adî, an eventual Yazid saint of the 12th century AD.
The other, containing an account of Šeiḫ ‘Adî’s life, theology and death is the Yazidi Black Book aka Mishefa Reş in Kurdish.
Here one reads of coats of arms aka standards “fashioned by the Seventh God” and given “to Solomon the Wise.”
Posthumously these descended “to the Kings of the barbarian Yazid.” Ritually these are exposed before the Emir amidst “timbrels and pipes, singing and dancing and small hand-made nut-sized balls of dust taken from ‘Adî’s tomb and, in the presence of the current šeiḫ, who is “the representative of Šeiḫ Nasir-ad-Dîn aka Nisroch, god of the ancient Assyrians.”
These dust balls are born along with the armorial standards to be “given away as blessings.”
When the celebrant aka the ḳawwâl approaches a town, he sends an unpaid Crier before him to prepare the people to accept the ḳawwâl and his sanjaḳ with respect and honor.
All turn out in fine clothes, carrying incense. The women shout ‘Hallelujah to the Jealous God’ and all together sing joyful songs. The ḳawwâl is entertained by the people with whom he stops.
The rest give him and especially his barefoot Crier silver presents, everyone according to his means.
In Norman England, as under the Saxons, Town Criers became the spreaders of all sorts of news in addition to Royal proclamations. Folk were so illiterate that the bylaws of a community, the announcement of market days, chartered fairs and advertisement of sundry goods and services fell to Criers both horsed and unhorsed who served as a kind of movable type centuries before Gutenberg.
Other than their own voices or hand-bells Town Criers often used drums, bugles, hunting horns, triangles and other musical instruments to gain an audience, and often Criers started out as military pipers and drummers. Some Criers would beat upon a skillet with a large metal spoon.
It’s foolhardy for an ambitious vendor to behave so as to impede his daily profit.
It’s more important for a successful vendor to know the “way of virtue” than the “qualities of his goods for sale” and not his responsibility to offer any advice, moral or otherwise, regarding the purchasing habits of a potential customer.
It’s no more the seller’s concern to explain the concept of caveat emptor than it is to explain the abstruse rules of worldwide market fluctuations and their effects upon the price of goods. If the customer wants what you have to sell it’s your duty to make the sale.
Yet Aquinas is troubled by “the saying” of Saint Ambrose:
Faults in sale are bound to be revealed.
Therefore the Good Doctor advises caution against the day of a competitor’s accusations or worse, the public broadcast of the fault in the original seller’s goods “and all imputed thereby.” Or, worse beyond imagining, a customer refund or exchange.
On the other hand, if the fault “be obvious, as for example a horse with one eye” then one need not openly discuss the animal’s vision with an eager customer.
Finally, if the fault “be difficult of detection, you need not send the Town Crier round to hang Notices proclaim the fault, for that might drive away persons to whom the article would be serviceable; but you must tell any individual who offers to buy, that he may compare the good and bad qualities of the article.”
Thus the effectiveness of a reliable Placer of Notices in the Scholastic scheme and in fact the medieval surname of ‘Banister’ derives from bann aka ‘law or proclamation’ aka Royal Crier.
A similar functionary with more narrowly defined duties was the ‘Beadle’ [M Lat bedellus ‘to herald,’ O Eng bydel M Eng bedel] is defined by Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary as “a messenger or Crier of a court; a servitor; one who cites or bids persons to appear and answer; called also an apparitor or summoner.”
Beadle was originally a title given to a Saxon summoner of householders to the Court or Council yet the office survived into the age of the Plantagenets and subsequently. His duties were invariably related to the law and were performed in the company of protective constables, as Beadles were rarely called up to spread or post such happy news as the reciprocal generosity of the Lord Yahweh in the desert or the ride of Lady Godiva through the streets of Coventry.
Related to the Beadle but unassociated with the Crier as such was the fearsomely unwelcome office of the Tipstaff that arose in England toward the end of the reign of King Edward III.
These fellows were officers of the Court who made their living serving arrest warrants rolled up inside the screwed down hollow tips of the protective and symbolic staves they carried with them in performance of their tasks.
Unlike the noble and free-spirited Crier, the Tipstaff often involved himself in the direct suppression of speech.
In 1555 one Reverend Dr. Rowland Taylor ran afoul of Queen Mary I for daring to dispute theology with Archbishop Cranmer. He was condemned to being burned alive, and even as the flames caught at his clothing he “would have spoken to the people tho’ soon as he ope’d his mouthe to speak the Yeoman of the Guard thrast one of the tippe staves into his mouth and would in no wise permitt him to speak.” – Foxe’s Book of Martyrs
Town Criers like Beadles and Tipstaffs continued to be especially protected by law in their own right for like unlike the Beadle often they were called upon to disseminate very bad news like Earl Leofric’s tax increase or a military defeat.
Criers continued to speak in the name of the King or Queen and their persons were insured under threat of a charge of treason punishable by dreadful means.
The phrase ‘don’t slay the messenger’ has devolved to us as a reasonable response to sudden news of trouble or an unfavorable poll result.
It came to be that after the Crier had read his message he would usually fasten the written text thereof to a convenient wooden post of a fixed nature, as at an inn, tavern, smithy or livery stable. Thus was born the terms ‘posting,’ ‘posted’ and the very notion of ‘putting up a poster.’
After the invention of the printing press the forthcoming periodicals often would incorporate the term ‘Post’ in their titles in reference to the old tradition of the Crier.
In the thirteenth century King Henry III granted a charter for an annual Fair to be held at Coventry and it did not take long for two hundred-year-old folk memories of Crier Daniel and Lady Godiva to achieve a municipal precedence which in the years to come would only increase in pomp and extravagance.
Within another two centuries at Coventry “picture if you can ‘Lady Godiva’ sitting a white horse sidesaddle with purple and gold caparison and is wearing a close-fitting white tunic and cloak, which covers all her body except for the legs.
“Walking on either side is the Town Crier and the Beadle.
“More streamers and banners are waved, there's a rousing cheer from the crowd, and caps are thrown in the air.
“This was the Procession that took place in Coventry each year to proclaim the Great Fair.”
Often the position of Crier would be itself be filled by a woman, and not just in Coventry or in England but throughout Europe.
During the throes of the Hundred Years War between France and England military Criers and Heralds under truce were often drawn, as referred to earlier, from the ranks of the fife and drum corps. From signaling troop evolutions to maintaining the cadence of a march it was an obvious step to the announcing of parlees and the traversing no man’s land with messages, threats and replies.
Criers of this type acquired a uniform that was the reverse pattern of his country’s military garb to indicate his non-combatant status and a small ceremonial sword marking the Royal protection that followed him wherever his duties might take him.
Criers of the late Middle Ages were often old military veterans who though fully literate had fallen upon hard times.
Truces during the Hundred Years War generally were worth less than the paper from which the Crier read. Unemployed soldiers turned mercenary or worse and companies of such disaffected men went on devastating whole areas of western France.
The position of Town Crier became a sort of veteran’s reserve to provide them with employment and ultimately a pension and would often pass as in a craft guild from one generation to the next.
The very idea of posting a notice would on one particular February day become at once iconic and iconoclastic at the outbreak of the Protestant Reformation.
In Rome, the planned renovation of St. Peter’s Basilica was proving so expensive that a fundraising sale of ‘indulgences’ throughout Germany by one Father Tetzel was commissioned by Pope Leo X.
In Wittenberg the priest Martin Luther found himself confronted by smug parishioners who displayed cash receipts dispensed by Tetzel in exchange for the required penance.
What could the scholar Luther undertake to most effectively challenge this corrupt practice? He became a Crier, and Criers know what to do when the world is going down.
One late winter morning in 1517 Father Martin barn-stapled his 15” x 40” 95 Theses poster to the wooden door of the Castle Church of Wittenberg, which led three years later to his excommunication once a copy of this particular poster reached Pope Leo in the Vatican.
In 1521 it became all right in the Pope’s eyes if anybody wanted to murder Martin Luther in the streets; there was to be a new raffle of indulgences as well. In the meantime Prince Frederick put Luther under his personal protection and in the next ten years the world had a new German Bible courtesy of the Man with a Poster.
In sixteenth-century English Chester, a rich source of Crier accounts during the reign of the Tudors, one list of “fees due the Bellman” includes a receipt for a dozen black mourning gowns issued to the bereaved at a funeral in 1540, as Criers had multiple roles to fill as usual.
In the incipient first Guild of Criers at Chester this same year appears a partial list of fees and bounties payable to any of the following service performed by the Town Crier:
loss of articles cried – one penny
recovery of lost articles – one penny
each boat’s catch cried – one penny
each boat’s salt fish cried – one fish
They put it in plainer English. “When he cree or gythe or aneything that is lost ...jd, for every boute lode with fresh fyshe that he goeth for ...jd. for every bote lode with powder mellwylle ...one fyshe.”
Sixteen years later following the death of King Henry VIII a receipt show tuppence paid to “ye belman” by the King’s School “for p'claimyng ye Founder's dyryge 27 Januarij ...ijd.”
By the twentieth year of the reign of Old Henry’s younger daughter Elizabeth I she was still unwed and childless and her ministers preserved at least a century and a half of chronicled disasters likely to befall a realm without an heir. Her resistance to marriage was born of her natural independent strengths as a leader commingled with the needs of almost hexagonal international diplomacy, and in any case few of her common subjects considered any potential suitor equal to their ‘Good Queen Bess.’
Therefore when a choice was finally alighted upon and negotiations opened between Elizabeth’s Protestant councilors and those of the Catholic and French Duke Francois of Anjou one of the first to object was an outspoken and solidly Puritan London sign-maker and pamphleteer in his mid-thirties by the name of Jonathan Stubbe.
Having a way with both words and posters wrote out a long essay opposing any such matrimonial alliance in pamphlet form, and his partner Billy Page printed up a hundred copies on black-bordered paper and passed them out in the street, and in large format they designed one eye-catching banner of the pamphlet’s long title in 1200 point font as an advertisement of sorts.
The Discoverie of a Gaping Gulf whereinto England is like to be Swallowed by another French Marriage
Though a thoroughly loyal subject of the Queen, if Johnny Stubbe had been reborn a Lancashire Beatle four centuries later he would not have been renamed Paul. Perhaps had he plied his protests with more grace and less ardor he might have avoided the painful fate awaiting him.
“How may our beloved Sovereign, an elderly spinster of forty-six even entertain at her advanced age hope of conceiving a child let alone bearing a healthy one to full term?” his pamphlet innocently inquired. “Even were it to survive it would likely be slow and enfeebled, perhaps monstrous.”
Stubbe savagely attacked decadent French manners and culture and warned of a collapse of all English morality should “I stay silent while a pox’d Dandie ruts above the spread-eagled tho’ doubtless barren loins of our most puissant and incorruptible sovereign Queen.”
He went on to remind his countrymen of past bad deeds of imported French spouses, comparing them and all Angevins generally to eels and vermin, and he asked toward the end of his screed if the English people truly desired “a return with tucked tails to the Pope’s whipping posts and bonfires.”
Obsessed with the image of the Duke and his Virgin Queen in bed together, Johnny wasn’t finished.
“This contrary coupling is an immoral union, an unclean yoking of the clean ox to the unclean ass against nature as in Paul’s Epistles, a foul and gross intercourse and violation of Albion by the race of idle and idolatrous Frenchmen.”
Neither Elizabeth nor her councilors were entirely happy with poster, pamphlet or the pamphleteers in spite of their strident loyalty, and the word of Royal displeasure quickly spread.
At the Stationer’s Hall, nervous leaders of that guild publicly burned all the copies of Stubbe’s handbill they could find and at his state trial before he and Billy Page and Poor Dick the eleven-year-old printer’s devil were all found guilty of “seditious writing” and sentenced to amputation of their right hands “by means of a butcher’s cleaver driven through the wrist by an iron mallet.”
Stubbe actually considered himself fortunate as he’d heard that Elizabeth had initially favored the death penalty or worse in his case and anyway this dedicated Crier was yet a loyal subject of his Queen.
In a display of further mercy Her Majesty commuted the sentence of the terrified lad Richard who had actually set the type into the press.
When his right forearm had been firmly strapped to the tall and bloodstained oaken block at St. Bartholomew’s Field and two men held the sharpened blade like a miniature whipsaw above his helpless wrist, just before a third man brought the mallet down the unflappable Johnny Stubbe thanked his Queen for her “gracious and undeserved mercy” declared his undying loyalty to the Crown and then asked the gathered mob to “pray for me now, as my calamity is at hand” just as the hammer blow fell.
There was a long silence, broken first by tittering laugh from one of Stubbe’s lady friends in the crowd as the bright blood gushed from her lover’s suddenly foreshortened right wrist, and as the new implications of his very surname sank home the entire crowd including the men now holding him upright at the block and bringing forth a torch of flaming pitch to cauterize his wound and even little Dick who though spared the agony had been nonetheless sentenced by the Chief Justice to witness the punishment now all fell out in helpless laughter that rolled recurring in fresh peals that witnesses claimed went on and on and on before a weakly smiling and milk-pale Johnny Stubbe shouted “God save the Queen!” and then fainted at last from shock and blood loss.
Even the publisher Billy Page roared with glee before turning as pale and sick-looking as his friend as his own right arm was prepared for the shattering blow.
His friends in the crowd claimed they’d never seen old Billy at such a loss for words, apparently trying to summon up as memorable a line as had Johnny, but he took too long deciding on a quip and had to settle for the remark he managed after his own hand had been struck from him and thrown onto the executioner’s sizzling pyre along with Johnny’s and whatever copies of A Gaping Gulfe could still be snatched from inn and tavern posts upon which they’d been anonymously stapled.
Gritting his teeth from the pain, he lifted up his own right wrist spurting blood and declared faithfully “I left right there a true Englishman’s hand” and, like his postering partner, fainted dead away as they applied the cauterizing flame.
As his stump healed Jonathan Stubbe found himself “as an example to all” sentenced further to a year and a half at Marshalsea prison south of the Thames where he was well cared for in food, drink and good company. The commoners and merchants loved Johnny and the Crier’s Guild assumed the expenses for his ale and victuals.
However, though the chagrined Stationer’s Guild supplied him with reading material he was allowed neither pen nor poster paper for the entire time by Royal Writ.
In 1579 he was a free man who went on to prove his worth as a Crier as well as his fierce loyalty to Queen Elizabeth – whose own brief betrothal to Duke Francois came and went – by training himself to write and post notices and other pamphlets with his left hand and even published several longer essays as well as Ovidian verse under the pseudonym ‘Scaeva’ (Latin for ‘Lefty’) including a scathing retort to Cardinal Allen’s Jesuitical Defence of the English Catholics.
Hook-handed Johnny Stubbe served two terms in the English House of Commons and died at the age of forty-eight in 1591 near La Havre, France from wounds received in battle serving as one of Henry of Navarre’s mercenaries, proof that Crying on one hand can lead via strange pathways to honor and glory but that just as often one’s hand ends up in the furnace.
And seven years later when the risk of furnace fires became a chronic problem for the village of Haddington in East Lothian the townspeople turned to their own Crier for remedy of another sort.
More than half the town burned down that winter owing to nothing but a careless spark in a cook’s tinderbox. It was the Baker’s Guild itself that underwrote the annual fee to ensure the enactment of a new ‘Coal and Candle Proclamation’ to be composed in rhyme and cried about the town at midnight and at three for each and every evening from Martinmas to Candlemas.
Haddington’s Crier happened to be a widow and Guildswoman of twenty-six named Rosalind. Inheriting by patent acclamation and ordinal number her late husband and partner’s Isosceles triangle and tall coat she used the ancient instrument’s pair of tones C and E to compose a Rhyming Cry pleasant and falling enough to ameliorate the necessary disturbance of her neighbors in the wee hours of those frosty winter mornings.
A’ gude men-servants where’er ye be,
Keep coal and can’le for charitie,
In bakehouse, brewhouse, barn, and byres,
It’s for your Sakes, keep weel your fires:
Baith in your kitchen and your ha’,
Keep weel your fires, whate’er befa’;
For oftentimes a little spark
Brings mony hands to meikle wark;
Ye nourices that hae bairns to keep,
Tak’ care ye fa’ na o’er sound asleep:
Or losing o’ your gude renown,
And banishing o’ this burrow town.
It’s for your sakes that i do cry,
Tak’ warning by your neighbours by.
It would be a good thing if everyone involved in the dissemination of public information were as creative and benevolent as Rosalind Tew was not only in honor of her but of the Common Guild of old.
The serendipitous duties of the Crier held esteem of a more solemn sort according to this remembrance published in the pages of The Newgate Bellman.
“It was an ancient practice, on the night preceding the execution of condemned criminals, for the Bellman of the parish of St. Sepulchre to go under Newgate and, ringing his bell, to repeat the following, as a piece of friendly advice to the unhappy wretches under sentence of death:
‘You prisoners that are within, who for wickedness and sin, after many mercies shown you, are now appointed to die tomorrow in the forenoon, give ear and understand that in the morning the greatest bell of St Sepulchre’s shall toll for you in form and manner of a passing bell, to the end that all godly people, hearing that bell and knowing that it is for your going to your deaths, may be stirred up heartily to pray to God to bestow His grace upon you while you live.
‘I beseech you for Jesus Christ’s sake to keep this night in watching and prayer for the salvation of your own souls, while there is yet time for mercy, as knowing tomorrow you must appear before the judgment seat of your Creator, there to give an account of all things done in this life and to suffer eternal torments for your sins committed against Him, unless upon your hearty and unfeigned repentance you find mercy through the merits, death and passion of your only Mediator and Advocate, Jesus Christ, who now sits at the right hand of God to make intercession for as many of you as penitently return to Him.’ ”
And the following is from Stowe’s Survey of London, 1618, p. 125:
“Robert Dow, Citizen and Merchant Taylor, of London, gave to the parish church of St. Sepulchre’s, the sum of 50L.
“That after the several sessions of London, when the prisoners remain in the gaol, as condemned men to death, expecting execution on the morning following; the Crier of the church should come in the night time, and likewise early in the morning, to the window of the prison where they lie, and there ringing certain tolls with a D-tuned hand-bell, appointed for the purpose, he doth afterwards (in most Christian manner) put them in mind of their present condition, and ensuing execution, desiring them to be prepared therefor as they ought to be.
“When they are in the cart, and brought before the wall of the church, there he standeth ready with the same bell, and after certain tolls rehearseth an appointed prayer, desiring all the people there present to pray for them.
“The Beadle also of Merchant Taylors Hall hath an honest stipend allowed to see that this is duly done by the parson’s Crier.”
When water pollution and poor general sanitation threatened a tributary of the Severn in 1607 one George Tunnall, the local Bellman, cried and posted notices which “forbade ye tipping of rubbish in ye River.”
Thirteen years later when the Butcher’s Guild and the Company of Bakers declared war upon each other, an exasperated Tam Pearce the “Cryer charged into the melee at Chester Cross and brake his Mace in peeces Amonge them.”
The disputants quickly came to terms and the Berkshire Criers Guild voted Tam their honorary Captain later that same year at their annual ‘Feast of Hermes.’
The fortunes of those pursuing the honorable Crying profession and its company increased as tidings of the New World and the great events of the English Civil War and other conflicts that swept the entire West because, with or without mechanical print, human beings have and always will be as necessary an element for the dissemination of information as to the exploration of outer space whether as bards, messengers, postmen, bellmen or Criers.
The reverse-color uniform of these medieval ex-military Criers evolved into the recognizable ‘Tale Cloak’ (or ‘tall coat’) of the seventeenth century Common Guild of Criers and Bellmen, an adaptable equipage and outfit intended to reflect the livery or crest of whichever town, Lord or abbey he or she served, as with the old ‘Bear & Ragged Staff’ of the powerful Nevilles, a symbol of the Crier’s House.
The required ‘Common’ colors were scarlet, gold and alabaster around which would be styled the colors of the locality or employer. The required ‘Common’ equipage included at least one ceremonial and ornately curled quill-feather, a serviceable iron mace and a set of horseshoe nails. The required ‘Common’ headgear and footgear was uniformly sable with the former reserved for specific heraldic devices pertaining to the Crier’s protector.
Use of an actual bell or other musical signaling instrument was generally at the discretion of the local Common Guild.
The required ‘Common’ cry of oyez was a precise Anglo-Norman version of Old English hwaet as the etymology of each depends from listen in the imperative.
A Crier’s duties continued to embrace contingency.
In 1701, the vicar of Waverton made allowances for expenses due “the Bellman to the People of Chester, of the time when, and the place where my Corpse is to be buried” and fourteen years later following three boisterous wedding celebrations within the same month “the Bellman at the Cross read publicly a proclamation in the Mayor's name, commanding all persons in the City to be of peaceable and civil behaviour, not to walk around the Streets or Rows at unreasonable hours of night.”
Within a couple of decades Chester was engaging not only a Town Crier under its protection but also a ‘Light Bellman’ and a ‘Dark Bellman’ until the ambitious local Crier and guildsman Jack Posnitt assumed and combined the functions of Light and Dark Bellman.
Across the Atlantic the small town of Perth, Ontario employed ‘Criers of the Court’ who essentially were beadles, later called ‘Messangers [sic] of the Council’) and who also served as Public Criers.
In any early North American settlement such as Perth lucky enough to have one a Town Crier was essentially the Life of the community. Weekly if not daily he or she dispensed news but in addition imported songs, speeches, debates, closet dramas and eventually even serialized novels as they came into fashion.
There is no doubt that the Crier was a welcome delight to any frontier outpost.
In 1745 the town of Boston, Massachusetts appointed a sixteen-year-old by the name of Jimmy Wilson to the position of Commonweal Town Crier, a post he would hold for the next fifty years. His age proved no obstacle to employment as James was a tall and robust lad who had survived a hard indenture with a Naragansett Bay timber firm that his own father and mother had not.
Taught to read and write by none other than the legendary old Bellman and Indian fighter Tom C. ‘Tomcat’ Cornwell he was a confident storyteller with a sense of humor, a head for facts and the energy of winged Mercury, a symbol of which became his patent in the years following the French and Indian War. Since such qualities are the bedrock of the Guild, it seems natural that the noble Art of Crying and its associated Craft found its way to Jim Wilson’s soul at such an early age.
At Kilby and State Streets the portico of Boston’s famed Exchange Coffee House became young Crier Jim’s stage and academy. His duties came to include those of auctioneer for such firms as Thomas K. Jones & Co, Whitwell & Bond, as well as Hale & Hale, and as newsreader for the illiterate Jimmy’s ability to condense complex events into vivid theater of the mind and to discover the wryest fun in the grimmest of tidings made him the town’s favorite citizen.
“What do you get,” he once asked a drummer of patent medicines whose noxious elixir had tainted the local dairyman’s yield, “when you churn your butter all day but can sell none of it?”
“Don’t know,” responded the miserable drummer named Heath who’d been frog marched waist and collar and a little worse for wear to the front steps of the Exchange to answer for his deeds.
“In the end, tarred,” Jimmy told him in his broadest Yankee accent, ringing his hand-bell as the mob proceeded so to serve the hapless Heath.
Like the Criers of a century earlier and an Ocean away Jimmy was the only completely reliable local ‘Lost and Found’ agent. Also it became well known throughout the colony that Crier Wilson could talk the town of Boston into almost anything.
One night about an hour after sunset, having assembled his neighbors by hand-bell in the moonlight and bringing them to open tears at the news of a lost child in the Nantucket woods, he turned the subject gradually to the subject of infant survival and early education, made the child of his tale emblematic and revealed in the end himself to be the very foundling subject of his story rescued and “learned” by old ‘Tomcat’ Cornwell.
Funds for the future Bellringer’s Home for Widows and Orphans were approved by acclamation at the next Town Hall assembly, a not inconsiderable sum matched pound for pound by the Guild.
The Art and Craft of Crying achieved a zenith in the early spring of 1775 when a group New English Bellmen known collectively under the name ‘Junius’ opposed the might of Britain and prevailed.
On April 18 when General Gage’s occupying troops received the order to disarm the Massachusetts Colony their first objective necessarily was the American arsenal in Concord. According to the eyewitness account of one of the guildsmen raising the Cry that night, “the circumftances of the cafe were thefe.
“For fome days before the 19th of April, it had been known that the Britifh were preparing to move for the tranfports had been launched on the midnight of the preceding Saturday. The HMS Somerfet, a Britifh man-of-war, was flationed near the ferry to Charleftown, and the grenadiers and light infantry were taken off duty.”
This particular Crier was a secret member of the Peripatetic Order, and for Liberty’s sake the rising nation was fortunate indeed that this elite unit was operating at large among the Patriots this particular spring.
“Their deftination was naturally fufpected to be Concord; for there the ftores of war material were faft accumulating, and there, or in the vicinity, were Hancock and Adams, and other Revolutionary leaders.
“In this ftate of things, there had been a number of falfe alarms.”
Bostonians were jumpy. Citizens would later testify that the atmosphere that afternoon was like the still close sky that precedes a violent thunderstorm.
Joe Warren “kept the patriot leaders outfide well informed, tho’ he would naturally wait until the laft moment, when information had become complete, and attack certain, before fending out to aroufe the country.
“When that moment came, we fhould expect that we Meffangers would be fent out by each of the main roads from the town, both to leffen the rifk of capture, and to call to arms a greater number of men.”
This is called the Crier’s Dilemma, when the nominally public Bellman would that his ‘Tale Coat’ could confer invisibility.
“Since the fuccefs of Britifh General Gage's expedition would depend fo much upon its fecrefy it was plain that he would take every precaution to prevent news of it from efcaping.
“Moreover, the danger of the capture of both Criers would be fo great that fome other means would be fought, fome fignal light to call out the men on the other fide of the river, if direct communication failed – beacon lights haling from the Common Guild of old England being ftill in common ufe – and this was exactly Joe Warren's arrangement.
“He had trufty men like Bofton’s crier Jamie Wilfon ready for each route, and fignals prearranged in addition.”
Thus the talented and charismatic Jim Wilson took up the Patriot cause. Criers uphold liberty as a rule; in London, England at this time even the rascal Wilkes himself had his own Common Guild constituency. As the twentieth century scientist and sportsman David Ossman once said, “remember these are very rare recordings from long ago.”
In the meantime silversmith and crier Paul Revere “who had gone out of town the Sunday before, on an errand of love rather than war it is faid, then agreed with a Colonel Conant, and fome other gentlemen in Charleftown, amongft whom was Richard Devens, that, if the Britifh went out by water, we fhould fhow two lanterns in the North Church fteeple, and if by land one, as a fignal; for we were apprehenfive that it would be difficult to crofs over Charles River, or get over Boflon Neck.”
Here is one more example of the criticality of the human element. The events of this twenty-four-hour period illustrate the utility of a functioning “Information Diftribution Network” with assigned routes and times. Upon this particular bit of intelligence rested the cantilevers of the future, yet once issued its worth immediately devalued.
“Thus the fignals were not to be from Warren to Revere and fuch clumfy means were quite unneceffary to enable Revere to communicate with Warren, and the prearrangement with Conant would have been ufelefs.
“They were from Warren to Conant, to avoid the danger of Revere's not being able phyfically to reach the mainland once the precious News was ready to be cried.
“To have fent Revere and Dawes by boat to Charleftown, there to wait for fignals, would have been to rifk the aroufing of the enemy on the dangerous paffage of that little boat.”
Joe Warren, at the center of the Massachusetts Colony’s dissemination web or network, “learned from feveral fources that the Britifh were about to move.”
Word of mouth transmitted this quantum of knowledge as it resolved, collating certainty out of ambiguity.
“A gunfmith and retired military Crier named Jafper Phyphe got it from a Britifh fergeant, and told Colonel Waters of the Committee of Safety who was Dawes' coufin; and he, of courfe, told Warren at once.
“John Ballard, in the Milk Street ftable, heard one of the Province Houfe grooms fay that ‘there would be hell to pay to-morrow’ and made a pretext to piff instead to run with the news to a friend of liberty, Bill Dawes on Ann Street who carried it to Revere, who told him he had already heard it from two other perfons.
“A little later, it was obferved that a number of foldiers were marching towards Bofton Common, which ran down to the landing place on the fhore.”
The whole town was on the Watch, every citizen both detective and Crier.
Joe Warren was kept well informed and “his foul beat to arms as foon as he learned the intention of the Britifh troops.
“But he waited until they actually began to move to their boats. Then he fent out Dawes at once by the land route over the Neck and acrofs the river at the Brighton Bridge to Cambridge and Lexington.
“Directly after, about ten o'clock, Warren fent in great hafte for Revere, and fent him out by the water route through Charleftown to Lexington, to aroufe the country, and efpecially to acquaint Hancock and Adams of the movement.
“There is no hint that Revere was to wait for further information: on the contrary, it is diftinctly implied that he was already acquainted with the movements that he was to communicate.”
These Criers knew their routes and duties precisely, and though now that the war had come not all would succeed in their endeavors but owing the redundancy inherent in a functioning Network each and all their routes might be mapped from overhead in the New England night as a series of glowing fractal lines, some curtailed and dissipating while others closed the circuit and the Information was distributed.
“Warren alfo told Revere to have the fignals hung out at once and Revere immediately called upon a friend.
“This was none other than the redoubtable Captain John Pulling, one of Revere's comrades on the Bofton Committee of Safety – a military Crier himself and a fharer in the tea-fight undifguifed – and defired him to make the fignal in North Church fteeple.
“He did not dare him to fearch in the ftreets, or linger for news in the fteeple.
“There was no occafion for that, for the troops were already in motion.
“One Crier t’other by known handgrip Revere thus told him to make the fignal; and Pulling, who did not need to be told what was doing, fet about it at once.
“He went to the fexton of Chrift Church – a Patriot – and got from him the keys, and entered the church.
“This was a proceeding not without danger, as Pitcairn's Britifh regiment is faid to have been drawn up nearly in front.”
Only a twenty-first century Crier who has repurposed a row of academic bulletin boards while classes are in session can fully appreciate Pulling’s next act.
“Audacioufly Capt. Pulling in true Crier fpirit hung out the two fignal lanterns over the very heads of the King's troops, probably before five minutes had gone by from Revere’s fummons.
“It may be imagined that the fearch for Johnny Pulling was hot when General Gage learned what he had done; but he received timely warning.
“After a fojourn in his grandmother's wine-butt, Pulling efcaped in difguife to Nantafket, where he endured many hardfhips and faw his abandoned property pay the penalty of his Patriotifm.”
The Town Crier of Boston was one of a trio that included Conant and Devens “watching on the Charlfetown fhore where Devens fays he viewed himfelf ‘in the character of a fentinel’ to keep a look-out, and give notice, if danger appeared.
“They faw the fignal from their fellow crier Capt. Pulling at once, and, fays Devens, ‘fent off Jamie Wilfon to Meffrs. Gerry, &c., and Meffrs. Hancock and Adams, who I knew were at the Rev. Mr. Clark's, at Lexington, that the enemy were certainly coming out.’
“Thus the Crier of Boston Jim Wilfon it was, and not Paul Revere, who waited for the fignals, and was fent with their intelligence to Parfon Clark; and the two are evidently confufed in the common verfion.”
But “the Britifh guard captured Crier Jim early in his ride, as Clark does not mention him in fpeaking of the meffangers who arrived; and he did not aroufe the country, which was a moft important part of his errand.
“Gordon fays that he saw Jamie W. fecured by the officers on the road.”
Wilson found himself stalled along his important route but relied upon the swift redundancy of the Common Guild to close the information circuit described above, for “Hancock and Adams were not unprepared for such an outcome; they had heard from Gerry and others that the Britifh were patrolling the roads.
“Every one there knew it: even the boys of Lexington had recognized them; and, at this time and later, feveral fcouts were fent out by the Patriots, but they like Jamie were either captured or failed to learn any thing elfe.”
In the meantime “after leaving his friend Pulling, Paul Revere went home for his boots and furtout, and then went to the north part of the town, where he kept a boat.
“He awakened his fweetheart on the way to the fhore, by throwing gravel againft her window, and got from her linen with which he muffled his oars.
“By this time, the Britifh had begun to embark and Percy had learned from the chance remark of a tipfy byftander, much given to rum, that their deftination was known.
“ ‘The Criers are abroad ahead of him and Gage’s boyos will mifs their aim,’ faid the man.
“ ‘What aim?’ afked Percy.
“ ‘Why, the cannon at Concord,’ was the anfwer.”
This was the first that British officers learned that their movements had been ‘scried and cried and all but screed’ as the Common Guild Book puts it.
“Orders at once were iffued that no one fhould leave the town, but they came five minutes too late.
“Revere had croffed the river fafely, a little to the eaftward of where the man-of-war Somerfet lay, rowed by two friends whofe names are loft.
“It was then young flood. The fhip was winding, and the moon was rifing.”
“They landed me on the Charleftown fide and when I got into town, I met Colonel Conant and feveral others there with Devens, including the miftreffes of both men.
“One of the ladies faid they had feen 2 fignals already; and Revere fhortly explained to them ‘what was doing,’ and that the Troops were ‘actually in the boats.’
“There was no time to lofe.
“Revere had no horfe, and the enemy were clofe behind.
“He went with Devens to Deacon Larkin's barn, where they got a horfe; and in a moment he was off, at full fpeed, no doubt, for Lexington by the Cambridge road.
“He was not out of danger, however for a little way beyond Charleftown Neck Revere met the Britifh patrol and only efcaped by turning back towards Charleftown on the full gallop, and pufhing for the Medford road, his purfuer fortunately getting ftuck in a clay pond.
“Very likely but for this accident he might have ftumbled into the main body of Britifh troops, which muft have been near.
“At Medford, he reached the inhabited country again, and ftopped to call out the Minute Men, and from there on he awakened nearly every houfe thus heaping glory upon the antient Crying Guild.
He got to Parfon Clark's about midnight, where he hoped to find Hancock and Adams.
The guard, which had been placed about the houfe, would not admit him, and told him to make no noife.
“Noife!” cried he. “You'll have noife enough before long. The regulars are coming out.”
“And Hancock, hearing him then, called out, ‘it’s our Good Crier; come in, Revere! We're not afraid of you,’ and he went in.
“In the courfe of half an hour, Dawes arrived, and met Revere on the green.
“He had ftarted at once without going home, and had eluded the guard at the Neck with difficulty, coming out by the longer route of Brighton Bridge and the Cambridge road, and aroufmg all the houfes on his path.
“After a little delay for refrefhment, they rode on towards Concord, accompanied by that ‘high fon of liberty’ young Dr. Prefcott who had been vifiting his lovely fweetheart, a Mifs Mulliken the Lady Crier of Lexington, Maffachuffets.
“About half way along, near Hartwell's tavern, in lower Lincoln, they met Britifh officers again. Prefcott and Dawes were a hundred rods behind, crying at a lady’s houfe, when Revere difcovered them.
“Prefcott, who was beft mounted and more fully breeched, jumped the ftone wall, and efcaped.
“Dawes, chafed by the foldiers, adopted the fo-called Rabbit’s Gambit in the crier’s Arte by dafhing up to an empty farm-houfe, flapping his own leather breeches in the night air and fhouting, ‘halloo, boys, I've got two of 'em!’ and his purfuers were fortunately frightened, and made off.
“In the excitement of the chafe, Dawes pulled up fo fuddenly that he was thrown from his horfe, and loft his watch and Guild chain, and did not get them again until fome days later, when he returned to fearch for them.
“Here we lofe fight of Prefcott and Dawes; but we know that one of them got to Concord with the news about two that morning, or a little later, and both, no doubt, played their part in the later turmoil of the day.
“As for Jamie Wilson, he not only made good his efcape from his confufed and haraffed Britifh captors but upon recounting and collating the tale with others of his Trade and Craft he made his paffage through the lines and was able on the morrow to crie the word of Concord and Lexington to his fellow Boftonians.”
A professor of networking methodology once used the same example to bring his own point home.
“The heroism of the men at Lexington is renowned,” says Marcus Stone (MA, PsD Teller College) in the Spring 1999 issue of Connect Now. “But, without the communication system in place ahead of time, the men would not have come to Lexington.
“Lacking efficient information distribution they, and everyone else, would have awakened to face the new day on April 19 disarmed, panicked, and facing an entrenched tyranny.”
Over a year later it was a proud and sober Crier Jim who read aloud on his forty-seventh birthday the freshly inscribed and printed Declaration of Independence first at Boston Commons and then once more after several rounds of fiery Adams lager from his familiar Tribune’s perch at the head of the steps of the Old Exchange until the cheering roar of the throng made it impossible to cry any further and he was forced to affix it high to the Exchange porch as a poster for all to see.
From Britain to Appalachia the employment of bagpipes as traditional signaling devices within the Highland Regiments that King George III ordered the suppression “of playing the pipes and the drums together or the playing of the drums in the Highland style” following the Battle of Brandywine.
In 1784 a number of these official Piping Criers known as ‘Lodowick’s Band’ were sent east across the Pigeon River by Revolutionary hero General Sevier to proclaim the foundation of the short-lived State of Franklin carved out of the three-thousand-mile-long western territories of North Carolina.
Assigned to spread news and post notices touting Franklin’s merits throughout the counties of Tryon, Surry and Rowan, many of this news ‘Band’ found they preferred Carolina to Franklin and only returned to post the new NC General Assembly’s own fliers offering five year’s forgiveness of debt and taxes to any Franklin farmer or craftsman who chose to return to North Carolina, ultimately undermining Sevier’s dream of a Great Smokies Shangri-la.
Back across the Atlantic this same year’s June elections for Parliament led to a handbill war.
Two years earlier Sir Cecil Wray had been elected MP for Westminster along with his old and good friend Charles James Fox but the shifting tides of British politics following the victory of the American colonials resulted in the formation of the infamous ‘Coalition Ministry by Fox and his former enemy Lord North. In March of 1783 party negotiations broke down when Wray refused to cooperate with Lord North and Fox publicly condemned Wray.
Thus the two Members for Westminster overnight became the bitterest of enemies.
When Fox proposed a new India Bill Sir Cecil Wray was the first to attack it and the bill went down to defeat 95 to 76 and Charles Fox and Lord North were “asked to deliver up the Seals of their offices to the King.”
Matters went from bad to worse when Sir Cecil Wray waited “on King George III at St. James’ with a Petition signed by 2,834 persons thanking His Majesty for the dismissal of the late ministers.” The handbills against Wray began to fly, but this was nothing compared to the storm of paper to come.
The next day a packed meeting of Westminster electors was hurriedly convened at the Court of Requests. Out of a crowd of 3,000 Sir Cecil was acclaimed their new party chairman.
“I hope that my conduct in Parliament has merited your approval,” commenced Wray, as the rest of his words were drowned by a standing ovation.
But then Charles Fox arrived to challenge his erstwhile friend and was met with cries of “down with him!” and “no coalition, no dictator!”
So the following March Parliament was dissolved, with the election of the two Members for Westminster fixed for April Fool’s Day 1784, when three candidates presented themselves for election: Mr. Fox, Admiral Lord Hood, and Sir Cecil Wray.
This was a time of vicious political cartooning, and these became posters, pamphlets and handbills of the most scurrilous variety, most of them directed against Sir Cecil, mocking him as “Mr. Small Beer” and damning him as the “Enemy of Serving Maids” for his proposals for a new tax.
Sam Coleridge would remark that “the processions, the fights and the drunkenness which took place during this great British election contest disreputably marked the manners of the day.”
One large poster showed Sir Cecil Wray in a petticoat being pursued by angry broom-wielding chambermaids. Admiral Lord Hood’s posters displayed French and Spanish battle flags taken by him on the high seas. Charles Fox was supported by the “Queen of Hearts, the beautiful and irresistible Georgina, Duchess of Devonshire.” This support led to posters of such an obscene nature that they have no place in this family-oriented History.
For three weeks Wray “maintained his majority but it proved impossible to win when the magnificently bosomed Duchess stooped to conquer.”
This campaign proceeded for another six weeks and posters themed increasingly pornographic were inescapable. Every wall became a public kiosk, and the more suggestive of the fliers and cartoons were made over into unrepeatable songs and jingles.
One man was killed with a political plaque at a meeting over his public support of Sir Cecil Wray. The following week a riot broke out between Lord Hood’s sailing men and canvassers for Charles Fox, with similarly hardened posters used as pugil sticks.
Wray lost. The final results were 6,694 for Lord Hood, 6,234 for Fox and 5,998 for Sir Cecil, who immediately demanded a recount to which the High Bailiff of Westminster agreed. The recount lasted “well into the new Parliament, but by November it being decided that a full scrutiny will take at least two more years.” In the end Parliament passed an arbitrary bill “recognizing the results previously reported and Sir Cecil Wray officially went down to defeat.
In the meantime in the last British dominion in North America a less violent cadre of Ontario, Canada criers were designated a part-time position, serving variously as merchants, constables, auctioneers, furniture makers, and many different and varied occupations, none as venturesome found in this article from The Quebec Herald of Monday, January 18, 1790:
JAMES Williams, Parifh Clerk, Saxtone, Town Cryer, and Bell-man --- makes and fells all forts of haberdayfharies, groceries, &cc. likewife hair, and whigs dreft, and cut, on the fhorteft notice.
N.B. I keeps an evening fchool, where I teach at reafonable rates, reading, writting and finging.
N.B. I play the hooboy occafionally, if wanted.
N.B. My fhop is next door, where I bleed, draw teth, and fhoo horfes, with the greateft fkil.
N.B. Children taut to dance, if agreable, at 6d. per week, by me, J. Williams, who buy and fell old iron, and coals -- Shoos cleaned and mended.
N.B. A hat and pr of flockens to be called for, the belt in 5, on Shrof Tufhday. For particulars enquire within, or at the horfe fhoo and bell, near the church on tother fide of the way.
N.B. Look over the door for the fight of the 3 pidgeons.
N.B. I fell good Ayle, and fometines Cyder—Lodgins for fingle men.
It was not unusual for Criers to wear many hats in their daily lives.
The Bellman or Crier closed salmon fishing season.
The Courant 17 April 1792:
“A few days ago some persons were brought before our magistrates, charged with angling and catching salmon fry in the River Dee.
“As the law expressly forbids the young salmon to be taken, either with nets or other engines, the Bellman had orders to give notice to the inhabitants, that prosecutions would be commenced against any persons offending in the like manner.”
The Chester Chronicle of 9th August 1793 records a cry from the Cheshire town of Northwich: 'A town-Crier of Northwich (one of the fair-sex, who has filled that office audibly and laudably more than 20 years) lately proclaim'd as follows:
“This is to gi' notice that there's two pigs lost an hooaver brings um to me shall be well rewarded for ther truble, so God save the King an' the Lord of our Manner – ton's a red on, and t' other's a black on.” ’
In this same year, back across the grey Atlantic the aging Boston Town Crier and Revolutionary hero Jimmy Wilson retired with plans to open his own tavern on Congress Street and brew an ale to rival old Sammy’s.
‘Old Jimmy’ was said to have had the best ale in Boston at the time, and today they still serve ‘Bell in Hand Ale.’
The ‘Bell in Hand Tavern’ is the oldest continually operating tavern in the United States (1795) and is located in Boston next to the Union Oyster House near Faneuil Hall.
This isn't the pub's first location though.
It was originally opened on Congress Street and moved to Devonshire Street before settling on Union Street, its current home.
Paul Revere, Daniel Webster and William McKinley would frequent the tavern he founded.
Back in England at Christmas in 1798 the Chester Canal Co. sold some sugar damaged in their packet boat and this was to be advertised by the Bellman.
In the remoter parts of Yorkshire in the north of England aka ‘Bronte country’ in the early 19th century a belief, quite popular and rooted in local antiquity that any man’s marriage might “be dissolved by the sale of his wife by public auction.” Rising to the occasion was the country Bellman aka the Crier.
On the 4th of February, 1806, a man named George Gowthorp of Patrington sold his wife in the Market-place of Hull for the sum of twenty guineas, and with a halter delivered her to a person named Houseman.
In 1815 a man held a regular auction in the Market-place at Pontefract, offering his wife at the minimum bidding of one shilling, and ‘knocked her down’ for eleven shillings.
A good deal of surprise was felt in many villages by the ignorant peasantry at the result of a trial at the West Riding Sessions, June 28, 1837 where a man named Joshua Jackson was convicted of selling his wife, and sentenced to imprisonment for one month with hard labor.
As late as 1858, in a beer shop in Little Horton, Bradford, a man named Hartley Thompson put up his wife, described by the local journals at the time as a “pretty young woman,” for sale; he even announced the sale beforehand by means of the Town Crier, and brought her in with a ribbon round her neck, by way of halter.
These two persons had lived unhappily together, and both entertained a belief that by such a process as this they could legally separate for life.
At Selby, in the month of December 1862 a man publicly sold his wife on the steps of the Market-cross for a pint of ale.
No history of advertising with a human element can be considered complete without a brief mention of the ‘Sandwich Board’ defined by American Heritage as “two large boards bearing placards, hinged at the top by straps for hanging over the shoulders with one board in front and the other behind, used for picketing or advertising.” The ‘sandwich’ of course assumes two basic forms: the Human Poster, and the Set Up, the latter placed inanimate before a business establishment in the shape of a large triangle hinged at the top.
Often the human wearer of a sandwich board may in addition pass out fliers and shout or sing advertising jingles or even slogans. This form of postering came into its own in the early 1800’s.
In London the practice began when advertising posters became “subject to a tax and competition for wall space became fierce.”
His Highness Prince Pückler-Muskau described the activity in 1820s London as such:
“Formerly people were content to paste advertisements up; now they are ambulant. One man had a pasteboard hat, three times as high as other hats, on which is written in great letters, ‘Boots at twelve shillings a pair – warranted.’ ”
Furthermore, besides holding signs, some human billboards would wear sandwich boards.
Charles Dickens described these advertisers as “a piece of human flesh between two slices of paste board.”
It was claimed in The Times in mid-1823 that such human billboards were a London invention.
While a familiar sight in London, the 'biped advertisement' was new in Paris at that time.
“A man walks the Palais Royal and the most frequented streets in the neighborhood, with one large placard covering the whole of his back, and another extending along the front part of his body down to his knees.
“It contains the announcement of a new coach between London and Paris.
“On the back he bears the French, and on his breast the English.
“The French have given this non-descript animal – this walking placard – the title of l'homme-affiche, or ‘biped advertisement.’ ”
The banning of posters from private property in London in 1839 greatly increased the use of human billboards.
As the novelty of seeing humans carrying placards wore off, advertisers would come up with variations on the theme in order to catch the eye, such as having a parade of identical human billboards, or having the human billboards wear outrageous costumes.
“A practice has lately sprung up among advertisers of sending out persons ‘made up’ in such a style as to represent the article it is intended to advertise.
“We have seen a series of men converted into gigantic hats, and we have observed other contrivances of equal ingenuity. We think, however, the principle might be still further carried out.” – Punch, Jan.-Jun. 1846
“The law says very properly, that no-one shall obstruct the public thoroughfare; and it is calculated that no less than five hundred ship-loads of oranges pass through the hands of the police every year, in consequence of contumacious barrow or basket-women blocking up the footway, while the same fate attends upon no less than fifty entire beds of oysters, that have prevented an opening for the general street traffic.
“When we wend our weary way along the streets of London, though we confess it is sometimes unpleasant to find ourselves solicited by a long chain of basket-women entreating us to purchase their ‘sweet Chainey oranges,’ we must say that the real enemies to progress are the advertising machines, both human and bestial, as well as mechanical.
“What with Panoramas and Paletôts, Dioramas and Balloons, Registered Shirts, and Monster Concerts, there is no getting along the principal metropolitan thoroughfares without being reminded by some over-whelming van that all is vanity.
“The other day we were completely blockaded between an enormous invitation to the Cremorne Elysium, and a polite request, in letters six feet long, to go and provide ourselves with six shirts for forty shillings.
“We had just turned round, in the hope of finding a loophole or a gusset to get out of the shirts when we found ourselves hemmed in, and regularly stitched to the spot by a bold black letter assertion, that the word paletôt, though ‘assumed by all’ is the exclusive property of H., J., W., and D., - somebody or other who aspire at the West-end to the mantle of Moses.
“If some of the real obstructions who barricade the streets, with their monster advertising vans, were to be walked off to the Green Yard, the effect would be to give a freer circulation to the air as well as to the passages.” – Punch, Jul.-Dec. 1850
Carriages there were none, and only twice Marmaduke encountered the huge litters, in which some aged prelate or some high-born dame veiled greatness from the day.
But the frequent vistas to the river gave glimpses of the gay boats and barges that crowded the Thames, which was then the principal thoroughfare for every class, but more especially the noble. The ways were fortunately dry and clean for London, though occasionally deep holes and furrows in the road menaced perils to the unwary horseman.
The streets themselves might well disappoint in splendour the stranger's eye; for although, viewed at a distance, ancient London was incalculably more picturesque and stately than the modern, yet when fairly in its tortuous labyrinths, it seemed to those who had improved the taste by travel the meanest and the mirkiest capital of Christendom.
The streets were marvelously narrow, the upper stories, chiefly of wood, projecting far over the lower, which were formed of mud and plaster.
The shops were pitiful booths, and the 'prentices standing at the entrance bare-headed and cap in hand, and lining the passages, as that horny old rascal Perlin avers, ‘comme idoles,’ kept up an eternal din with their clamorous invitations, often varied by pert witticisms on some churlish passenger, or loud vituperations of each other.
The whole ancient family of the London Criers were in full bay.
Scarcely had Marmaduke's ears recovered the shock of “hot peascods,--all hot!” than they were saluted with “mackerel! divine mackerel!” or “sheep's feet! hot sheep's feet!”
At the smaller taverns stood the inviting vociferaters of “cock-pie,” “ribs of beef,--hot beef!” while, blended with these multi-toned discords, whined the vielle, or primitive hurdy-gurdy, screamed the pipe, twanged the harp, from every quarter where the thirsty paused to drink, or the idler stood to gape.
– E. Bulwer-Lytton, Lydgate Lickpenny
In 1894 the Khan of Bukhara, Emir Abdul Ahad had 27,000,000 gold rubles in the Russian Central Bank, 7,000,000 in a number of private banks and large sums in German and Swiss banks. While the Khans were enjoying such dazzling wealth the people themselves were doomed to lives of poverty and destitution.
At Bukhara the circumstances surrounding the penalty for a capital offence such as petty theft provided another opportunity for the reliable Town Crier or Bellman to prove his worth.
The prisoner is taken to the Kalian Mosque in the center of the city, and hurled from the top of the minaret, the highest building in Bukhara (fifteen stories), commonly known as ‘death tower.’
The sentence is always carried out on the day that the market is held in the square below and Town Criers would wander around the streets and pointing upward, calling people to witness the event.
Advertising of a far less conclusive manner on the Crier’s clothing itself has also long been used, and became a trend in America when the ‘tee-shirt’ became popular as an outer garment. In 1939 a promotional shirt for MGM’s The Wizard of Oz was one of the first widespread promotions of this type.
An example of a ‘Dew It For Dewey’ shirt ad from the 1948 US Presidential campaign may be seen today in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, DC.
In extreme cases human advertisers may even have slogans or colophons tattooed directly upon the bearer’s flesh.
Which brings us to the present....
But the modern age of the Crier’s Art was born one sunny afternoon in 1954 when three farsighted brothers George, Eric and Larry Thorne were solicited by Mary Tweedy of Time Incorporated literally to “run into assembling college classrooms before the arrival of the professor, armed with a clipboard” to make a lightning guerilla presentation and sign up as many student subscribers as possible in a two-minute period.
The brothers did this part time, and their highly successful efforts resulted in a skyrocketing of orders for Time. Plans were laid for expansion, involving then novel direct marketing techniques.
George Thorne brainstormed ‘take-one’ cardholders that could be stapled onto bulletin boards across colleges and universities.
Though employed at the time by Westinghouse International Co., on weekends George, occasionally accompanied by his little boy Bruce, began hitting the campuses in New York and New Jersey. This proved to be such a success that George subsequently took a six-week leave of absence from Westinghouse and made a Grand Postering Tour of the entire continental United States.
Following the enormous success of this campaign for Time and for himself, George Thorne resigned his position at Westinghouse to become the first modern entrepreneur of a brand new industry.
Naturally the success of Time Inc. provoked similar activity by other members of the American magazine industry who became George’s very next clients.
At the time, all this activity was simply referred to as “the magazine business.”
Every publication would have its own dedicated ‘stand-alone’ card: Time, New Yorker, Reader’s Digest, and so on. As an accommodation to economies of scale George Thorne created what is known today as the common method of subscription solicitation: the so-called ‘multicard” that initially took the form of a black-on-white title list.
Companies in thrall to George’s creativity sprung up almost overnight, and Carol Thorne was at his side in the race to outrun the competition, primarily through her highly efficient processing of orders, which in those days were still a part of her and George’s postering responsibilities. By the mid-sixties reply cards numbering in the tens of thousands were passing through Carol’s office, and she developed, in the absence of computers, a comprehensive manual tracking system that greatly improved efficiency.
This company they launched was christened the ‘Student Subscription Service.’
Soon the Thornes would project this model into spheres of student activities above and beyond their magazine needs and what began as a magazine subscription business would over time evolve into a variety of services addressing specialized graduate education as well as study-abroad programs of all sorts throughout North America and in time globally.
With great power comes great responsibility. – Stan Lee
Reliability and integrity are among the many reasons that George and Carol's company SSS was such a success.
In the meantime the dark side of the force had arrived upon the scene in the form of the Love Generation’s answer to a resentful ‘Anakin Skywalker.’
The ‘National Student Marketing Corporation’ aka the NSMC was “a high-flying company” launched in 1966 by one Cortes Wesley Randell, a young Washington, DC native and business consultant during the ‘Now-A-Go-Go' stock market of the Swinging Sixties.
NSMC was an outfit designed to funnel the disposable income of the new youth market into the pockets of Wall Street investors.
Through publicity from acquisitions and as a result of Randell's declaration that NSMC's profits would rise from 11 cents to $2 a share, the stock rose from its IPO price of $6 a share to over $120 during a bull market.
Several universities, including the Harvard endowment fund, invested in NSMC.
However instead of making a profit, the company had a loss of $859,889 during the first quarter of 1970.
The official explanation was that 'mechanical errors' while changing the accounting system had led to $4 million in sales being overlooked.
The stock crashed and it was discovered that young Randell had cashed out a portion of his own shares. The NSC accused several of his Wall Street cronies of malfeasance. Soon Randell himself was charged with “misrepresenting the company’s earnings.”
Although most of these accused were later acquitted, one did actual jail time.
Cortes Wesley Randell pleaded guilty in 1975 and was sentenced to 18 months in prison for stock-fraud conspiracy and three other counts of fraud.
Investors sued Randell in civil court and were awarded $35 million.
In 1979 a federal jury convicted that wily Cortes Wesley Randell of mail and stock fraud for his involvement with the ‘National Commercial Credit Corp’ aka NCCC and he was sentenced to seven more years in prison, released in 1984.
He then was involved in the Federal News Service which is a privately held company based in Washington, DC with bureaus in Moscow and Jerusalem, providing timely verbatim English-language transcription of US, Russian and Middle East government press briefings, speeches, and conferences.
He became president and chairman of the board of directors of United Savings Club, a company featuring consumer discounts, which was reported to be investigated by Orlando Police Department's Economic Crime Unit.
Randell went on to be Chairman and Director of a company called eModel, a wholly owned subsidiary of Options Talent Group that was under investigation for alleged unethical and illegal behavior. Over 10% of the voting stock of Options Talent Group was controlled by his wife Joan Randell.
Many of eModel's clients have sued the company after one of its employees exposed the company's fraudulent methods and Bill Mitchell, president of the Greater Los Angeles Better Business Bureau said that “the whole thing fundamentally, from beginning to end, is a scam.”
More with regard to this fiasco may be found in the pages of The Funny Money Game, a book about the experiences of a young marketing director at NSMC and later financial writer named Andrew Tobias.
Back among the forces of light at ‘Triple S’ aka the Student Subscription Service Lita Thorne began working in Carol's office in 1974 and on any given day she would sort and process thousands of the ‘multi’ and ‘solo’ magazine cards.
To appreciate the volume that was generated from postering, look at just one example; George alone pulled 3,000 Time subscriptions in just one semester from just one campus, Michigan State University.
As George traveled around, he began to run into students who were curious about what he was doing. These chance encounters produced some important results the hiring of on-campus and traveling reps. Many of the reps that George hired and trained in 60's and 70's have come and gone but the cream of the crop continue to work in the college market:
Richard Paris 1968
The Thorne family business eventually became known as On-Campus Promotions, Inc. and reliability, integrity and results continue to be the foundation of their service.
In 1979 a similar hearted young European visionary named Matt Barrett created the Information Distribution Network, founded upon humble but extensive routes both town and campus blazed as the promoter for various projects including rock as well as roll from his new home in North Carolina but quickly involving fellow musicians, artists and local businesses.
Matt’s original idea combined his personal integrity with a passion for the fair and the thorough and soon he developed a regular client base stretching statewide and up and down the Atlantic seaboard. An early Internet entrepreneur, he integrated his early site for Greece tourism into his own postering routine with ad campaigns that extended from the ether to the literal brick, mortar, wood and corkboard, even magnetized surfaces throughout Europe and North America thus carrying forward into the 21st century the Craft of the ancient Common Crier’s Guild.
The symbol and colophon of his firm, the alert ‘express kangaroo’ (occasionally portrayed with a Stratocaster as a nod to Matt’s time with the earlier and world famous ‘Ruse’ project) has graced many a bulletin board and the laptop screens of sundry clients searching, like the dream-baffled Pharaoh at the misty beginnings of our tale, for an effective way to cry one’s information.
His group IDN aka The Poster Guys would in a natural evolution establish and maintain a business relationship with the good folks at the On Campus Network aka OCN to successfully co-promote services as varied as his own GreeceTravel.com to Semester At Sea, NYU Graduate Studies and overseas artistic and educational opportunities too numerous with which to burden this extremely brief but overdue history of the noble Criers and their Posters.