Thursday, October 10, 2019
The art of Wax Figures in 18th-century American taverns & gardens & museums
Early American social life was a little boring and conservative in the opinion of one French visitor who wrote "Americans...in social life have less; and if they live almost without pain, they also nearly live without pleasure. They do not know the art of multiplying or varying their enjoyments, and the monotony of their existence, resembles the silence of tombs."
By the middle of the 18th century, in the British American colonies just as in the mother country, owners of commercial public pleasure gardens and local taverns had begun to offer a few extraordinary entertainments to tempt guests to their grounds. Proprietors usually charged an additional admission fee for these special programs, but sometimes the hosts simply hoped to draw more guests to the garden who would spend money to drink and eat while awed by the spectacle of it all. One of the most popular attractions was the life-like wax figure.
As early as 1731, girls in New York City were shaping wax figures of fruit during their needlework & crafts classes. The New-York Gazette on December 13-21, 1731, advertised "Teaches Needlework.—Martha Gazley, late from Great Britain, now in the City of New-York, Makes and Teacheth the following Curious works, Viz. Artificial Fruit and Flowers, and Wax-work, Nuns-work, Philligree and Pencil Work upon Muslin, all sorts of Needle-Work, and Raising of Paste, as also to Paint upon Glass, and Transparant for Scones, with other Works."
Londoner Richard Brickell introduces wax figures, & much more, to the colonies
Richard Brickell was a rather interesting gentleman. He came to the British American colonies sometime during the summer of 1746, prepared to entertain both indoors and outdoors at commercial pleasure gardens. By September 8, 1746, when he advertised in the New York Evening Post, Richard Brickell had begun to perform and promote a variety of entertainment in the taverns & public pleasure gardens of the colonies. His initial presentation consisted of an elaborate musical clockwork with bellringers.
In August of 1747, he had partnered with a gentleman named Richard Mosely to offer a puppet show and a posture & tumbling demonstration at the Sign of the Spread-Eagle, which they announced in the New York Gazette & Weekly Post Boy. The puppet show featured one of the earliest presentations of Punch's opera, "Bateman, or the Unhappy Marriage," in the colonies, which earlier had appeared only once in Pennsylvania in 1742. Some researchers think that the 1742 show may have been presented by Brickell & Mosley.
Brickell was also one of the earliest to use the magic lantern to entertain colonials. The magic lantern, an early device to project life-size images on a wall or screen, was introduced into the American colonies in 1743, when Edmund Rising, a London optician, entertained spellbound adult audiences in Philadelphia & Boston with images of the Battle of Dettingen, naval engagements with Spanish and Turkish fleets, & Italian landscapes. Four years later, however, Brickell and his partner Mosley awed audiences in New York City, when they ended their shows with a lantern demonstration specifically directed at children. Among the thirty images featured by Brickell & Mosely was an animated scene of a “Dutchman Scating on ice in the midst of Summer”—one of the 1st examples of juvenile themes in a lantern medium seen by American audiences.
Brickell next advertised in the 1748 New York Gazette and Weekly Post Boy, that he would demonstrate at Spring Garden, "the most surprising effect of phenomina, on electricity attracting repelling ...particularly the new way of electrifying several persons at the same time, so that fire shall dart forth from all parts of their bodies." This dramatic public spectacle probably was made possible by the development of experimental apparatus like the Leyden jar, an electrical condenser which consisted of a glass jar coated part way up its sides inside and out with metal foil, with the inner foil connected to a rod which emerged into the air through the jar's cork stopper.
The New-York Weekly Journal on July 3, 1749, advertised wax effigies of the Royal Family of England. "This is to acquaint the Curious. That there is just arriv'd from England and to be seen for a short Time in this Town, at The Sign of the Dolphin Privateer, near the Work-House, New-York. The Effigies of the Royal Family of England. In a Composition of Wax, exactly as big as Life.
I. His Majesty King George the Second.
II. His Royal Highness Frederick, Prince of Wales.
N.B. Both these Effigies are dressed in Royal Robes in the same Manner as when sitting in the Parliament-House.
III. Her Royal Highness Augusta, Princess of Wales.
I.V. His Royal Highness William Duke of Cumberland, in his Regimentals, as he appeared at the Head of the English Arms.
V. The Effigy of the Empress Queen of Hungary and Bohemia.
VI The Arch Duke, Joseph, her Son.
VII A Pandour mounting Guard.
N.B. These three Effigies are dressed in Hungarian Habits. With four curious Effigies, of the four Seasons of the Year,
A Fryar and a Nun in their proper Habits.
The Effigy of Miss Peggy Warfington the present Famous Actress now in England.
With a curious Philosophical, Optical Machine, properly adapted to the Philosophical System of Sir Isaac Newton's Opticks.
Constant Attendance is given from Seven in the Morning, till Six in the Evening; and to be seen by two or more, without loss of Times.
A curious Piece of Ordnance, Which Charges and Discharges both at one time, and times in a Minute. All the above shewn, by, Gentlemen & Ladies Your most humb. Servt. James Wyatt.
In October of 1749, the same figures were used to raise funds for local prisoners. "On Thursday next I design to give a Benefit Night, and likewise the Day to see the Wax Work, for to relieve some of the poor Prisoners in the City Hall; Those Gentlemen and Ladies that will be so charitable to favour me with their good Company, will much oblige their humble Servant, James Wyatt. Tickets to be had at Mr. Ramsay's, at the Mr. Lepper's, and at Mr. Griswold's, Price Two Shillings each Ticket." The New-York Gazette Revived in the Weekly Post-Boy, October 30, 1749.
These wax figures seem to be some of the same Richard Brickell was promoting in Pennsylvania 3 years later. The Pennsylvania Gazette on August 20, 1752, advertised, "Just arrived from London, and to be seen any hour in the day from eight to twelve in the forenoon, and from two in the afternoon, to nine at night, next door to the sign of the Hand and Shears, in Front street, near Chestnut street; Three curious figures in full proportion in wax work, in their Hungarian Habits. First, A lively representation of the present queen of Hungary, sitting on a throne of state, with a scepter in her hand. Secondly, The arch duke, her son, standing on a Pedestal. Thirdly, A pandour in his military dress. Also a curious brass piece of ordnance, approved of by the royal society of London, that may be charged and discharged twenty times in a minute. With a variety of prospects of buildings, gardens, and places of note in England, Scotland, France and Italy. As our stay in this city will be but short, the Prices are Two Shillings and Six Pence each person, and for children in proportion, by RICHARD BRICKELL."
On May 4th, 1752, he had advertised his appearance in New York City in the New York Gazette and Weekly Post Boy, “RICHARD BRICKELL, with the famous Posture-Master lately arrived here, has taken the Theatre in Nassau-Street, where will be exhibited, a great variety of Dancings and Tumblings...on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday Evenings; with the Ingenious Slight of Hand. There will be a variety of Musick, such as the Dulcimer, Violin, &c.....” He was obviously a posture master, a dancer, a tumbler, and the owner of some rather large was figures which he brought over in the hold of a ship bound for the New World.
In 1752, Richard Brickell had returned to New York City's Spring Garden performing nightly as a "POSTURE MASTER, who transforms his Body into various Postures, in a surprising and wonderful Manner: with many Curious Dancings and Tumblings..He also performs The Flight of Hand...to the Music of a Dulcemer."
By July 2, 1753, The South-Caroline Gazette announced Richard Brickell had brought the same wax figures to Charleston, and the price of admission had increased. "From 4 o' Clock in the Afternoon 'till 9 at Night, at 10sh. each person. THREE most elaborate and curious FIGURES, in Germen WAX WORK, taken from the Life by Geravan Squarzenger of Venno ; being an exact Representation On the present Queen of Hungary and Empress of Germany siting on a one of State. With The Archduke Joesph , her Son, standing on a pedestal, her right Hand. On her left stand one of her Life guards. An Hungarian Pondour , completely arm'd. These huge are as large as the life, and dressed exact in the proper habits of their country. They have been seen by the nobility, gentry and virtues, of Paris and London who have expressed the greatest satisfaction at the nice representation of the living royal personages...During the time of seeing these beautiful the company will be entertained with the best pieces of MUSIC of any of the in vogue, performed on DULCIMER."
On August 5, 1756, traveling entertainment promoter Richard Breckell was adverstising in The Pennsylvania Gazette. "To be seen at the...at the sign of the Death of the Fox, in Strawberry alley, Philadelphia, between the hours of seven and nine in the evening. A CURIOUS Machine, exhibiting the tragedy of Bateman, viz. the doors fly open, the curtain drawn up presents a company at the wedding dinner of old Germain, and Batemanintended Bride; Bateman hangs himself, and is moved off, she changes countenance and suddenly dies, and is also carried away; the curtain falls, and ends the first act. The curtain rising, instead of the feast, young Bateman lies in state, with the mourners about him, the room hung with escutcheons, and six men ringing bells, with several other performances. To which is added, the Carpenters Yard, wherein is represented the various employments of that business, such as hewers, sawyers, plainers, grinders of tools, caulkers, &c. Likewise birds flying, the peacock, swans in the water, cocks fighting, a woman spinning, and several other things, all performed by figures of wax , moving by clockwork. It may be seen at any hour in the day by six or more. Gentlemen and ladies may have it performed at their own houses, if they desire it."
Hoping to entice a broad spectrum of clients to enjoy its pleasures, The Death of the Fox tavern in Philadelphia displayed wax figures depicting every aspect of labor in a carpenters' yard in 1756, just as Philadelphia's artisan class was growing.
Wax Figures at Vauxhall Gardens in New York City
Samuel Francis, a well-known New York City caterer, opened Vauxhall Gardens on July 25th, 1768. The gardens overlooked the North River, and the house & grounds were between Warren & Chambers between College Place & Greenwich streets. Formerly the property was occupied by British Major James, and it was mobbed & ransacked by an angry mob in 1765, for James' participation in the Stamp Act. The gardens were open from 8 am to 10 at night, where Francis served tea, coffee, & his pastries. The price of admission was 4 shillings a person. In one room of the Gardens, "genteely fitted up for the purpose, was a group of wonderful wax figures, initially ten in number, rich and elegantly dressed according to the ancient Roman and present mode." Francis also had in his collection "several very masterly pieces of grotto work and flowers, composed of various shells, &c., the whole affording a very agreeable entertainment, and are declared by those who have travelled and who had seen figures of the like kind, much admired m London and Paris, to be no way interior."
In 1768, Samuel Francis displayed a more exotic wax figure collection to lure the curious into New York City's Vauxhall Garden. "Wax Figures.—Vaux-Hall Gardens. Mr. Francis begs Leave to acquaint the Ladies and Gentlemen of this City, and the Public in general; that from 9 in the Morning 'till 10 at Night, (at Four Shillings each Person) may be seen at the Gardens, in a large Commodious Room, genteelly fitted for the Purpose, a Group of magnificent Wax Figures, “Ten in Number,” rich and elegantly dressed, according to the ancient Roman, and present Mode; which Figures, bear the most striking Resemblance of real Life, and represent the great Roman General Publius Scipio, who conquered the City of Carthage, standing by his Tent pitch'd in a Grove of Trees, (among which are some of different Fruits, very natural) attended by his Guards; with the King, the young Prince, and Princess, and other great Personages brought before the General, who were taken Prisoners in the City. Also there are several very masterly Pieces of Grotto-Work, and Flowers, composed of various Shells, &c. The Whole affording a very agreeable Entertainment, and are declared by those who have seen Figures of the like kind, much admired in London and Paris, to be no Way inferior. P.S. A more particular Description will be ready on Monday to be delivered at the Gardens. Tea, Coffee, Mead, &c. as usual." The New-York Gazette and the Weekly Mercury, July 25, 1768.
A year later, the proprietor Mr. Francis announced in The New-York Gazette and the Weekly Mercury on July 6, 1772, the addition of King George and Queen Charlotte to his collection of wax figures. "Vaux Hall, Mr. Francis takes this method to acquaint the public, that he has just compleated a number of Wax Figures as large as life, drest in the newest and most elegant manner, representing their present Majesties, King George and Queen Charlotte, sitting on the throne, with their usual attendants, several of the nobility, &c. properly disposed in a large appartment genteely fitted for the purpose, and proper persons to shew the same, from eight in the morning till ten in the evening."
The New-York Gazette and the Weekly Mercury of August 17, 1772, announced the addition of a room depicting the Banquet in Macbeth. "To the Encouragers of Ingenuity, and the Public in general. At Vaux-Hall in this City, there are to be seen at any Hour of the Day, a very great Variety of Wax Figures as large as Life, also entirely new dressed, and that in the most elegant as well as genteel Taste. Amongst other curious Representations, one Room contains that of the Banquet in Macbeth, with the Appearance of Banquo's Ghost, and a large Gallery filled with Spectators. Also Harlequin and Columbine, are finished in a very pleasing Manner, and have attracted much Notice; in fine, no Representation of the like Kind has ever been in this City, by any Means equal to the Grandeur and agreeable Entertainment of the present, which have been compleated with very great Trouble and Expence."
Five years after his installation of wax figures in a large room at his gardens, Vaux-Hall went onto the market to be sold. The advertisement in The New-York Gazette and the Weekly Mercury on May 17, 1773 read, "To be Sold at public Vendue,...The large, commodious and well fitted House and Gardens, in the Out-Ward of this City, wherein Col. James formerly lived, and is known by the name of Vaux-Hall. The situation is extreme healthy, and pleasant, commanding an extensive prospect up and down the North-River: The House has four large rooms on a floor, twelve fire-places, most excellent cellars, and adjoining the house is built a compleat room, 56 feet long and 26 wide, very neatly finished under which is a large convenient kitchen and other offices, with a coach-house and stables, a well of the very finest water, pumps, cistern, pigeon-house, &c. The gardens are large, and laid out in a neat, genteel manner. The upper garden is planted with the very best fruit trees of different sorts; flowers and flowering shrubs all in great perfection: the lower garden is plentifully stocked with vegetables of every kind, sundry fruit trees, and every other necessary for the family use, great quantities of which might be sent to market...Until the Premises are sold, there will be the usual genteel accomodation, Tea, Coffee, Hot Rolls, &c. &c. and the elegant Wax-Work figures to be seen at all hours of the day." When Francis gave up the Vauxhall building and gardens, it was used as the first place of meeting for public worship by the Roman Catholics in this city—the first appearance of St. Peter's Church.
Teaching "Wax and Shell in all its Branches" to the Ladies
Just as Sam Francis was selling his wax figure exhibit at Vauxhall, traveling artists began to teach, display, and offer for sale wax artwork in the city. On May 13, 1773, an ad in The New-York Journal or the General Advertiser offered "Wax and Shell work.—This is to inform the Public, That at the House of Mr. M'Neill, at the Corner of Chapel-Street, opposite the new Brick Meeting-House, is to be seen, gratis, and disposed of publickly, by the 20th of May next; a most elegant Piece of Wax and Shell Work; the Scheme taken from Homer's Illiad. The Scene Hector and Andromache, with several other beautiful Figures, at the City Gate; the whole judged to be completely finished. The proprietors of this Work, beg leave to acquaint the Ladies, that as they intend continuing in New-York for a few Months they propose teaching, on the most reasonable Terms; the Wax and Shell in all its different Branches; and any Ladies inclining to be taught, by applying speedily, may have Time to be perfectly instructed, before their Departure from this Place. N.B. Ladies from the Country may be accommodated with Board at a moderate Price."
President George Washington visits Daniel Bowen's collection of Wax Figures
In the June 111, 1788, New-York Daily Advertiser noted, "Wax Work. To be seen at No. 100 the Upper end of Queen-Street. The Portraits of Gen. Washington; the King, Queen, Prince of Wales, and Lord North, of Great Britain; an Indian Chief; A Nun at Confession. and a number of other curious Figures as large as life....Price 3s. Those who are desirous of seeing them are requested to come soon as the Exhibition will shortly be discontinued." These wax works were owned by Daniel Bowen (1760-1856) originally of Philadelphia and reported to be a friend of Charles Willson Peale. Apparently the exhibit was a success, because the Gazette of the United States announced on September 11, 1788. that "Monday evening last The President of the United States, his Lady and Family, and several other person of distinction, were pleased to honor Mr. Bowen's exhibition of Wax Work, with their company, at No. 74, Water-Street, and appeared exceedingly well pleased with the late improvement made by the proprietor."
The New York City newspaper The Weekly Museum carried a detailed announcement of Daniel Bowen's collection of wax works available to be viewed by the public on January 5, 1793. "Wax-Work, As Large as Life. The following Figures are exhibited at No 74, Water-street, opposite Crane-Wharf, viz. The President of the United States sitting under a canopy, in his military dress. Over the head of his Excellency a frame is suspended (also in wax) crowning him with a wreath of laurels. The King, Queen, and Prince of Wales of Great-Britain, habited in cloaths which were presented by the King; The Duchess of Orleans, of France, elegantly dressed. The Right Rev. Samuel Provoost, Bishop of New-York. The Rev. Dr. John Rodgers, of New York. The Rev. Dr. John Livingston, of New York. A Nun at confession; or Innocence and Beauty. A Friar in a Roman Catholic dress. A fine Woman asleep; or the Sleeping Beauty. Jack, just arrived from Sea, by the side of a country lass. An Indian Chief, painted and dressed in his War habit, holding a real scalp. An old hermit. Darby and Joan enjoying themselves over a basket of fruit, bottle of beer, pipe etc. Moll, a mad women. Scripture Pieces. A Damsel presenting the head of John the Baptist, in a charger to Herodeas, wife of Herod, King of the Jews. Bell and the Dragon, King Cyrus, and the Prophet Daniel. Also, Several other Figures, some of which are constructed to turn their heads, open and shut their eyes, &c. to the admiration of the spectators...Some of the above Figures have been exhibited in North and South Carolina, where they were universally allowed to be the most pleasing Curiosities ever exhibited on the Continent." Apparently, some of these waxworks had been in the possession of Richard Brickell on his travels to Charleston.
Daniel Bowen begins to remove his wax figures from New York City to display them in Boston
By January, 7, 1790, the New-York Journal, and Weekly Register noted that "Wax Work. Mr. Bowen respectfully informs the public, that he intends to remove the Wax-work from this city in the course of a few weeks. He returns his sincere thanks to those who have honored him with their company, and is happy that they have been pleased with his exhibition."
Apparently, Daniel Bowen (1760-1856) was the owner of the objects displayed at the Museum and Wax Works located in The Royal Exchange in Broad Street in the Tammany Society's Museum. This museum occupied the large room in the " Exchange," a building upon arches which stood on the south line of Pearl street, facing up Broad street. In 1792, the museum was given up by the Tammany Society as its own, and transferred to Gardiner Baker who had been its curator & keeper. While he was in control, he added new objects of interest to the public, and advertised its attractions in the papers of the day.
One of these was "A collection of wax-work figures belonging to a Mr. Bowen." The Weekly Museum of July 26, 1794, announced that Daniel Bowen's paintings and wax works would could now be seen at a different venue. Bowen withdrew his wax figures from the museum in the Exhange Building in June, 1794, and afterward exhibited them at No. 75 Broad street, the house of Mrs. McEvven. "Paintings & Wax Work. The exhibition of Paintings and Wax Work at Mrs. M'Ewen's, No 75, Broad-street is continued open from 9 o'clock in the morning till 7 in the Evening, everyday (Sunday excepted)"
The Columbian Gazetteer on June 9, 1794, announced a detailed list of Daniel Bowen's objects now exhibited at "Mrs. M'Euen's No. 75 Broad-Street, New-York." The wax figures on display were "Rev. President Stiles, of New-Haven...A likeness of one of the beautiful young ladies, of New-York...A likeness of a handsome young lady of New-Haven...Humphreys and Mendoza, in an attitude of boxing...An Indian behind a tree, throwing his tomahawk at a soldier...The soldier presenting a pistol towards the Indian. &c...The Exhibition is open every Day and Evening. (Sundays excepted.) Admittance, Two Shillings."
Bowen announced his intention to remove all of his wax-works and paintings from New York City on April 16, 1795, in Mott and Hurtin's New-York Weekly Chronicle. "Waxworks and Paintings.—Bowen's Exhibition of Wax-Work & Paintings, No. 75, Broad-Street, Is again opened for the entertainment of the Public, with a great variety of New Wax Figures, among which are the following: The unparalleled Murder of Marat, by Miss Charlotte Cordie, in France—a good likeness. Baron Trenck, in chains. Maternal affection, or a lady with two children. A Tea Party of little Misses. A Likeness of a beautiful young Lady of New-York...This Exhibition far exceeds anything of the kind ever offered to public view in America; and will be removed from this city the first day of May next. It will be open every day and evening from 9 o'clock in the morning until 9 at night. Admittance three shillings."
Daniel Bowen also was exhibiting some of his collection of wax figures in Boston in the early 1790s. Bowen’s museum in Boston had its modest beginnings in an exhibit of wax figures & paintings that he mounted in 1791, at the American Coffee House, a popular tavern located on the north side of State Street, opposite the intersection of Kilby Street. The waxen figures displayed in this first exhibit included representations of Washington, Franklin, & John Adams. That of local favorite Adams, had “on either side of him liberty with staff and cap and Justice with sword and balance.” David & Goliath were the subject of another waxen display, with the figure of Goliath standing some twelve feet high. As more space became available, figures representing “The Sleeping Nymph” and “The Salem Beauty” as well as characters from popular literature were added to Daniel Bowen’s collection of waxworks. By the mid-1790s, with public outrage against Jacobin France at an all-time high, figures were added showing the condemned French King Louis XVI bidding farewell to his family, as well as that of a man being guillotined. Space in the American Coffee House being limited, it was not long before Bowen moved his collection to more ample quarters in a hall on the top floor of a schoolhouse on nearby Hollis Street.
Daniel Bowen moved his Boston museum a 3rd time in 1795, to a “large and elegant hall” at the corner of Bromfield & Tremont Streets, opposite Paddock’s Mall, which fronted the Granary Burying Ground, a popular promenade of the day. Mr. Bowen’s Museum, as it was commonly called, was renamed “The Columbian” in 1801. On January 15, 1803, the Columbian Museum’s Tremont Street building was destroyed in a spectacular fire that also consumed Bowen's entire collection. Daniel Bowen went into business with W.M.S. Doyle, and built new museums in Boston, in the early 19th-century.
In 1798, Daniel Bowen informed his potential audience, "Columbian Museum, head of the Mall, Boston. : Paintings. ... Wax-work. ... Musical clocks. ... Natural curiosities. ... Music, on the grand piano forte, by Mr. Dolliver. (Every Tuesday and Thursday evening.) Menage of living animals. ... Mr. Bowen informs the public, that since the late elegant and expensive additions have been made to the Columbian Museum, it is universally allowed to be the most entertaining place of amusement in the United States. The museum is opened every day, and illuminated every Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday evening. Price of admittance, half a dollar. Children, 25 cents."
In the 1797 novel The Coquette or, The History of Eliza Wharton by Hannah Webster Foster, a friend writes Eliza of her visits to Mr. Bowen's Museum. “With Mr. Bowen’s museum, I think you were much pleased. He has made a number of judicious additions to it, since you were here. It is a source of rational and refined amusement. Here the eye is gratified, the imagination charmed, and the understanding improved. It will bear frequent reviews without palling on the taste. It always affords something new; and for one, I am never a weary spectator”
In March of 1798, William Bentley, minister at the Salem Church, visited the museum, reporting, "I afterwards visited Bowen's Museum & tho' the arrangement by no means met my wishes, yet I could select many things to give me pleasure. The wax work is extensive, but I can pronounce nothing."
Wax Figures in New York City until the end of the 18th-century
Gardiner Baker kept the Museum at The Royal Exchange in business for a while, still exhibiting wax figures occasionally. Columbian Gazetteer announced on March 31, 1794 that "a complete Guillotine is erected, and a wax figure, which perfectly represents a man beheaded!...Every visitor to the Museum, may if they wish, have access to the Guillotine, it may be seen with the beheaded figure, or by itself; when the machine is seen alone, nothing appears horrible. G. Baker Keeper."
A new exhibition of wax-work appeared in New York City according to the Weekly Museum on April 19, 1794. "Mr. Moulthrop informs the Public, that he has compleated a number of Wax Figures in large stature, among which are the followimg A likeness of the Rev. Ezra Stiles, President of Yale College, New Haven. A likeness of a young Lady of New Haven, Connecticut. Also a likeness of a young Lady of New York, one of the New York Beauties. With a variety of other figures. The Exhibition will be open every day and evening (Sundays excepted) at No. 406, Queen Street, near the Friends Meeting House Admittance one Shilling."
Now calling itself both the Museum & Wax-Work and Gardiner Baker Museum, in the Exchange in Columbian Gazetteer on October 16, 1794, an announcement read, "The public are informed that the Museum and Wax-Work lately received many additions—To the Wax-Work, a Sleeping Beauty of New-York—Two children, brother and sister; the boy is 4-1/2 years of age, and the infant 5-1/2 months; These are the likeness of two children of this city...open every day (Sundays excepted) from 10 to 1 o'clock in the forenoon, and from 3 to 5 in the afternoon; and on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday evenings of each week, from candle light till 9 o'clock. Admittance Two Shillings, and children under 10 years, half price."
The mysterious "Wax Speaking Figure"
Occasionally previously exhibited wax figures were offered for sale. New-York Daily Advertiser announced on March 21, 1791, that the "Wax Speaking Figure.—To be sold, That most pleasing and extraordinary phenomenon in art, the Wax Speaking Figure, with the likeness of Mrs. Siddons in the Character of a Grecian Daughter, and a number of other wax Figures, a brilliant Diamond Beetle, a paradox, and an alarm against House Breaking and Fire. Apply at No 7 Beekman street, where the same are exhibited as usual. Ladies and Gentlemen are admitted at 2s. each and children at 1s. each."
The Wax Speaking Figure reappeared in New York City in January of 1793, advertised in The Weekly Museum. "To the Curious. Will be exhibited for an evenings' entertainment, at the corner of Beekman and Gold-street, that most pleasing and extraordinary phenomenon of art, The Wax Speaking Figure, which is suspended by a ribbon in the centre of a beautiful Temple, elegantly decorated, and is calculated to please, and surprise, by returning pertinent and agreeable answers to any questions proposed to it, whether spoken in a low whisper or in an audible voice. It will also ask questions which are always consistent with decency and propriety. The beholder may truly exclaim with the emphatic poet of nature, as though he had this very figure in his minds' eye. `It, tho inanimate, can hold discourse, and with the powers of reason seems inspir'd.' In the same room is to be seen, other wax figures, a brilliant diamond Beetle, a small paradox, and alarm against House-Breaking and Fire. Admittance to Ladies and Gentlemen at 2s each, and Children 1s each, from 7 until 10 o'clock every evening (Sundays excepted.)"
By 1797, Gardiner Baker had acquired the "Wax Speaking Figure ...The beautiful Wax-Figure, which has long been exhibited both in Europe and America as a Speaking Figure, and has caused so much conjecture respecting its principle of deception is now suspended in a beautiful temple in the museum. The principle, which is truly philosophical, may be discovered by two persons, who can hold a conversation through the figure by a whisper. The museum must be perfectly free from noise at the time the communication is made."
Portraits in wax from "from the natural size down to the smallest miniature"
Reuben Moulthrop (American artist, 1763-1814) was known for his miniatures and his wax sculptures, as well as for his paintings. In November 1792, he married Hannah Street, a daughter of the Rev'd Nicholas Street of said East Haven. As proprietor of a waxworks museum & traveling waxworks exhibition, he was primarily interested in modelling in wax in his early years. By the end of 1797, wax sculptors "Moulthrop and Street Respectfully inform the Ladies and Gentlemen of New York that their New Exhibition of Wax Figures, is opened at the house of Mr. William Treadwell, No. 5 Cortland street, this exhibition consists of thirty-two figures, as large as life, among which are the following characters. 1. His excellency George Washington, late President of the United States. 2. His Excellency John Adams, now President of the United States. 3. Dr. Ezra Stiles, late President of Yale College. 4. King Saul, in his extremity, consulting with the witch of Endor, and Samiuel raised. 5. David going forth against Goliath, with a sling and stone; the figure of the giant is ten feet high, with his coat of mail and implements of war. This is allowed to be one of the greatest curiosities ever represented in wax. 6. the late Gen. Butler, who fell in St. Clair's defeat, represented as wounded in the leg and breast, and an Indian rushing on him with a tomahawk. 7. Charles Grandison and his lady with two beautiful children. 8. The Connecticut beauty 9. The Friends beauty. 10. Maternal affection, represented by a lady with two children. 11. The Prodigal in high life. 12. A musical card party. 13. An old woman whipping her negro girl, or domestic disciple. The Exhibition will be opened from 9 in the morning until 9 in the Evening. Admittance one quarter of a dollar for grown persons, children half price." The image of a woman whipping her slave is both unusual & disturbing in their list of wax figures. Weekly Museum, December 9, 1797.
In December of 1798, John Christopher Rauschner (Austrian-born artist, 1760–after 1812) Member of the Imperial Academy of Sculpture at Vienna arrived in New York City. He advertised in the New-York Daily Advertiser for nearly a year that "he makes Portraits, in coloured wax of every proportion, from the natural size down to the smallest miniature so perfectly resembling life, that could the power of speaking be given to these inanimated copies of the Supreme Beings works, the illusion would be perfect. A few pieces of his performance may be seen at Messres. J. & M. Paffs, 112 Broadway, opposite the city tavern, amongst which is a monument erected to the glory of the immortal Washington. N.B. As Mr. Rauschner intends to stay in New York only until the later end of April next, he begs those who wish to have their likeness taken, to apply to him as soon as possible. A half hour's sitting only is required to enable him to give a striking likeness."
And, finally, as the new republic was eager to learn more about the French Revolution and Napoleon Bonaparte, wax figures from Paris were imported into the city in 1799, when "Oudin & Co. Respectfully informs the Public and their friends they have just received from Paris a collection of Ten Wax Figures, Eight of which in Bust represent the true Likenesses of the French Generals, executed by the first artists of that Capital City. They dare hope that these figures will attract the notice of the greatest connoisseurs of this City, being the Master Pieces of that art, improved to the highest degree. 1. Buonaparte, this famous General, who won so many victories over his enemies. 2. Masiena, the Cherished Child of Victory. 3. Macdonald who was chosen by the Romans to be their Chief, and to lead them from Naples. 4. Moreau, now at the Army of Italy, known by his rare talents, when he made so fine a retreat in Germany. 5. Bournonville, now at the Army of Brabant. 6. Serurier, to that of Italy. 7. LeCourbe, now on the Rhine. 8. Hoche, who like a Mediator put an end to the War of Vendee, and engaged its inhabitants by his policy to lay down their arms. 9 & 10 The two other, are the Sappers of a natural size, who saved Buonaparte's Life at the Battle of Ponte-de-Lody, after having had his horse killed under him. The whole may be seen at No. 112 Broadway, opposite the New City Tavern, from 8 in the morning to 1 o'clock, and from 4 to 9 in the afternoon. If after these fixed hours, there are any persons who wish to see this collection in private, on signifying their intentions, their curiosity shall be immediately gratified. Price Four Shillings for each person." Argus. Greenleaf's New Daily Advertiser, August 27, 1799.