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‘Idle Amusements’: Highlights from Early American Imprints, Series II, Supplement 2

Posted on 11/21/2016

November’s release of Early American Imprints, Series II, Supplement 2 from the American Antiquarian Society, 1801-1819, contains more than two dozen rare broadsides covering a wide variety of topics. They range from legislative acts regarding taxation of theatrical exhibitions and regulations for New York Harbor to advertisements from an assortment of early 19th-century businesses. Also found in this release is a diverse array of scarce juvenile literature, including collections of poems, prayers, and short stories; instructional primers such as spellers, alphabet books, and grammars; and works containing nursery rhymes, riddles, and Bible stories.


An Act, To Regulate and Tax Theatrical Exhibitions in the City of New York, and for other purposes therein mentioned (1802)

By the Legislative Assembly of the State of New York

WHEREAS Theatrical Exhibitions and the like idle amusements have a tendency to corrupt the morals of Youth in general, and frequently prove a source of distress to families: Therefore, BE IT ENACTED by the People of the State of New-York, represented in Senate and Assembly, That it shall be lawful, from and after the passing of this Act, for the Mayor, Aldermen and Commonalty of the city of New York, and they are hereby authorized and directed to levy and collect a tax of [   ] per cent, on all Tickets, to be issued by them, for Theatrical Exhibitions within the said city.

The act describes how the tax would be set and collected as well as other details on the regulation of ticket sales. Many of the details are predictable, such as:

And be it further enacted, That if any Manager or Actor shall admit any person as a spectator, to any exhibition, without a Ticket first obtained by such spectator, from a person appointed for that purpose, then such Manager, Actor or Company shall forfeit and pay [   ] dollar for every such offence to be sued for and recovered as aforesaid.

Others regulations are less expected:

And be it further enacted, That no person, denominated a Juggler, Rope or Wire-dancer, or Slight of Hand player, shall be permitted to exhibit any of their craft, in the said city, unless a special license in writing, from the Mayor or Recorder, be first obtained for that purpose…


George Holbrook (1803)

By George Holbrook

Advertising his bell and clock business, George Holbrook claims to use a newly discovered and largely unknown method of bell founding.

A Bell made upon this plan, and rightly hung, weighing eight hundred pounds, will give a sound as heavy, clear and agreeable to the ear, and shall be heard as far as one of ten hundred made in the usual way. Any orders from a distance will make and tune a Chime of Bells suitable for any Church in America. Also, meeting-house Clocks of different prices. And where Bell and Clock are both purchased they will be much cheaper.


Edward Parry, Imports and Keeps Constantly for Sale at His Cheap Store (1803)

By Edward Parry

Located at 10 Market Street, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Edward Parry offers a “complete assortment of English goods, consisting of the most fashionable superfine broad cloths of every description.”


Moses Found in the Bulrushes (1818)

This collection of Bible stories contains beautifully hand-colored illustrations that depict scenes from each of the tales. The first account describes how Moses escaped Pharaoh’s  command that the children of Israel “cast into the river every son that should be born among them.”

In the year of the world 2433, Jochiebed had a son, and to save his life she hid him three months. She then made an ark, or little vessel, out of bulrushes, or reeds, and covered it over with pitch, so that the water should not get into it, and then laid it in the flags on the bank of a river, where the princes [sic princess] of Egypt used to walk. His older sister Miriam staid near the place, and his mother was not far off. Soon the daughter of Pharaoh came to walk on the river bank, and she saw the ark; and when her maid had brought it to her, she opened it and saw the child; and behold the babe wept. And she had compassion on him, and said, This is one of the Hebrews’ children.

And Miriam said to Pharaoh’s daughter, Shall I go and call a nurse of the Hebrew women? And she said, Go. And Miriam went and called her mother, and Pharaoh’s daughter employed the child’s mother to take it and nurse it for her.

For more information about Early American Imprints, Series I and II: Supplements from the American Antiquarian Society, 1652-1819, including pricing, or to request a trial for your institution, please contact

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