Ticketing the British Eighteenth-Century : ‘A thing ... never heard of before’
During the long eighteenth century an apparently minor and ephemeral object proliferated in Britain: the ticket. A significant and increasing proportion of the population was exposed to tickets of admission, lottery tickets and pay tickets. Novel forms emerged, including pawn tickets and Tyburn tickets; philanthropists discovered their potential for investigating and relieving poverty. Historians have not brought different instances together, but new applications of the term “ticket,” and more importantly, processes of elaboration and consolidation, suggest a variety of uses that bridged different registers and social settings. This extended early-modern capacities to express contractual obligation, affection or allegiance through material objects and gave new form to techniques of identification. Crucial was the ticket’s potential to flow, to encapsulate and then release information, access, possession or chance. Fashioned from paper, metal or bone, tickets gave shape to events and actions; they stood in for people and things; they materialized knowledge and experience; they patterned behavior and convention. Losing, counterfeiting or overlooking them had physical and spatial consequences. The article offers case studies of charitable events and fund-raising, plebeian experiences and Methodist practices. It also explores the material forms of tickets, how people learnt to recognize, read and use them, and questions of authenticity and forgery. Tickets mobilized and anchored entitlement, access and identity. Within this micro-politics of ticket use, lower-class women and men emerge as proficient agents. The article concludes that tickets intensified and shaped social interactions. Their presence casts fresh light on eighteenth-century modes of social existence and the broader historical narratives constructed around them.