Friday, July 5, 2019

No Ticket, No Chance -- Regency Lotteries

I have never really given much thought to lotteries. I buy the occasional ticket, never win anything, and that's about it.

Then I began to notice advertisements in British newspapers of the Regency, mainly for the the State Lottery, and I began to wonder how prevalent and how popular lotteries were in the period 1800-1820. I discovered that the 18th century was the heyday of lottery play in Britain and that from 1815, they were dying out.

Hereford Journal - Wednesday 15 January 1800
The first notice in the British press of a lottery is from 1569, and the prize then was 'plate'--silver and gold in various forms. The next mention was in 1586 and the prize was 'armor', very fine armor apparently. The popularity of these initial forays in public gambling were so successful that government and royalty took note, and the first state lotteries took place. At one point around 1800 the government garnered half a million pounds per annum.
London Courier and Evening Gazette - Wednesday 10 April 1805
By 1700, there were literally hundreds of lotteries as well as the state and city events. There were private lotteries, and fraudulent lotteries with fines of 500l. for cheating. People then, as now, had their favourite numbers. Tickets were expensive, 10l. and up, and ticket sharing schemes, and companies, were popular. So was forgery and counterfeiting of tickets and corruption of ticket-drawing persons.

Worcester Journal - Thursday 29 November 1810
There were dozens of licensed lottery dealers: Hornsby and Co., Swift & Co., Sir J. Branscomb & Co., J. Warner, and T. Bish among them.

T. Bish (in business for some thirty years) became among the best known particularly because of their flamboyant ads after about 1812. Below are two simple advertisements; most included cartoon woodcuts.
Westmorland Advertiser and Kendal Chronicle - Saturday 15 July 1815
Ackermann's Repository of Arts, Literature etc. 1816
Between the state and city lotteries there were smaller events known as 'little goes'. Prizes were anything and everything; books enjoyed a vogue as prizes at one time. The following advertisement appeared in a Calcutta newspaper:
The Every-Day Book and Table Book by William Hone 1830
(There is a large section devoted to 'Lotteries' in this 1830 edition of Hone's Every-Day Book.  I recommend it.)

But by 1815 the tide of public opinion was turning against lotteries though in 1820, they still existed.

 In 1826 the government finally passed legislation which banned lotteries.

There was rejoicing but also disappointment and the furor leading to the final lottery drawing was intense. The companies who had the most to lose by the lottery closure were the most noticeable.
A final flourish from a newspaper of 1826 was recorded in Hone's Every-day Book:
In 1830 Hone noted that

And indeed it was not killed, for lotteries are with us still.

'Til next time,


Sources: British Newspaper Archive
               Hone's Every-Day Book and Table Book, download available at

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