J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, August 06, 2012

Pinchbeck’s Pig in Salem

William Frederick Pinchbeck brought his learned pig from Britain to New York in 1798. After some successful performances there, the pair traveled north, and Pinchbeck ran this notice in the Salem Gazette dated 4 May:

For ten days only.

Mr. PINCHBECK Respectfully informs the Inhabitants of SALEM, that he has just arrived in this town with that great natural curiosity, the
Pig of Knowledge,
And flatters himself, after exhibiting before the President of the United States with unbounded applause, and in every principal City in the Union, to have the honour of gratifying such Ladies and Gentlemen in this place, as may favour him with their Company.

This extraordinary Animal will actually perform the following surprising particulars, viz.
He reads print or writing, spells, tells the time of day, both the hours and minutes, by any person’s watch in the company, the date of the year, the day of the month, distinguishes colours, how many persons there are present, ladies or gentlemen, and to the astonishment of every spectator, will answer any question in the four first rules of Arithmetics

To conclude, any Lady or Gentleman may draw a card from a pack, and keep it concealed, and the PIG without hesitation will discover the card when drawn.

Those who doubt the truth of the above are informed in case it don’t answer every expectation the advertisement can excite, and prove a real living Animal, shall have the Money returned, or be at liberty to pay after they have convinced themselves by seeing him perform.

To be seen in a convenient room under the western side of Concert-Hall, Market-Street.
Admittance, for grown persons, one Quarter of a Dollar. Children half price.
N. B. Strict attention paid to keep the place fit for the reception of Ladies.
The “President of the United States” whom Pinchbeck claimed had seen the pig was John Adams. I don’t know of any document from the Adams Papers to confirm that—but if Abigail was with John in New York at the time, their discussion wouldn’t have been on paper. However, Pinchbeck was from a family of British showmen, and was quite capable of hyping his act.

(Russell Potter, author of Pyg, left a comment on yesterday’s posting quoting another of Pinchbeck’s advertisements, which he quoted at greater length here.)

Seven years later, in 1805, Pinchbeck published a volume titled The Expositor, explaining the basic secrets behind automata, ventriloquism, optical illusions, stage magic, and of course training a performing pig.

TOMORROW: The lion, the pig, and the porcupine.


Anonymous said...

Please, sir, how does the pig do it? From the descriptions, it seems that this was NOT an automaton, but a real live pig. No doubt Mr Pinchbeck was prompting the pig, but still . . . Can you divulge the secret? Signed, an interested lady

J. L. Bell said...

Russell Potter quoted Pinchbeck’s explanation of the secret here.