Nov 262012

In the Eighteenth century lotteries were often used to raise money for specific “good causes” – such as the construction of a new bridge across the Thames at Westminster,  or to establish the British Museum at Montagu House. Various public funding exercises were arranged. Even military campaigns were part-funded via the State Lottery.  In the case of James Cox, a jeweller who went monumentally bankrupt because of the high cost of his unsold stock, a lottery was also used (with Parliamentary consent) in the hope that the money raised would clear the bankruptcy. (It didn’t, and the be-jewelled automata made by James and intended for the Far Eastern market had to be sold for scrap).

My ancestor Richard regularly forked out twenty five pounds (shared with his brother in law) for a lottery ticket and on at least one occasion he won a prize. Here are the actual lottery tickets he purchased in 1753 (top) and 1740 (bottom).


And the actual handbill issued by the ticket seller? Richard collected that also:

The final sentence drew attention to the fact that you could insure against a blank being drawn – usually by paying a fee to a “Moroccan” – in other words a spiv offering odds, and wielding a red Moroccan purse in which he kept the money he earned.

Alternatively punters could go into the lottery insurance office to take out insurance – as in this 1777 print (shown courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library ):

As for the actual drawing of the lottery winning ticket this is a print entitled “Coopers Hall, Lottery Drawing”, from Ackermanns Microcosm of London”, dating from 1809. It may not have the shrieking crowds and razzmatazz associated with 21st century lotteries on the television, but it clearly was a public spectacle – if only to ensure that it was seen to be open and fair.

I cannot be sure, but I am fairly certain that Richard Hall ticked the box marked “no publicity” when he won his share of the lottery prize …. and then went off to spend it on fast women and slow carriages!

  6 Responses to “Odds on for a lottery win, 18th Century style.”


    This is fascinating!


    What a handy post! I am at this very moment preparing an C18 lottery for a history writers’ group. Top prize will be a giant Toblerone.


    This is surely the most interesting, fascinating post I have read; I never new such things existed. It was obviously not for the lowest of the working class, the smallest chance would have cost them more than a weeks wages in all probability 3/6d for the cheapest share equates to a little over £9. per annum, which I believe was more than many of the working class earned.
    But absolutely fascinating, and the beautiful copperplate writing of their Obliged Humble Servt. E Johnson superb.

    Thank you very much for a most enjoyable experience


    So how much did Richard Hall win? And was he really the sort of person to spend it on fast women and slow carriages!?
    It is so cool to see a copy of the lottery ticket. I have seen drawings/paintings/etches of lotteries, but never anything so “real”!


    Wonderful to have the original tickets. My ggggfr Louis also bought a lottery ticket from the same people.

    Louis’ bank records show that on 26 March he paid ₤11 ‘for a Lottery Share’. On this day the sale was announced in The Times (notice the encouraging name of one of the sellers):

    GOVERNMENT STATE LOTTERY begins drawing 14th April, 1807. – RICHARDSON, GOODLUCK and Co. respectfully acquaint the Public, that the NEW STATE LOTTERY TICKETS and SHARES, are now on Sale, in variety of numbers, at their Licensed Lottery Offices, corner of Bank Buildings, Cornhill, and facing the Gate of the King’s Mews, Charing Cross.
    Scheme contains
    4 Prizes of 20,000l. 4 of 10,000l.
    4 of 5,000l. 10 of 1,000l.
    10 of 500l. &c. &c. &c.

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