4 March 1852 Woods Minstrels Late Fellows' Minstrels

Early Playbill Touting Wood’s Minstrels Troupe

Formed by Edwin P. Christy in about 1842, Wood’s Minstrels were a troupe of performers who traveled and provided musical and comedic entertainment. Sometime thereafter, the troupe settled down, and started performing regular shows in Buffalo, New York. Having established themselves, the troupe soon moved to New York City in 1846.

In New York, the troupe became known as an Ethiopian Minstrel Band, and performed at the American Opera House on 472 Broadway. Sometime on or about 1853 the group splintered. Edwin Christy retired, and an offshoot of the troupe formed.

Admit to Wood's Minstrels 444 BDWay Miller N.Y. NY-964B

Miller NY-964B, Counterstamped 2-Reale

Known as ‘George Christy & Wood’s Minstrels’, Henry Wood led the dramatic company of actors, actresses, performers, comedians, and acrobats.

It was around this time that troupe began to issue counterstamped admission tokens for use by the general public.

Like many counterstamped coins of the day, it was struck by hand on various coins including United States silver quarters and Spanish 2- and 4-reale emissions.

The tokens prominently advertised the group’s name and address at 444 Broadway.  Each token permitted a holder admission to a performance.

On October 15th 1857 a new minstrel hall opened for the troupe. Known as Henry Wood’s Marble Hall, the theatre occupied 561 and 563 Broadway and could seat 2000 people.

Interior of Wood's Marble Hall, Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, October 24 1857

Interior of Wood’s Marble Hall, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, October 24 1857

Located on the west side of Broadway near Prince street, the new facility was an immediate hit with the public.

In harmony with its opening, the troupe began issuing custom made admission tokens for its revues. These tokens replaced the counterstamped tokens previously issued, and were struck from silver. Each token had the value of 25-cents, and featured an image of Wood’s Marble Hall on its obverse.

Gypsy Queen Cigarettes Lydia Thompson Actress

Lydia Thompson, a Burlesque Star in Her Day

Quite unusual in comparison to most merchant storecards, the token possessed the actual intrinsic value of its face amount.

For no small reason the popularity of the theatre was due to the stars of the day which graced its stage.  Contemporary celebrities like Lydia Thompson, a Burlesque star who was tame by today’s standards, performed regularly at the venue.

But within a two years, the theatre was abandoned by Wood and his troupe.  Despite the popularity of its performances, the theatre’s entrance was by way of an awkward flight of stairs, which proved quite inconvenient for customers.  The theatre’s last show was September 3, 1859, after which Wood’s Minstrels returned to the stage at 444 Broadway.

For the Marble Hall, its structure was altered to accommodate the Merchants and Manufacturers’ Bank.  The building was torn down in July 1877.

In July 1862 Wood’s Minstrels acquired an old synagogue. Located at 514 Broadway, the abandoned temple served as a perfect venue to convert to a theatrical hall.

Only known photograph of Wood's Theatre at 514 Broadway

One of only a few known photographs of
Wood’s Theatre. Image Courtesy Albert Garzon

The troupe renovated the building, and transformed it into a 2000-seat entertainment theatre.

The year of 1863 was the last under the leadership of Henry Wood. Upon closure of the season on December 25, Wood retired, and sold all of his interest to George Wood.

George Wood, another New York theatre veteran, was already managing the Broadway Theatre.

Sometime after taking the reins, new owner George Wood renovated the building once more. Converting it into a regular, more traditional theatre, Wood lessened the theatre’s capacity to 1300 seats.

In 1868 the theatre experienced a devastating fire that destroyed part of the building. Fortunately, after several months of repair, it was reopened.

For the next 13 years the theatre changed hands several times, guided under numerous management, and operated under the marquis of multiple different names: Wood’s Minstrel Hall, Wood’s Theatre, German Thalia Theatre, Wood’s Theatre Comique, Lingard’s Theatre, and Theatre Comique.

Many of the best variety performers appeared when the venue was known as the Theatre Comique.  For example, in the season of 1875, many actors and performers were handsomely paid, in contrast to what most Americans earned at the time:

Weekly Salaries Theatre Comique 1875

Weekly Salaries Theatre Comique 1875

Despite the theatre’s success, it was not to last. Its last show was performed on April 30, 1881. Shortly thereafter the theatre was demolished to make way for a new retail establishment.

Numismatic Specimens

Below please find a Wood’s Minstrels Admission tokens.  All were used by theatre-goers for admission into Henry Wood’s Minstrel Theatre, and they had an intrinsic values of about 25-cents at the time of their issue. Due to a shortage of official U.S. coinage at the time, businesses like Wood’s Minstrels had their own private coinage struck to meet public demand and make transactions.

The first token is a Miller NY-964B counterstamp. Struck atop an 1806 Spanish-American 2-reales silver piece, the counterstamp is at least Choice Very Fine grade.  The host coin is approximately Very Fine in grade.  Rulau estimates the token was struck sometime circa 1857.

Miller NY-964B c.1857 Wood's Minstrels counterstamped token struck atop an 1806 2-reale host.

Miller NY-964B c.1857 Wood’s Minstrels Counterstamped Token struck atop an 1806 host coin.

The next token is another Miller NY-964B also struck atop a Spanish-American 2-reales piece. While Rulau reports 25 specimens including the one above, the 1820 specimen pictured below was not reported by Rulau.  Thus the specimen is a 26th example.  This makes the Miller NY-964B emission an R-6 on the Fuld rarity scale.  The host coin is holed, and approximately Good in grade.

Miller NY-964B c.1857 Wood's Minstrels counterstamped token struck atop an 1820 2-reale host.

Miller NY-964B c.1857 Wood’s Minstrels counterstamped token struck atop an 1820 2-reale host.

The last specimen is cataloged as Miller NY-964.  Unlike its counterstamped cousin, the token was specifically engraved and minted for Wood’s Minstrels.  Dated and struck on or about 1857, it was most likely struck sometime after the counterstamped token.  The token is about Choice Very Fine in grade, and exhibits sharp details despite its age.

Miller NY-964 c.1857 Wood's Minstrels token

Miller NY-964 c.1857 Wood’s Minstrels token

Photographed using axial lighting, the token has an approximate Rarity Rating of R-3 on the Fuld rarity scale.

Aaron Packard [End Mark]

Notes and Sources

  1. A History of the New York Stage from the First Performance in 1732 to 1901 Vol. 2, Thomas Brown, Dodd, Mead & Co., 1903, pgs.344-352
  2. The Stranger’s Hand-Book for the City of New York, C.S. Francis, C.S. Francis & Co., 1854, pg.85
  3. Curiosities of the American Stage, Laurence Hutton, Harper & Brothers, 1891, pg.136
  4. ‘The Negro on the Stage,’ Laurence Hutton, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, June 1889
  5. Standard Catalog of United States Tokens 1700-1900 Fourth Edition, Russell Rulau, Krause Publications, ©2004, pg.362
  6. ‘Amusements,’ The New York Times, September 12th 1859
  7. American Musical Theatre: A Chronicle, Gerald Bordman, Richard Norton, Oxford University Press, ©2010, pg.43
  8. Monarchs of Minstrelsy, Edward Le Roy Rice, Kenny Publishing Co., 1911, pg.162
  9. Evanion Catalogue, British Library
  10. The History of the Boston Theatre 1854-1901, Eugene Tompkins, Quincy Kilby, Houghton Mifflin, 1908
  11. Christy’s and White’s Ethiopian Melodies, T.B. Peterson & Brothers
  12. The Library of Congress Digital Archives

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The author has over 30 years experience in North American numismatics. He is the author of numerous articles about exonumia, including those about tokens, scrip, and the public who used them. He is a member of the ANA, VNA, ACC, C4, CWTS, TAMS, MD-TAMS, AVA, NSCA, and NumisSociety.
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