Lawrence Finn never stayed in one place for too long. Like many itinerant glassworkers, he was always on the move, traveling across the country to find new audiences. We don’t know much about his life, but let’s take the few clues we have and see if we can find Finn.
Where in the world is Lawrence Finn?
Tracking the path of someone who lived almost 200 years ago can be tricky. Today some people leave a minute-by-minute trail of their lives, but a traveling demonstrator like Lawrence Finn left few lasting records in his wake. Luckily, the job that kept Finn on the road also gives us an advantage when looking for him. When he set up shop in a new location he needed to attract customers, and Finn did so by advertising in the local newspapers and distributing handbills and broadsides. Sometimes the same newspapers would review his show. This paper trail gives us a fairly accurate idea of his travels.
Trail of evidence
Finn was British, and based on advertisements and historical data we can connect him to another Lawrence Finn, likely his father or uncle. This older Finn performed in London, England, before and during the time the younger Finn traveled around the United States. Therefore when both are in the United Kingdom, it can be difficult to determine which Finn was responsible for certain advertisements.
Based on passenger logs and newspaper advertisements, we know the younger Finn likely arrived in New York, New York, from London in October 1827 and rented rooms at 202 Broadway. He opened his exhibition there on Monday, November 12, 1827. At the time, he was perhaps the second itinerant glassworker to perform in the United States.1
This first show featured Finn exhibiting his “most curious and pleasing experiments of Fancy Glass Working, Spinning, and Blowing,” and making “articles of the most fanciful description,” including “ships, figures, quadrupeds, birds, flower vases, &c. &c. &c.”2 He worked from 11am to 3pm, and again between 6pm and 10pm. Potential audience members could buy tickets for 25 cents ($6.40 in today’s dollars); children were half price. Finn especially encouraged “heads of families and guardians” to attend his demonstrations.
Other itinerant glassworkers often visited smaller cities and towns, but, based on the surviving advertisements, Finn’s strategy was to stay in large cities near tourist destinations. His New York address, 202 Broadway, was located across the street from St. Paul’s Chapel and down the street from New York City Hall, Peale’s Museum, and Scudder’s American Museum (later P. T. Barnum’s American Museum).3
At the beginning of 1829, Finn closed his exhibition at 202 Broadway and spent the next few months demonstrating in Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In D.C., he was located near the National Mall on Pennsylvania Avenue — close to where the FBI and Department of Justice buildings are today. He extended his stay in the city due to bad weather, but eventually traveled to Philadelphia, where he set up his show in the Masonic Hall. There, a local newspaper praised Finn’s demonstrations as “highly deserving of patronage,” writing that “few persons will attend the [exhibition] without being much gratified.”4
After a few years, Finn moved to Boston, Massachusetts, and opened his exhibition to a new audience. He was situated near the Old South Meeting House, the Old State House, King’s Chapel, and Benjamin Franklin’s birthplace. A handbill for the show proclaims, “The process of Modeling Figures and Animals from the glass, in a state of Fusion, is so wonderfully curious, as to strike the beholder with astonishment – and must be witnessed, to decide on its merits, as no description can convey an adequate idea of the pleasure it affords.”5
Finn didn’t stay in Boston for long. By the beginning of 1832, he had traveled far south and was demonstrating lampworking above a jewelry store at 115 Chartres Street in New Orleans, Louisiana. Once again it seems he chose his location carefully, renting space in the French Quarter. The price of admission for his show had doubled to 50 cents, and he made additional revenue by selling figurines and ornaments “well adapted for relatives or friends.”6
Over the next decade, Finn revisited many of these cities. He traveled back to New York and Washington, D.C., then Boston, and finally New Orleans. He may have stopped in other cities in between, like Augusta, Georgia, but sometimes his trail dries up for a year or two. Even with all the information we have, Finn’s life and location is still a mystery at times.
Mapping Finn’s route
Examining individual advertisements, reviews, or travel records provides insight into Finn’s life, but arranging multiple documents chronologically and mapping his movements gives us an even better idea of how he spent his time in the United States.
Finn visited New York City, Washington, D.C., Boston, and New Orleans repeatedly, and traveled mostly along the East Coast. Among the cities he visited from the late 1820s through the early 1840s, those mentioned above (excluding Washington, D.C., and including Philadelphia) were among the top five most populous cities of the United States. Only Baltimore, Maryland – at the time, the second largest city in the country – is missing from Finn’s itinerary, although it is entirely likely he demonstrated there, given his travel habits and exhibitions in nearby Washington, D.C. By choosing these major cities as tour stops, Finn exposed his show to hundreds of thousands of people, thereby increasing his potential revenue and popularity. The fact that he was employed by Rubens Peale and John Scudder, Jr., (both owners of successful New York City museums) speaks to his success.
Explore Lawrence Finn’s path from London to New York and beyond using this map.
A version of this post was originally published on the Corning Museum of Glass blog on June 13, 2017.
- John Tilley, also British, was the earliest known glassworker to demonstrate in the United States.
- “Fancy Glass Working Exhibition.” The Evening Post. November 17, 1827. Source: Newspapers.com
- Explore New York City in the 1830s using this interactive map from the David Rumsey Map Collection.
- “Correspondents plead in behalf of the ‘Academy of Fine Arts’ and the ‘Exhibition of Fancy Glass Working.’” Aurora & Pennsylvania Gazette. June 24, 1829. Source: 19th Century U.S. Newspapers
- Exhibition of the Art of Fancy Glass Working in Miniature, from London! Boston: C. S. D. & B. F. Griffin, 1831. Collection of the Rakow Research Library, The Corning Museum of Glass, CMGL 163302.
- “Last Week!!!” Le Courrier de la Lonisiane. June 6, 1832. Source: Google News