The 1870s version of Missed Connections ads

Think those missed connections/I saw you personals are only as old as Craigslist or the back page of the Village Voice?

Nah. They were around at least 140 years ago, according to a city guidebook called Lights and Shadows of New York Life, published in 1872, which reproduced several in its pages.

The book detailed the appeal of the “personals” printed in the first column of an unnamed city paper:

“Very many persons are inclined to smile at these communications, and are far from supposing that these journals are making themselves the mediums through  which assignations and burglaries, and almost every disreputable enterprise are arranged and carried on.”

So then as now, these missed connections-type ads don’t always have an innocent, romantic aim.

But apparently many did. “If a lady allows her face to wear a pleasant expression while glancing by the merest chance at a man, she is very apt to find some such personal as the following addressed to her in the next morning’s issue of the paper referred to.”

So what are the odds that any of these men hooked up with the lady they were looking for? I guess we’ll never know.

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11 Responses to “The 1870s version of Missed Connections ads”

  1. Lisa Says:

    “… One day, back in 1896, I was crossing over to Jersey on the ferry, and as we pulled out, there was another ferry pulling in, and on it there was a girl waiting to get off. A white dress she had on. She was carrying a white parasol. I only saw her for one second. She didn’t see me at all, but I’ll bet a month hasn’t gone by since that I haven’t thought of that girl.” (– Mr. Bernstein, Citizen Kane).

    I admit that I used to habitually check the back page of The Village Voice, certain that maybe THIS week I might enjoy the ego boost of being the girl in the white dress… haunting some Bernstein’s revery. ( I tasted only the bitter agony of defeat– the men of 1980′s New York were BLIND to my many charms!)

  2. Lisanne! Says:

    Here is “Lights and Shadows of New York Life” for free. It’s a fun book.

    http://books.google.com/books?id=pamW0Le9IT4C&printsec=frontcover&dq=%22Lights+and+Shadows+of+New+York+Life,%22&hl=en&ei=7toETu-kG4bw0gHey83kCw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CC0Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

  3. wildnewyork Says:

    Thanks! Or you can get it at the Strand for $15, as I did last weekend….

  4. Lovelorn Poets Says:

    A friend just sent me your site as I publish a blog celebrating the poetry and writing found on Missed Connections all over the country. He sent me the post about the missed connections of yesteryear and once looking that over I happily stumbled through all the work you’ve done over the years… Wow! What you are doing is fantastic!! I didn’t grow up in NYC but I’ve spent a fair amount of time there from the mid-80s forward and currently reside in New Paltz, NY. The daily histories of our cities is exponentially more fascinating (to me at least) than the larger theoretical contexts often taught in school…

    From my perspective as a hunter and gather of anonymous musings concerning love, loss, and common interactions, Brooklyn and Manhattan stand head and shoulders about other parts of the country in terms of the creativity, subject matter, and unique use of Missed Connections. Could it be said that New Yorkers are lonelier? Better skilled with putting words to “paper” or less apt to personally share their emotions? Perhaps, according to your materials, they simply have many more decades of experience in this realm! The “fifth avenue stage” may have been replaced by “the L” but it’s all the same in the matters of the heart. If it’s acceptable, I’m going to mention what you’re doing on the Lovelorn Poets Facebook page and website. Have a great New York day! ;-)
    Laura Z.

    • wildnewyork Says:

      Thank you for your kind words! I too get a kick out of the strange poetry of the missed connections ads and will definitely check out your blog. My guess is that the anonymity of craigslist and other missed connections venues unleashes the creative and bold in lonely New Yorkers. It’s a safe way to show your inner romantic side too. I wonder how many people actually find the person they are looking for, though….

  5. Link Tuesday! | Now and Then: an American Social History Project blog Says:

    [...] Connections” are an over 130-year-old mode of communication according to a great post on Ephemeral New York. (Yes, with actual newspaper clippings from 1872 to prove [...]

  6. Lovelorn Poets in Brooklyn, NY: The Distance | Lovelorn Poets Says:

    [...] was recently commenting on a post at Ephemeral New York (well worth following, btw) about the long history of writing and publishing missed connections-type [...]

  7. Elsewhere « Visualingual Says:

    [...] The 1870s Version of Missed Connections Ads: wow! [...]

  8. The sex ads placed in 19th century newspapers « Ephemeral New York Says:

    [...] also published the 19th century versions of Craigslist’s Missed Connections. Share this:TwitterLike this:LikeBe the first to like this [...]

  9. Meant2Say Says:

    Wow! I guess it makes sense though, the problem of missed connections or missed opportunities between people have been around as long as we could talk! The pain of wanting to find that someone and say what you really meant to say has always existed, it’s just that with today’s social media networks it’s so much easier to reconnect those missed connections. I wonder if any of those people ever succeeded??? lol
    -Meant2Say

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