Queen Victoria, Alfred Bosco, and the Bank of the Great Wizard of the World

Discover one of the many parodied banknotes from our collection…with a magical twist!
Published on 19 March 2021

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Miranda Garrett, Collections and Exhibitions Manager

For this blog post, I decided to reward myself after a hard week’s work with an afternoon in a research rabbit hole - my favourite!

We have a large collection of skit notes in our collections store. Skit notes are counterfeits designed to look like real money, but not to be used as currency. Essentially, they're parodies of real notes. They’re often used as political statements, or as adverts. We have one from the ‘Bank of Hymen’ advertising a brothel in the 1800s, and another from the sandwich chain Itsu.

But this is one of my personal favourites:

skit-note

It's advertising a magic show. Super cool! This is what is says:

Bank of the Great Wizard of the World

Temple of Natural Magic & Ventriloquism

Signor Alfred Bosco who had the honor to appear before Her Majesty the Queen & the Royal Family begs respectfully to announce that he will give a Unique Drawing Room Entertainment at the Strand Theatre, June 1st, and every evening until further notice.

Doors open at 1/2 past 7, commence at 8 o'clock

Every Saturday at 2 o'clock a Grand Morning Performance

This Note of FIFTY POUNDS will be presented to those who will patronize him with their presence.

Signor Alfred Bosco

For particulars see advertisement and hand bills

 

I did a bit of digging to see it I could find out a bit more about Signor Alfred Bosco. 

A quick search in the British Newspaper Archive found 195 hits for the name 'Alfred Bosco'. Most of them are adverts for a tour of magic shows in 1856 and 1857. The schedule was pretty intense. There were gigs in Dublin, Limerick, Waterford, Kilkenny, Liverpool, Birmingham, Manchester, Huddersfield, Leeds, Preston, Bristol, Glasgow, Edinburgh, London, the Isle of Wight, Brighton, Hull and Chester. This particular skit note is promoting his show at the Strand Theatre in London, where he performed for a couple of weeks in June 1857. 

The adverts also give us a few clues as to what his act involved. I have to say it sounds pretty sensational! Apparently it contained 'upwards of fifty distinct feats in magic and ventriloquism' and featured an 'extraordinary fortune-telling bell', The Self Commanding Clock and the inexplicable ‘crystal cash box’. 

Perhaps to discourage criticism from religious customers, some of his adverts proclaimed 'Wherever Signor Bosco has appeared, he has been extensively patronised by distinguished Clergymen'. Amazing!

Bosco claimed to be Italian, from Mantua, and to have performed for the royal family. I was pretty suspicious about this claim, but I had a quick check in Queen Victoria's diary Opens in a new window Opens in a new window just in case and…bingo! On 24 September 1855:

After dinner the Boys, Alice & Lenchen joined us, & we all went over to the Iron Ball Room, where a Conjurer, Bosco, by name, performed all kinds of tricks for over an hour & very admirably, only he spoke such an impossible English. Went back to the Drawingroom afterwards for a little while.

I haven't been able to find out much about Alfred Bosco himself. He continued performing throughout the 1800s, but I can't find him on any others registers (unsurprising though, as Bosco was almost certainly a stage name). 

All in all, it was a very useful afternoon and I've been able to flesh out our documentation on this object. It will be great to be able to share some of these details with you next time we display the note.

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