Because poetry doesn’t pay the bills, I have a second job, a side gig, for stuff like food and rent. I buy and sell old books. And because I’m a curious person, I find myself way too interested when I find local authors and creative people (I’d make more money, I’m sure, if I didn’t go on these little tangents, trying to find out all about them). I recently came across a play called After the Circus by Lawrence Chenoweth (not local, also not related to Kristin Chenoweth – yes, I looked), which was #422 in the Ames Series of Standard and Minor Drama, published in 1900 by the Ames Publishing Co. of Clyde, Ohio. Really? There was a publishing company in Clyde, Ohio? Why didn’t I know this?

Apparently, I’m not the only one. Just about the only thing I could find written about it was published in 1966. Nothing since.

I’m guessing the reason for this is that the plays they published were aimed at ordinary people, amateur drama groups, the provincials, or as described in the blurb for Brac, the Poor House Girl on the last page of After the Circus, “To please the average audience of today, a play must be selected with a nice construction of sentiment and mirth.”

I started reading After the Circus, and found embarassing (through today’s eyes) stereotypes, a character with a broad German accent (“Dutch”), one with a lisp, cheap jokes, that sort of thing. Now there were some Shakespeare plays on the list, Hamlet and Macbeth, so it wasn’t all schlock, but most were chosen to appeal to the masses – melodramas like East Lynne and Uncle Tom’s Cabin, comedies and farces, as well as Ethiopian Farces, which were short pieces that made up part of minstrel shows. (Many of the other plays, as well, are short things that would make up part of the evening’s entertainment.)

The company also sold wigs, beards, instruction manuals and more. From 1873 to 1917, Ames Publishing Company published an astonishing number of 491 plays, which they sold by mail. There is a tiny ad in a 1913 Moving Picture News advertising their free catalog #11.

“If you want broad fun! fun that will make you laugh and snort! fairly get up and howl and hold your sides! – buy a copy of Bert Richard’s Farce Comedy, entitled Cupid’s Capers. Attend to this at once and live longer and happier. Price 15c” (also from the ads following the text of After the Circus).

I tracked down a copy of A D Ames, First Dramatic Publisher in the West. With a Guide to the Publications of A D Ames and Ames’ Publishing Co. of Clyde, Ohio 1870 – 1917 (1966, Brown University) by Hope P Litchfield and Roger E Stoddard (spent far too much money on it, but what can I say? I was curious) and I’ve got to say I was disappointed in it because of how little biographical information it contained, it’s mostly a bibliography. What I find really frustrating is that in 1966 there were still people alive whom they could’ve interviewed who would’ve known things about the Ames family and the publishing business. Things we can’t find out now. But alas. These authors were focused on the bibliography part and I wasn’t around to give them my sage advice.

Albert D Ames

Albert D Ames was born in Connecticut 12 August 1849 to Anson and Eliza D Ames. The family moved to Clyde in 1853, to be near family who already lived there. Albert seems to have always been interested in performing, he sang and acted, played violin, led an orchestra, etc. By the mid 1870s he had not only extensive experience acting in amateur companies, he was a visiting instructor in places like Appleton City, Mo, where on 13 December 1877 he coached the local acting company, and starred in two leading roles in a double bill that consisted of Ten Nights in a Bar-Room and Dora.

The Woonsocket, Rhode Island dramatic association changed their name to the Ames Dramatic Company in his honor, after a successful session. During this period, while traveling the country, he also managed to continue participating in local theatrical productions, in Clyde and surrounding towns.

In 1869, he married Amanda Maude Holgate and with his brother in law, Reuben P Holgate, as a partner, his publishing career began in 1870 with the Ames and Holgate’s Series of Standard and Minor Drama. They printed 39 plays. By 1874, however, he was in Green Springs publishing a newspaper, the Green Springs Sentinel, which must not have been a roaring success, as he was back in Clyde by 1876, publishing the Clyde Sentinel (still under the Ames and Holgate imprint).

From the start of his own (solo) publishing company in 1873 until his death at age 37 in 1887, 250 plays appeared. His widow continued with the business after his death and new plays continued appearing through #491 in 1917. Eventually the business was taken over by their son Wynne Holgate Ames, and he continued to sell plays until his death in 1945. Wynne’s daughter reported that orders dwindled toward the end of his life until only a few plays were sold per year.

There doesn’t seem to be any information out there on Wynne, unfortunately.

A quote from Thaddeus Hurd recalls that “Older residents here (in Clyde) still recall seeing Wynne Ames arrive at the post office each morning with a two-wheel push cart piled high with plays to be mailed to all parts of this country and many foreign lands” (this is in the 1966 bibliography).

Albert had built an office behind his home with a second story stock room that housed 100,000 copies of the dramas, farces, etc, plus an extensive line of sheet music.

A play that enjoyed prolongued sales was one written by Albert himself, The Spy of Atlanta by A D Ames, which is a Civil War era drama. According to the bibliography, Ames penned 5 plays altogether.

The Clyde Library has a copy of a 1917 catalog for the Ames Publishing Co, and it’s viewable online (the whole catalog) as part of the Thaddeus B Hurd Digital Archive (which, as well is a great rabbit hole to fall into if you’re interested in local photographs and ephemera).

After Wynne’s death in 1945, the remaining stock of the company was destroyed. At which point the history of the people and the company seems to have been wholly swallowed up by the sands of time.

Rather sobering.

(Most of the information for this comes from the Litchfield and Stoddard bibliography. Also, the Margaret Herrick Library Digital Collection for the Moving Picture News, and, which hosts the Clyde library collection.)