Tickets Please! Buying Tickets to the BSO

Tickets-ExhibitTickets Please!
Buying Tickets to the BSO

In response to the high demand for BSO concert season tickets during the first two seasons, Henry Lee Higginson initiated an auction system for the 1883-1884 season. Season ticket price points were to be $12.00 and $6.00. A portion of the seats on the floor and on the first balcony were sold via auction to the highest bidder prior to the beginning of the season. Therefore, a person might pay a premium of $10.00 for the $12.00 tickets, for a total outlay of $22.00 for a season ticket to the BSO in a fixed seat. The auction process was discontinued by BSO management in 1916.

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Featured Photographs and Documents
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1881-1882 brass ticket master punch for seat L448 in the Boston Music Hall during the BSO’s inaugural season
This brass ticket was found by an antiques dealer at an estate sale of a farmhouse in Buckfield, Maine. The owners were unable to provide any insight into which of their ancestors might have had the connections or resources to attend BSO concerts during its inaugural year.

Purchased from E-bay, 2018
Boston News cartoon, September 21, 1892
At the September 19, 1892 auction for $12.00 Friday rehearsal series tickets, a premium of $392.00 was paid by an agent on behalf of Isabella Stewart Gardner - the highest price ever paid for a seat in the Boston Music Hall. Her agent also purchased the three adjoining seats at a cost of $162.00 each. Her total outlay of $878 in 1892 is the equivalent of $24,754 in 2019.
A graphic in the Boston Daily Globe, September 20, 1892, illustrating the symphony seat auction
A large diagram of the seats was mounted on the stage before the bidders, who were easily able to see what seats were available and then monitor the seats as they were sold. The seats were offered in regular succession according to their place on the plan, and NOT in order of superiority. Up to four seats could be bought on one bid by an individual or an agent. Seats not disposed of at auction (as well as the twenty-five-cent rush seat tickets) were sold at the ticket office without a premium on a first-come, first-serve basis.
1883-84 Subsription Ticket Punch Card
Used subscription ticket punch card for the 1883-1884 BSO season. The Boston Music Hall was the BSO’s home until the completion of Symphony Hall in September 1900. The subscriber's seat, R 54, was located on the first balcony, stage right. Scroll down to see a seating chart for the Boston Music Hall from 1892.
The Sunday Herald, September 1889 (PDF)
The ticket sale announcement for the 1889-1890 season outlined the procedures for purchasing subscriptions and single tickets. A September 1889 article in the Boston Herald describes the scene outside the box office where ticket speculators and ticket agents hired “gang” members to hold their places in line for up to nine days.

View the 1889-90 Season Ticket Sale Announcement (PDF)
Boston Music Hall Seating Chart, c.1892
Printed flyer announcing details for the BSO season ticket seat auction for the 1900-1901 season
Boston Post, September 28, 1900 (PDF)
The auction of seats for the BSO’s 1900-1901 season, the first to take place in recently completed Symphony Hall, was covered closely by the Boston press. As in 1892, Mrs. Gardner paid the highest premium—$560 each—for a pair of $12.00 seats located on the first balcony, audience-right, A15 and A16.
Boston Sunday Globe, December 16, 1900 (PDF)
This article outlines a new system for obtaining “rush seat” tickets. To prevent speculators from making a profit on the $.25 rush seat tickets at the expense of the public, BSO management put new rules into effect which required patrons wanting rush seats to present themselves in person with the exact change on the day of the concert, and limiting each purchase to one ticket per patron.
Subscription ticket booklet for the 1936-1937 season
BSO Subscription Brochure Insert, ca. 1938 (PDF)
An insert in a BSO printed subscription brochure expounds on the relative convenience of purchasing subscriptions in 1938 vs. the practice of auctioning season tickets to the highest bidder, used in 1900.

When he founded the BSO in 1881, Henry Lee Higginson, had a concrete plan to make BSO concerts available to students and people of limited means. During the first few seasons he opened the final rehearsal each week to all comers by the payment of a quarter at the door. It wasn’t long before the Friday rehearsals became concerts, at which time seats on the second balcony, called “rush seats,” were set aside for this purpose. Today rush seats are still available for $10.00 on a first-come, first-served basis. See for more detailed information.

The Sunday Herald “Pictorial Section,” November 20, 1910 (PDF)
The horrible November weather didn’t deter music lovers waiting in line to purchase “rush seats” to attend Geraldine Farrar’s appearance as a soloist with the BSO on November 4, 1910.