25 Beautiful Vintage Theater Posters

The great thing about looking at vintage theater posters is that they not only show us the importance of theater in the time before television, but they also show us what captured the interests of people of the time. Of course, the wonderful artwork alone makes these worth a long look.

All images courtesy of the Library of Congress.

I don’t know what this 1876 stage show was about, but between the weeping mother and the woman lying in the snow, I’m sure it wasn’t a happy story.

On the other hand, despite the name, this 1879 ad for “Horrors” makes the show look like a blast.

If you like to rock out with your lute, then you no doubt would have loved this 1880 performance of The Celebrated Spanish Students with Abbey’s Humpty Dumpty Combination. That last band sounds like a terrible group of children’s party puppeteers, doesn’t it?

Ooh la la, just look at the cancan line in the ad for the famous Rentz Santley Novelty and Burlesque Co. I don’t know about you guys, but this is the kind of show I’d like to go back to 1890 to check out.

Now here’s an effective ad -- just look at all the drama packed into this one poster. “What does this mean?” I guess the only way to find the answer to that question was to go see “The Cotton King” at The London Adelphi Theatre in 1894.

If you can’t get enough Comedy Central these days, then you probably would have been at the front of the line to catch Selden’s funny farce “A Spring Chicken” back in 1896.

Personally, in 1886, I would have been much more excited to catch “La Dame Aux Camelias,” or The Lady of the Camellias, if only because I’m a sucker for the art nouveau used in this gorgeous poster.

Similarly, I would most likely have gone to see this show based on Percy Shelly’s poem “The Masque of Anarchy” in 1887 just for the fantastic artwork in the ad.

The best thing about this 1897 ad is that it focuses more on the fact the Prince and Princess of Wales and the Duke and Duchess of York all went to see the show than it does on the play itself.

With an ad this charming, it’s hard not to want “The Turtle” to actually be a 1898 story about a cigar-smoking, monocled turtle. It most likely wasn’t, but we can dream, can’t we?

This 1899 ad looks like it could just as easily have come from the side of a traveling funhouse, and that’s exactly why it makes “Hotel Topsy Turvey” look so fun.

Talk about suspenseful. You can be sure the 1899 production of "The Great Ruby" was filled with action if this poster is any indication.

This poster might not be in the best condition, but the artwork and scale are fantastic. Plus, this show is notable, as it was huge. There were 300 people on stage at one point and the production cost $40,000 when it was put on in 1900; that’s the equivalent of a million dollar show today.

No matter how we feel about minstrel shows today, there’s no denying that they were once incredibly popular. In fact, Primrose & Dockstader's Huge Minstrel Company certainly lived up to their name when they built a tent theater that could seat 3,000 people back in 1900.

You’ve no doubt heard tales of how much went into making the film version of "Ben Hur," so just imagine how big a stage show that featured the famous chariot race must have been when it was performed back in 1901.

Americans were fascinated with the Wild West around the turn of the last century, so it’s no wonder that stage shows like “An Arizona Cowboy” found a way to cash in on the trend.

At the same time, more and more people were turning to Spiritualism in the hopes of reconnecting with their long-lost loved ones. Houdini was one of the biggest challengers to the movement, but he still knew his escape act was what would get people through the door -- so in 1909, he did magic, illusions and a bit of fraud-busting all in one great show.

While Houdini is the most famous illusionist from the last century, Thurston was actually the most famous magician during their lifetimes. His act was so big that he even required eight train cars to transport all the pieces of his road show.

Fans of Boardwalk Empire probably recognize the name Hardeen, as the characters discuss his show quite a bit, but for most people, the name of Houdini’s less famous brother probably doesn’t ring a bell. In fact, Hardeen often introduced himself to people as “Houdini’s brother.” Of course, after Houdini’s death, those who wanted to see the master’s act had to settle for Hardeen, and as this 1936 ad points out, he did inherit all of his brother’s props.

During the Depression, the Works Progress Administration strived to help employ people in their respective fields, which not only meant hiring photographers to capture the lives of those affected and workers to improve public parks, but also hiring actors to entertain the public and artists to make posters promoting their shows. While the artist who made this 1936 poster remains unknown, the artwork is simply amazing.

Similarly, the modernist style that Harry Herzog used in this “Injunction Granted” ad from 1937 is striking in its wonderful simplicity.

This 1937 “A Hero Is Born” poster looks like it belongs in a modernist version of Aladdin, except that the hero's clothes wouldn’t quite fit in.

The black inkwork on goldenrod and the clean style make this wonderful “The Cat and the Canary” poster from 1938 look like it would fit in just perfectly with a classic Monopoly set.

The use of simple, flowing lines and a soft color palette makes this 1939 poster for “Androcles and the Lion” incredibly powerful. Heck, I’d go see the show today if it used this artwork.

This “A Christmas Carol” might just be the least Christmasy artwork ever made to promote the story. Not that the artwork is bad by any means, it’s just not at all what most people think of when they remember the story line. One has to wonder if the 1940 production itself was this modernist as well.

Which of the shows would you go see? Was your opinion based on the artwork? And what is your favorite style of the many used here?

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Pop Culture
Stanley Kubrick Photography Exhibition Opening at the Museum of the City of New York
Evening Standard/Getty Images
Evening Standard/Getty Images

Stanley Kubrick will forever be known as one of the most important film directors of the 20th century, but he started his career in the 1940s as a photojournalist for Look magazine. Now, the Museum of the City of New York will host a photographic exhibition of Kubrick’s early work, featuring 120 pictures from his time as a staff photographer at Look from 1945 to 1950.

Much of Kubrick’s work at the time revolved around daily life in New York City—the clubs, the commutes, and the sports. Some of his most notable pieces while at Look were his photo features on boxers Rocky Graziano and Walter Cartier, the latter of which became the subject of Kubrick’s first film, a 1951 documentary called Day of the Fight.

“Turning his camera on his native city, Kubrick found inspiration in New York's characters and settings, sometimes glamorous, sometimes gritty,” the museum wrote in a press release. “He produced work that was far ahead of his time and focused on themes that would inspire him through his creative life. Most importantly, his photography laid the technical and aesthetic foundations for his cinematography: he learned through the camera's lens to be an acute observer of human interactions and to tell stories through images in dynamic narrative sequences.”

Titled "Through a Different Lens: Stanley Kubrick Photographs," the exhibition will detail the different themes that inspired Kubrick’s work, as well as guide patrons through his Look tenure, including both published and unpublished work. One of the exhibit’s goals is to provide an “examination of the direct connection between Kubrick the photographer and Kubrick the director.”

"Through a Different Lens" runs from Thursday, May 3 through October 28, 2018 at the Museum of the City of New York.

8 Expert Tips and Tricks for Hanging a Picture Right the First Time

Framed pictures are an inexpensive way to make a house feel like a home, and they can take a room from empty to finished-looking in minutes. They can be customized easily to your space and decor, and swapped out if your tastes change. But there is an art to hanging a picture the right way—without destroying your walls. Here’s what you need to know.


There are several steps you need to take before you get anywhere near a drill or hammer. First, consider two factors: the state of the wall you want to decorate, and the weight of the picture. Your wall may be supported by studs, which are pieces of wood or metal that run vertically behind the wall every couple of feet. Screwing directly into a stud can provide more support for hanging items.

If you have a reinforced wall, you could use a basic nail or screw to hang the frame, as long as you insert the nail or screw firmly into a stud. But you should only ever use a nail if you're hanging on a stud, according to Simon Taylor, owner-operator of T&C Carpentry in Whitby, Ontario. Otherwise, the weight of the picture could rip the nail out of the wall.

No stud? No problem. "If the picture is light, then a product like Monkey Hooks"—a kind of cantilevered hook for unreinforced walls—"work great," Taylor says.

For medium to heavy pictures, use wall anchors, which are plastic or metal inserts that provide more support for screwing into an unreinforced wall. There are many styles and strengths available for different materials and weights. “Using a product like E-Z Ancors is an easy way to fix a screw to drywall where there is no stud to screw into. They are strong and easy to install,” Taylor tells Mental Floss. “You can then thread a screw into them to hang your picture, providing it has a hook on the back or a string. A good rule to follow is not to use anything other than an anchor if you are not screwing directly into a stud or backing.” (Plastic wall anchors are fine for most lightweight projects, but for a really heavy picture, or a wall made out of something besides drywall, you'll need a different type of anchor.)

If you’re renting and don't want to damage the walls of your apartment, or you’re not 100 percent committed to the picture's placement, Taylor recommends a non-nail option like the extremely popular 3M Command adhesive hooks. They provide temporary, hole-free hanging and hold strong without peeling paint off the wall when it comes time to remove them.

Others argue that stick-on hooks can be unreliable, especially for heavier frames. “All picture-hanging hardware should really include some type of component that punctures the wall,” says Claire Wheeler, design and project coordinator for Montreal-based Sajo Inc. “This provides a much more secure hanging system than a hanging system that is surface-applied.” The adhesives on these types of products are more likely to fail than any sort of nail or anchored hardware, she tells Mental Floss.


Wheeler says your hanging hardware depends on the size and weight of the frame. Fortunately, most frame manufacturers include some form of hanger on the back of their products.

While she finds that hook tabs (small triangular hangers on ready-to-use frames) work for hanging lighter pictures, a wire system—two anchor points on the back of the frame and a strong wire strung between them for looping over the wall screw or hook—is the better choice for hanging large and/or heavy pictures. The wire system setup allows the weight of the frame to be distributed evenly along the wire for more secure hanging, rather than placing all the weight of the frame on one small hanger point.

“You will notice that most frames, whether you have purchased them in a store or you've had them custom-made, have hardware already installed at the back. It’s usually a pretty safe bet to use what the manufacturer has provided,” Wheeler says.

To hang a picture without the need for advanced math, start with a center hanging point: a hook tab affixed in the appropriate spot, or, if your frame has two tabs on either side of the frame, a wire strung slackly between them.


Assemble all of the gear before you spring into action. In addition to your framed artwork, you'll need the proper hanging apparatus for your project (see #1) and a hammer for pounding in the wall anchor or nail. Use a power drill or screwdriver to insert screws in the wall anchor, if you're using one. A tape measure makes it easier to calculate the right spot for hanging. A sturdy wire for the back of your frame is optional (see #2). And the best way to ensure your picture will be level is to, well, use a level. “A level is a basic tool everyone should have,” Wheeler says. “If you own a hammer, you should own a level.”


Wheeler says you should play around with the height at which you plan on installing the frame: “As a general rule, eye level should land within the bottom half of the frame,” she says.

From a designer’s perspective, Wheeler finds people often choose pictures that are either too big or too small in proportion to the wall area. “You want the picture to have some space to 'breathe,' so to speak, meaning a wall large enough that it doesn’t feel as though the picture is overcrowding the wall," she says. "On the flip side, you also don’t want a picture to look completely lost on a big wall."

She adds, "Proportion is important, but there’s no specific ratio" of picture size to wall area that could be considered a rule of thumb. Ultimately, you're the best judge of your space.


Place the frame against the wall where you want it to hang. "It’s a good idea to have someone with you to judge if it is in the right place," Taylor says. "Having a view of it in place before it’s 'fixed' to the wall will help you decide if it looks right."

After you've picked your spot, draw a short line with a pencil along the center of the frame's top edge as your reference line. If you're hanging a really large picture, get your assistant to hold it in place while you draw.


Lay the frame face-down on a flat surface. Place your wall fastener, such as the wall anchor or Command hook, in the appropriate hook tab or on the wire on the back of the frame and pull the wire taut. With a tape measure, measure the distance from the top edge of the frame to the center of the fastener.


Now back to the wall: Measure the same distance from the center of your penciled reference line down. Mark that spot with your pencil: That's where you're going to install your fastener.

If you're not using a wall anchor, simply affix an adhesive hook, hammer in a nail, or insert a Monkey Hook.

To install an anchor, drill a hole into the wall at the penciled point with a screw that is narrower than the anchor itself. (You don't want the anchor to be too loose in the wall.) Don't screw it too tightly. Next, reverse the drill's direction and pull the screw out. Insert the anchor, hammering it flush against the wall. Finally, drill the screw into the anchor—this action makes the anchor expand slightly and press against the drywall's innards, creating a more secure fit. Be sure to leave a bit of space between the screw's head and the wall so the picture's wire can be hooked over the screw. Hang the picture.


To make sure your picture is straight, rest the level along the top of the frame, against the wall. Then, adjust until the air bubble within the small tube of water is in the center of the tube, which indicates that the bar is parallel to the floor—and, therefore, that your picture is level.

Taylor says that not using a level and assuming the hanging hardware is set evenly on the back of a frame are the two biggest mistakes he sees people make. Pros often use laser levels, but Taylor says a water level will work just as well for most people.

Need some inspirations to get started? Consider hanging a few classic movie posters, printed patents for famed inventions, or a guide to cats.


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