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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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© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
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Animals
Boston's Museum of Fine Arts Hires Puppy to Sniff Out Art-Munching Bugs
© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Some dogs are qualified to work at hospitals, fire departments, and airports, but one place you don’t normally see a pooch is in the halls of a fine art museum. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston is changing that: As The Boston Globe reports, a young Weimaraner named Riley is the institution’s newest volunteer.

Even without a background in art restoration, Riley will be essential in maintaining the quality of the museum's masterpieces. His job is to sniff out the wood- and canvas-munching pests lurking in the museum’s collection. During the next few months, Riley will be trained to identify the scents of bugs that pose the biggest threat to the museum’s paintings and other artifacts. (Moths, termites, and beetles are some of the worst offenders.)

Some infestations can be spotted with the naked eye, but when that's impossible, the museum staff will rely on Riley to draw attention to the problem after inspecting an object. From there, staff members can examine the piece more closely and pinpoint the source before it spreads.

Riley is just one additional resource for the MFA’s existing pest control program. As far as the museum knows, it's rare for institutions facing similar problems to hire canine help. If the experiment is successful, bug-sniffing dogs may become a common sight in art museums around the world.

[h/t The Boston Globe]

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Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.
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History
Mütter Museum Showcases the Victorian Custom of Making Crafts From Human Hair
Palette work from the collection of John Whitenight and Frederick LaValley
Palette work from the collection of John Whitenight and Frederick LaValley
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.

During the Victorian era, hair wasn’t simply for heads. People wove clipped locks into elaborate accessories, encased them in frames and lockets, and used them to make wreaths, paintings, and other items. "Woven Strands," a new exhibition at Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum, explores this historical practice by featuring dozens of intricate works culled from five private collections.

According to Emily Snedden Yates, special projects manager at the Mütter Museum, hair work—as it’s called today—was common in England and America between the 17th and early 20th centuries. The popularity of the practice peaked in the 19th century, thanks in part to Queen Victoria’s prolonged public mourning after her husband Prince Albert’s death in 1861. People in both the UK and U.S. responded to her grief, with the latter country also facing staggering death tolls from the Civil War.

With loss of life at the forefront of public consciousness, elaborate mourning customs developed in both nations, and hair work became part of the culture of bereavement. "[The 19th century was] such a sentimental age, and hair is about sentiment," exhibition co-curator Evan Michelson tells Mental Floss. That sentimental quality made hair work fit for both mourning practices as well as for romantic or familiar displays of fondness.

Palette work culled from the collection of Evan Michelson and featured in the Mütter Museum's "Woven Strands" exhibition.
Palette work from the collection of Evan Michelson
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.

Most hair artworks were made by women, and created solely for the domestic sphere or as wearable trinkets. Women relied on multiple techniques to create these objects, fashioning wreaths with hair-wrapped bendable wires—a process called gimp work—and dissolving ground hair into pigments used to paint images of weeping willows, urns, and grave sites. Watch fobs, necklaces, and bracelets were woven using an approach called table work, which involved anchoring hair filaments with lead weights onto a table and using tools to twist them into intricate patterns through a hole in the furniture’s surface. Yet another technique, palette work, involved stenciled sheets of hair that were cut into various shapes and patterns.

Hair work remained popular until World War I, according to Michelson, who co-owns New York City's quirky Obscura Antiques and Oddities shop and organized "Woven Strands" along with 19th century decorative arts expert John Whitenight.

“Women hit the workforce, and death occurred on such a huge scale that it really swept away the old way of mourning and the old way of doing things,” Michelson says. By the early 20th century, tastes and aesthetics had also changed, with hair work beginning to be viewed “as something grandma had,” she explains.

The Mütter’s exhibition aside, people typically won’t see hair work in major museums. Being a craft primarily performed by women at home, hair works were usually passed down in families and often viewed as worthless from a financial and artistic perspective.

“A lot of hair work was discarded,” Michelson says. Many owners repurposed the shadowbox frames often used to display hair work by removing and tossing the artworks within. Works stored in basements and attics also frequently succumbed to water damage and insects. Antique dealers today typically only see hair jewelry, which often featured semi-precious materials or was encased in a protective layer.

Sepia dissolved hair culled from the collection of Jennifer Berman and featured in the Mütter Museum's "Woven Strands" exhibition.
Sepia dissolved hair from the collection of Jennifer Berman
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.

Yet examples of hair wreaths, palette work, and other delicate heirlooms do occasionally surface. They’re prized by a small group of avid collectors, even though other connoisseurs can be grossed out by them.

“People have this visceral reaction to it,” Michelson says. “They either gasp and adore it—like ‘I can’t get over how amazing it is’—or they just back away. There are very few other things where people are repulsed like this … In the 19th century no one batted an eyelash.”

“It’s a personal textile,” Snedden Yates explains. “It’s kind of like bone in that it doesn’t really decompose at the same rate as the rest of our bodies do. It’s not made of tissue, so if you keep it in the right environment it can be maintained indefinitely.”

Table work culled from the collection of Eden Daniels and featured in the Mütter Museum's "Woven Strands" exhibition.
Table work from the collection of Eden Daniels
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.

“Woven Strands” features examples of gimp work, palette work, table work, and dissolved hair work. It’s often hard to trace these types of artworks back to their original creators—they typically don’t bear signatures—but the curators “really wanted to find hair that you could connect to an actual human being,” Michelson says. “We chose pieces that have provenance. We know where they came from or when it was made, or who actually donated the hair in some cases, or what the family name was. We also picked out things that are unusual, that you don’t see often—oddities, if you will.”

Woven hair culled from the collection of Jennifer Berman and featured in the Mütter Museum's "Woven Strands" exhibition.
Woven hair from the collection of Jennifer Berman
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.

Displayed in the Mütter Museum’s Thomson Gallery, “Woven Strands” opens on January 19, 2018, and runs through July 12, 2018. On April 7, 2018, master jeweler and art historian Karen Bachmann will lead a 19th century hair art workshop, followed by a day-long historical symposium on the art on Sunday, April 8.

Michelson hopes that “Woven Strands” will teach future generations about hair art, and open their minds to a craft they might have otherwise dismissed as parochial or, well, weird. “We hope that people see it and fall in love with it,” she says.

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