ARTICLE BY MW STONE (1933-34)
The Collector’s Miscellany
New Series No. 7. December-January 1933-34.
WE are all collectors now-a-days, and judging from your columns, some queer articles are sought after and treasured. Match-box labels, razor blade packets and the like seem to have a fascination for some people. Well, everybody to his taste. I must frankly confess that cigar bands leave me cold, but to collect them is surely a harmless pursuit, and if anybody Gets a “kick” out of doing so, I wish him good luck.
But, what is usually termed the Juvenile Drama, is another matter altogether. For me the Juvenile Drama also includes Theatrical Portraits, and I am sure anybody who does not know the absorbing interest in collecting these old prints, that they are missing something indeed.
Before we go any further it would be just as well to clearly understand what the Juvenile Drama really is. Now there are at the moment two well known authorities on the subject of the Juvenile Drama and Theatrical Portraits.
But unfortunately like a good many experts on other matters, these two Gentlemen do not come to the same conclusion. Wild horses will not induce me to detail where they differ. Both of these gentlemen are valued friends of mine, and I have no intention of setting up as an authority on the subject in the face of so eminent a pair of experts.
While experts disagree however, it may be permissionable for a novice in all humility, to air his own views.
Firstly then, are these old prints to be considered as intended for children to play with, or are they—at all events some of them—something in the nature of the Play Pictorials of the past, in other words, souvenirs of a visit to the theatres of a bygone age? Personally I think both these views are correct. Again, who was the original inventor of the Juvenile Drama? Here also, difference of opinion exists.
Let us examine the facts as far as we can. Theatrical Portraits appear to have first been published about 1811, and sheets of characters and scenes of what may be called the Juvenile Drama appeared at the same date. It has I believe been claimed that sheets were published earlier than 1811, but no one seems to know anything about them. West was undoubtedly one of the earliest publishers, if not the earliest, and I have several fine portraits of his dated 1811 and also a few sheets of the characters of the same year. These sheets of characters appear to me to be portraits of the various actors and actresses who performed the plays actually produced at the Adelphi, Olympic and other theatres. These early sheets are really beautifully drawn, and it is a well known fact that many of them were the work of famous artists of the past. It may therefore be claimed that these prints are not children’s toys at all but mementos of a memorable visit to the theatre to see some famous actor in a famous impersonation. West published more than 100 plays.
Burtenshaw was another famous publisher who produced some splendid prints. The earliest of his in my possession is 1812.
Green was another early publisher, but I do not consider his sheets reached the standard of West or Hodgson, another splendid producer of these prints, both Portraits and also the Juvenile Drama.
Spread over a period of about fifty years there were more than fifty publishers in existence, and although many of these took over the plates of former publishers, a very large number of plays must have been issued in addition to thousands of portraits.
Space will not permit further details of the individual publisher’s plays, but I can assure you an article full of interest could easily be written about famous publishers such as West, Hodgson, Skelt and Parks.
Anyone who reads these lines may be tempted to start collecting and may well ask how and where these old prints are to be acquired. I cannot tell them. All I can say is that I have collected several thousands of Portraits and sheets of Juvenile Drama over a period of years.
Occasionally one is lucky enough to come across a few examples at some old printsellers in London and the larger provincial cities. Auction sales may bring a parcel of the old sheets to light. Energy and perseverance will certainly be wanted in the search, but to the true collector, difficulties only add zest to the quest.
I often look over my collection and recall how and when I acquired a particular sheet, and many happy hours can be spent in arranging and sorting the various plays. I can assure any reader of these lines that collecting Juvenile Drama is a most fascinating pastime.
M. W. STONE
Transcript by Justin Gilbert
See his website at "Penny Dreadfuls"