ARTICLE BY MW STONE (1934)
The Collector’s Miscellany
New Series No.8 February-March-April 1934
W. WEST, 1811-1831
W. WEST was one of the earliest of the various publishers of the Juvenile Drama—if not the earliest of them all—on which point there is difference of opinion. (J. K. Greene claims to have been the “inventor” of the Juvenile Drama). But all authorities are at least agreed that West produced some of the best sheets that were ever done, and there is very little doubt that the only other publisher whose work will compare with West is Hodgson who started soon after West in 1811.
According to John Ashton (Varia) West published at least 107 different plays between 1811 and 1831 and in addition a very large number of Theatrical Portraits. I have several sheets of plays which are not included in the list of 107 given by Ashton in his delightful essay on the Juvenile Drama, so no one can say how many plays were actually put out by this most prolific publisher.
In addition to the small size, West published at least two other larger size sheets, usually containing one “wing” on the same sheet as a scene.
West carried on his business originally at 13, Exeter Street, Strand, but later moved to Wych Street, opposite the Olympic Theatre (long since demolished). Several famous artists worked for him, including Blake and George Cruikshank, but the initials “G.C.” appearing on many of his sheets are those of George Childs who appears to have done a lot of work over a number of years. West’s own signature appears many times, but I am told he never drew a line in his life.
All this does not really matter. Whoever did the work it was beautifully done, both in outline and vigour of design. What a contrast to the wooden clumsy work of a much later period of the Juvenile Drama.
For twenty years West reproduced in miniature form many of the most successful plays that were produced at the principal London Theatres. “As originally produced at Covent Garden Theatre,” figures on the title sheet of many of his plays.
West’s colouring too is splendid, and I have sheets in my possession, well over 100 years old, which still retain the rich bold colours as if they were done yesterday.
If any reader of this article should come across any of West’s early sheets I advise him to secure them while he has the chance. A reasonable price for the small size sheets is 1/- to 2 /- each. For the larger sizes 3/- or more would probably be asked. After all they are etchings, and generally quite beautiful work, and one must forget that about a hundred years ago they were priced a penny or twopence per sheet
I wonder how many people are fortunate enough to own a complete play of West’s? I should very much like to see one. And to think that at one time these splendid sheets were so little prized that thousands were used to wrap up fish in parcels!
M. W. STONE
Transcript by Justin Gilbert
See his website at "Penny Dreadfuls"