Tag Archives: catalog

May the Fourth be With You

This came through the prop managers group this past week (which got it from the stagecraft mailing list). Canadian mail-order catalogs from 1880 to 1975; like historical Sears catalogs, these are useful to see what the average Jane and Joe were buying throughout the last century and a half, making it great for period research.

The Design Observer Group has a semi-regular feature called “Accidental Mysteries”. The most recent installment features photographs and scans of antique measuring and marking tools. Other Accidental Mysteries have interesting things, such as these weekly rail passes from St Louis in the 1940s, and these punk and metal flyers from the 1980s-90s.

Chris Schwartz (of Popular Woodworking and Lost Art Press) is working on an interesting-sounding book on the “furniture of necessity”. Where the furniture of the rich and powerful is well-documented and archived, the furniture of everyday life is difficult to date and keep track of, particularly before the age of photography and mail-order catalogs. He is delving deep into research to come up with the forms of furniture that have remained unchanged for 200 years or more. It sounds like it could be potentially interesting for those prop masters and set designers who need to make period furniture for characters who couldn’t afford Chippendale chairs.

Here are a few interesting snapshots taken behind-the-scenes from the original Batman TV show (1966-68). Not much information on their provenance, but still pretty fascinating.

This site has a large number of videos, such as several different “documentaries” on various matte and miniature artists who have worked on films like Superman, Dark Crystal, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, The Thief of Baghdad, La Fin du Monde, The Third Man, Clash of the Titans, and The Da Vinci Code. It also has video featuring interviews of people who have worked on the FX crews of the Alien movies, and a video talking about restoring the Nostromo (the giant spaceship model) from the original Alien films. The videos are rather long and kind of all over the place; some of them have original 3D animation interspersed within the interviews. I’m not sure where the videos came from, but if you are willing to fight through the odd parts, you can pick up some interesting tidbits from the creators of some of cinema’s best visual effects.

Props at Drury Lane in 1709 and Theatre Royal in 1776

This is the second excerpt in a magazine article in Belgravia, an Illustrated London Magazine, published in 1878. It describes the history of props in Western European theatrical traditions up to the late nineteenth century. I’ve split it into several sections because it is rather long and covers a multitude of subjects, which I will be posting over the next several days.

Stage Properties by Dutton Cook, 1878

In the ‘Tatler,’ No. 42, [Eric: published July 16, 1709] Addison supplies a humorous list of properties, alleged to be for sale in consequence of the closing of Drury Lane Theatre. Notice is given, in mimicry of an auctioneer’s advertisement, that a ‘magnificent palace with great variety of gardens, statues, and waterworks, may be bought cheap in Drury Lane, where there are likewise several castles to be disposed of, very delightfully situated; as also groves, woods, forests, fountains, and country seats with very pleasant prospects on all sides of them: being the moveables of Christopher Rich, Esquire, [the manager,] who is giving up housekeeping, and has many curious pieces of furniture to dispose of, which may be seen between the hours of six and ten in the evening.’ Among the items enumerated appear the following:

A new moon, something decayed.

A rainbow a little faded.

A setting sun.

A couch very finely gilt and little used, with a pair of dragons, to be sold cheap.

Roxana’s nightgown.

Othello’s handkerchief.

A serpent to sting Cleopatra.

An imperial mantle made for Cyrus the Great, and worn by Julius Cæsar, Bajazet, King Henry VIII., and Signor Valentini. The imperial robes of Xerxes, never worn but once.

This was an allusion to Cibber’s feeble tragedy of ‘Xerxes,’ which was produced at the Lincoln’s Inn Fields Theatre in 1699, and permitted one performance only.

The whiskers of a Turkish bassa.

The complexion of a murderer in a bandbox: consisting of a large piece of burnt cork and a coal-black peruke.

A suit of clothes for a ghost, viz. a bloody shirt, a doublet curiously pinked, and a coat with three great eyelet holes upon the breast.

Six elbow chairs, very expert in country dances, with six flowerpots for their partners.

These articles of furniture, of a mechanical or trick sort, employed in pantomimes, are referred to in a letter published at a later date in the ‘Spectator’ from William Screene, who describes himself as having acted ‘several parts of household stuff with great applause for many years. I am,’ he continues, ‘one of the men in the hangings of the Emperor of the Moon; I have twice performed the third chair in an English opera; and have rehearsed the pump in the “Fortune Hunters.”‘ Another correspondent, Ralph Simple, states that he has ‘several times acted one of the finest flower-pots in the same opera wherein Mr. Screene is a chair,’ &c.

A plume of feathers never used but by Œdipus and the Earl of Essex.

Modern plots, commonly known by the name of trapdoors, ladders of ropes, vizard masques, and tables with broad carpets over them.

A wild boar killed by Mrs. Tofts and Dioclesian.

Mrs. Tofts, as the Amazonian heroine of the opera of ‘Camilla,’ by Marc Antonio Buononcini, was required to slay a wild boar upon the stage. A letter published in the ‘Spectator’ professed to be written by the performer of the wild boar: ‘Mr. Spectator,— Your having been so humble as to take notice of the epistles of other animals emboldens me, who am the wild boar that was killed by Mrs. Tofts, to represent to you that I think I was hardly used in not having the part of the lion in Hydaspes given to me. …As for the little resistance which I made, I hope it may be excused when it is considered that the dust was thrown at me by so fair a hand.’

The list concludes:

There are also swords, halberds, sheephooks, cardinals’ hats, turbans, drums, gallipots, a gibbet, a cradle, a rack, a cartwheel, an altar, a helmet, a back-piece, a breast-plate, a bell, a tub, and a jointed baby.

But this supposititious catalogue is scarcely more comical than the genuine inventory of properties, &c., belonging to the Theatre Royal in Crow Street, Dublin, 1776. A few of the items may be quoted:

Bow, quiver, and bonnet for Douglas.

Jobson’s bed. (For the farce of’ The Devil to Pay.’)

Juliet’s bier.

Juliet’s balcony.

A small map for Lear.

Tomb for the Grecian Daughter.

One shepherd’s hat.

Four small paper tarts.

Three pasteboard covers for dishes.

An old toy fiddle.

One goblet.

Twenty-eight candlesticks for dressing, and six washing basons, one broke, and four black pitchers.

Eleven metal thunder-bolts, sixty-seven wood ditto, fivo stone ditto.

Three baskets for thunder balls.

Rack in ‘Venice Preserved.’

Elephant in ‘ The Enchanted Lady,’ very bad.

Alexander’s car.

One pair of sea-horses.

Six gentlemen’s helmets.

Altar piece in ‘ Theodosius.’

The statue of Osiris.

Water-fall.

Frost scene in ‘ King Arthur.’

One sedan chair for the pantomime.

The scaffold in ‘Venice Preserved.’

Several old pantomime tricks and useless pieces of scenes.

(Dutton Cook. “Stage Properties.” Belgravia, vol. 35. 1878: pp. 284-286.)

Ephemerotica


Accident Insurance Ticket uploaded by PaperScraps
Accident Insurance Ticket uploaded by PaperScraps

Ephemera can be some of the hardest props to research and produce accurately, but thanks to the falling prices of bandwidth, storage, and digitization technologies, we see more and more scanned images of ephemera online everyday. It can be daunting to go through all the galleries and collections, and search engines are still less than ideal for finding the perfect image. Here are some sites I’ve discovered to help aid your search for the minor transient documents of everyday life. A lot of sites post a ton of links to other sites, but it can be frustrating as many places do not post images online, their images are unusable, or the navigation and search are just too complex and esoteric to use. Remember to search my blog in case you don’t see one of your favorite sites listed; I may have listed it in an earlier article.

The Ephemera Network has a lot of images uploaded by users. Because it is a community, there is also plenty of discussions and interaction concerning other places to track down ephemera. If you are a die-hard fan, you can even join in and share your interests or ask questions with other members.

The Ephemera Society of America has some nice links to online exhibitions displayed elsewhere on the web.

The Ephemera Catalog has a very large and very varied selection of ephemera for sale. The great thing about sites that sell ephemera is that they offer high-quality scans to entice buyers. The site also has a fantastic selection of ephemera links which should give you a few hours of entertainment.

Quadrille Ephemera shows a rotating selection of what they offer for sale. The shop specializes in more hand-written and personal ephemera, like invitations, checks and holiday cards.

Scott J. Winslow specializes in selling American historical memorabilia, mostly from the nineteenth century. The images on the site are pretty high-resolution.

Sheaff: ephemera has a lot of great images in a variety of interesting categories. Be sure to check out the “links” on this site; you’ll never leave the internet.

Beer Labels has nearly 5000 beer labels. The images on the website are watermarked, but they say they can email higher-resolution files without watermarks.

This huge collection of Wine Labels is organized by subject as well as brand.

The Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History Museum has documents, stocks and bonds, stamps, and other ephemera related to railroads.

The Ad*Access Project has over 7000 American and Canadian advertisements from 1911-1955.

A Nation of Shopkeepers is a collection of trade ephemera from 1654 to 1860. Check it out if you need business-related items from old-timey Britain.

Scrapbooks are great because they preserve many types of ephemera of lesser importance and pedigree that would normally be passed-on by collectors, but are nonetheless vital to adding detail to the world of the play. Heritage Scrapbooks has images from 21 scrapbooks of various ages. You can also check out Marion’s Scrapbook, from a young woman during her college years of 1913-1917.

If you’re interested in medical and surgical imagery, you can browse several thousand images at the History of Medicine.

I like this collection of holy cards left in books in the Ireland Library collection.

Arms, crests and monograms began to be used on stationary in England in the 1840s. They replaced the wax seal in many cases, which is oh-so-popular as a theatrical prop device. For the prop-maker obsessed with utmost historical accuracy, you can browse crests organized by topic to add to the stationary in your show.

Like stamps? Who doesn’t like stamps? Though images of stamps aren’t terribly difficult to search for, you can save time with this comprehensive index of stamps from around the world. Browse by country or topic and narrow your search by year.

Dying Speeches & Bloody Murders is an interesting collection; in 18th and 19th century Britain, broadsides were sold at public executions with an account of the crime or description of the criminal. They’re like an old-timey (and more gruesome) version of a program at a sporting event.

The Brooklyn Public Library has an interesting collection of ephemera related to the history of Brooklyn.

Likewise, the Kentuckiana digital library has paper stuffs related to old Kentucky.

Similarly, the Roscommon Historical Research site has ephemera from County Roscommon in Ireland. They do not have many examples online, and the pictures are too small to print directly, but they have such a great range of items that are often overlooked at other sites.

If you are interested in learning more about ephemera rather than merely looking at it, the articles at the Ephemera Society of America delve into the histories of all sorts of fascinating categories and subcategories of printed paper materials.

As always, one of my favorite sources for ephemera is Flickr. Do you have any favorite sites or sources? Leave me a comment and let me know!