Exploring Shakespeare in performance through the John Johnson Collection – by Daniel Haynes

Daniel Haynes is Quaritch Graduate Trainee in Rare Books & Ephemera at the Weston Library. 

NOTE: hyperlinks to resources in this article require the John Johnson Collection Archive of Printed Ephemera (ProQuest project) to be open in a separate tab.

Shakespeare’s plays have enjoyed relatively uninterrupted performance since the Restoration. Although eighteenth-century dramatists liberally adapted many of the plays (the infamous example is Nahum Tate’s The History of King Lear) and shortened or restructured them to suit the tastes of the day, the later decades were marked by a renewed interest in the original texts. Bolstered by star turns from famous actors such as David Garrick and Edmund Kean, Shakespearean drama continued to rise in prominence. But as its popularity increased, so too did its theatrics: elaborate sets, musical interludes, tableaux, and other dramatic effects dominated the ‘Acting Editions’ of the Shakespearean nineteenth century, for better or for worse. W. S. Gilbert (of Gilbert & Sullivan fame) railed against these ‘trimmed and docked and interpolated and mutilated and generally desecrated’ versions of the plays. Nevertheless, the opening of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon at the end of the century solidified Shakespeare’s central cultural role in British theatre.

Left: Edmund Kean as King Richard. Trade in Prints and Scraps 11 (17).
Right: Drury Lane Theatre ‘In Garrick’s Time’. London Playbills Drury Lane box 1 (4).

The John Johnson Collection Archive of Printed Ephemera (ProQuest project) contains over 20,000 pieces of theatrical and non-theatrical material relating to nineteenth century entertainment, many revealing the development and reception of Shakespearean theatre. In total, over 2200 items match a name search for William Shakespeare in the Nineteenth Century Entertainment collection, showcasing the range and depth of Shakespeare’s popularity and permanence. Digital Bodleian contains 23 related items dating from the eighteenth century, including the earliest dated playbill from 1736. Twentieth century material (not currently digitised) can be found on the Allegro platform.

The earliest digitised item on the ProQuest project is a playbill from 1802 for the Theatre-Royal in Chester advertising a performance of Othello:

John Johnson Provincial Playbills folder 1 (64)

Here we can see several typical features of the nineteenth-century playbill, notably a performance following the main show – a reflection of the impositions placed on theatres by the Licensing Act 1737, which theatre managers worked around by staging musical or comedic interludes. More often farces or pantomimes, these secondary or even tertiary performances could nevertheless be popular in their own right. Popular pantomimes included A World of Wonders, or Harlequin Caxton & the Origin of Printing, which rotated in several London theatres (London Playbills folder 9 (17)). Milton’s Comus enjoyed a revival, with the score of the masque on sale from the ticket office (London Playbills Covent Garden vol. 1814-1815 (185)). On the 1802 playbill above, Charles Macklin’s Love a la Mode is performed more than 40 years after its composition. Notice that the actors in Othello also perform in Love a la Mode, perhaps indicative of the standing of actors outside of London.

Within London the Drury Lane and Covent Garden theatres dominated, with star actors in lead roles as demonstrated by this playbill for 1812:

London Playbills Covent Garden vol. 1811-1812 (202b)

John Philip Kemble (1757-1823), Charles Kemble (1775-1854), and Daniel Egerton (1772-1835) lead this performance of Julius Caesar (notice that, unlike their Chester counterparts, they do not perform in the farce and pantomime). The ‘favourite Comick Song’ between the play and farce is performed by the famous clown Joseph Grimaldi (1779-1837). Towards the bottom of the playbill is a notice of Sarah Siddon’s upcoming performances in five plays – four of these are Shakespeare, and the last, Macbeth, was indeed to be her last performance and emotional farewell.

Playbills could also advertise musical numbers for the evening, especially performances of familiar compositions, that formed part of the main play. Composers and musicians were listed alongside actors, and most likely commanded equal respect. At Covent Garden in 1814, ‘See, the Conqu’ring Hero Comes’ from Handel’s oratorio Judas Maccabaeus punctuated Act II of Coriolanus (Provincial Playbills box Salisbury-Stratford (46)). Even more remarkably, in 1819 the same company staged The Comedy of Errors with lyrical interludes drawn from no less than eleven of Shakespeare’s other plays, three sonnets, and one ‘Come live with me’ pastoral (actually Marlowe’s) for good measure (London Playbills Covent Garden vol. 1819-1820 (80)).

Likewise, playbills emphasised exciting theatrical features to entice the prospective theatregoer:

Detail of London Playbills folder 10 (57) – Surrey Theatre

It was not uncommon to find Shakespeare-themed performances following the main event. This advertisement for the ‘Legendary National Drama’ Shakespeare’s Early Days indicates some measure of how Shakespeare fever gripped audiences (to say nothing of the live animal performance):

Detail of Provincial Playbills folder 3 (29)

With the completion of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in 1879, the bard’s preeminence in British theatrical history was cemented. The Theatre opened with an inaugural festival, and the first two plays performed were Much Ado About Nothing and Hamlet, followed by ‘A Concert of Shakespearean Music’. Helen Faucit (1817-1898) returned from retirement to play Beatrice, with Barry Sullivan (1821-1891) playing Benedick (and Hamlet the night after). This was a far cry from the Shakespeare Jubilee of 1797 which, despite a programme full of orations and a grand closing Ball, in fact featured no performances of the plays themselves!

Our modern reverence for Shakespeare owes much to the developments of the nineteenth century. Our obsession with big names in lead roles is stronger than ever (Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet sold out in hours), likewise the belief that a good actor should cut their teeth at the RSC. Perhaps most importantly, the play’s the thing: like the later dramatists of the nineteenth century, such as William Poel (1852-1934) who pioneered the use of the open stage, we watch Shakespeare to be moved by his writing – not because we’re promised theatrics or a famous piece of classical music. Nonetheless, there are also many differences, and contexts alien to our own, which challenge our preconceptions of what staging Shakespeare could look like. Nowadays, who could imagine comic singing between acts, or a whole pantomime afterwards? While critics such as W. S. Gilbert and William Hazlitt bemoaned the bombastic performances of their day, perhaps there’s something to be learned. After all, who doesn’t want to see Mr. W. J. Hammond singing on a real donkey?






Here Come the Home Children. Guest post by John G. Sayers

We are grateful to John Sayers for another post in his series on ocean liner ephemera.

Allan Line promotional flyer, 1890s
Allan Line promotional flyer, 1890s

The Allan Line ephemera in The Sayers Collection brings to mind the significant role that the Line played in shipping migrants to Canada. In the late 1800s and early 1900s the Canadian Government worked hard to encourage immigration of all types from the British Isles and the 1890 promotional flyer illustrated was a fascinating part of that effort. A specific example was the Home Children, orphaned and abandoned and then taken in by the Barnardo Homes among others.

A local building in our own home town in Canada housed Home Children a hundred years ago and they reportedly all came on Allan Line ships. One of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Museum’s prized artifacts is a child’s simply-constructed wooden box addressed as being sent via Allan Line’s RMS Corsican.

Coincidentally, the immigration promotion activity produced good business for the Allan Line. This flyer was found with an Allan Line Passenger List and hinted at the impetus for that traveller’s voyage. But if they were immigrating, he or she wasn’t your regular Steerage passenger, because Steerage Class received little documentation. Only a non-steerage passenger would receive a Passenger List or a Menu with a choice of meal offerings. The Home Children being sent to Canada would have had to accept whatever food was plopped onto their plates.

Allan Line immigration inspection card, 23 March 1911
Allan Line immigration inspection card, 23 March 1911

Other Allan Line ephemera in the extensive Sayers Collection includes a Landing Pass from a Corsican passenger, a Mr. William Harrison, showing that he had passed the Medical and Civil Examination criteria. And on the back were instructions in all of the major European languages, confirming that some passengers did not originate in the British Isles. Nationals of other countries were also looking for a new life in the New World.

This archive and a vast trove of other ocean liner ephemera capturing social, shipping, historical, and commercial information is contained in The Sayers Collection in the John Johnson Collection at the Bodleian Library. Additional gems from The Sayers Collection continue to migrate across the Atlantic to the John Johnson Collection.



Demise of the S.S. l’Atlantique. Two tragedies. Guest post by John G. Sayers

We are, as ever, very grateful to John Sayers for supplying us with blog posts contextualising treasures from his collection, now being transferred to the John Johnson Collection

This sad black-and-white image of a great liner, the S.S. L’Atlantique, has two aspects to its story. The first element is the ship itself, which went into service in 1930 for a subsidiary of the French Line for service to South America. At some 40,000 gross tons she was the largest – and the most luxurious – of all the ships providing that service.

Photograph of S.S. Atlantique, 1933
Photograph of S.S. Atlantique, 1933

If she had the good fortune of being like other newly-built ships of her era, she would have at least lasted until the beginning of the Second World War in 1939. Unfortunately, a fire broke out in August 1933 while she was being moved through the English Channel for some reconstruction work. The fire could not be extinguished, and she was totally destroyed.

A typed tissue label glued to the back of this crisp 8×10 inch photograph reports:

French luxury liner towed home. The remains of the ruined French liner “L’Atlantique” is towed into Cherbourg Harbour. The bow of the Atlantique and her broken mast photographed on arrival in Cherbourg Harbour. 8/1/33.

And herein lies the second part of the story. The fascinating image is a Press Photo, a remnant of the pre-digitizing age when a number of businesses specialized in providing timely photographic news images, along with a brief narrative on the back, to major newspapers. This crisp image, and a typed caption glued to the back, was labeled as by the Sport & General Press Agency Ltd, London.

Further notations on the back included ‘F194199’, and ‘688’. There is a rubber stamp that says ‘Pageant of the Century. For caption see page 688’. Another penciled notation indicates that an unknown user wants the width reduced to 6 ¾ inches. There is a further penciled notation in red that directs ‘1/14R’.

Each publication would have a library of these photographs, so that after their first usage they would remain available for any future news articles. Can you visualize drawers and drawers of historical 8×10 glossy photographs with brief but convenient captions on the backs? Guess where all these went when publications adopted digital imaging. What was once widespread is now rare because those drawers and drawers of photos are now digital images on the hard drive of a computer or even stored in a cloud.

The images themselves would have been dumped as unneeded. And the clerks who maintained the files, filing new photos and finding any old ones that were needed for a current story, succumbed to the employment ravages of the computer age. Two stories, each of them marking a sad end to an era.

This 8×10 inch glossy Press Photo, and a vast trove of other ocean liner ephemera capturing social, shipping, historical, and commercial information is contained in The Sayers Collection in the John Johnson Collection at the Bodleian Library. Additional gems from The Sayers Collection continue to migrate across the Atlantic to the John Johnson Collection.





The virtues of chocolate

This seasonal blog post is based in part on exhibits in The Art of Advertising exhibition (figures 3, 4, 6, 8).

Certain products stand out for the competitiveness of their advertising. Lotteries and soap are obvious examples. The marketing of cocoa and chocolate, although less innovative, was prolific. It is in striking contrast with the perception of chocolate in our own time.

Patent cocoa. Handbill of Anna Fry
Fig. 1. Patent cocoa. Handbill of Anna Fry, JJColl. Cocoa, Chocolate and Confectionery 2 (31)

The earliest cocoa advertisement in the John Johnson Collection is a handbill produced by Anna Fry (between 1787, the death of her husband and her own death in 1803). Joseph Fry had taken over Churchman’s patent (the first in England, 1729) in 1761.  It contains elements common to cocoa advertising for decades, especially claims of health benefits (often with medical testimonials).

This Cocoa is recommended by the most eminent of the Faculty, in preference to every other kind of breakfast, to such who have tender habits, decayed health, weak lungs, or scorbutic tendencies, being easy of digestion, affording a fine and light nourishment, and greatly correcting the sharp humours in the constitution.

Advertisements and labels for cocoa often also included directions as to how to prepare the beverage.

Directions for making ... Cadbury's cocoa.
Fig. 2. Directions for making … Cadbury’s cocoa. JJColl: Cocoa, Chocolate and Confectionery 1 (18)
I never travel without Fry's Cocoa
Fig. 3. I never travel without Fry’s Cocoa JJColl: Cocoa, Chocolate and Confectionery 2 (71a)

Until the 1850s, cocoa was consumed solely as a beverage.

For decades after that, until ways were found of adding less expensive ingredients to cocoa, it was marketed to the rich, as exemplified by two of the items in  our exhibition The Art of Advertising.

However, rather than the self- indulgence that forms the major selling point of chocolate today, the emphasis was on the health benefits.

Cadbury's Cocoa advertisement with nutritional table
Fig. 4. Cadbury’s Cocoa advertisement with nutritional table. JJColl: Cocoa, Chocolate and Confectionery 1 (19)

This Cadbury’s advertisement (fig. 4) is fascinating, not only in showing the benefits of cocoa to all ages (by implication of a certain class: the nursemaid seems to be excluded from partaking of the beverage) but for the scientific table showing the comparative value of foods. Here, Cadbury’s cocoa is favorably compared with raw beef and mutton, eggs and white bread and, in the smaller print below the table, with some of the best meat extracts. The terminology:  Nitrogen (flesh forming!), Carbon (heat giving) is counter-intuitive to a modern viewer only too aware of the fattening effects of chocolate consumption and not attuned to the nutritional value of ‘pure’ cocoa.

Sweetness also became a selling point of chocolate, as in this F. Allen & Sons advertisement produced as a souvenir of the International Health Exhibition in 1884.

Souvenir of the International Health Exhibition, 1884. F. Allen & Sons advertisement
Fig. 5. Souvenir of the International Health Exhibition, 1884. F. Allen & Sons. JJ Coll: Cocoa, Chocolate and Confectionery 1 (4a)

Another striking advertisement by F. Allen & Sons reminds us that cocoa was strongly associated with the Temperance movement in Britain.  The inclusion of an image of a family in abject poverty (due to the father consuming liquor) is shocking, as it was meant to be. The implication that it was within the power of the family to elevate themselves out of poverty by buying cocoa instead is no less so.

F. Allen cocoa advertisement.
Fig. 6. F. Allen cocoa advertisement. JJColl: Cocoa, Chocolate and Confectionery 1 (4b)

Although filled Belgian chocolates date from 1912, the first chocolate bar was marketed by Joseph Fry & Son in 1847 and chocolates began to be sold in the 1850s. This J. S. Fry’s advertisement gives an idea of the range available in 1859.  Fry’s are also credited with the creation of the first chocolate Easter egg in 1875.

French chocolates, J.S. Fry & Sons, 1859 (recto)
Fig. 7a. French chocolates, J.S. Fry & Sons, 1859. JJ Coll: Cocoa, Chocolate and Confectionery 2 (40) recto
French chocolates, J.S. Fry & Sons, 1859. JJ Coll: Cocoa, Chocolate and Confectionery 2 (40) verso
Fig. 7b. French chocolates, J.S. Fry & Sons, 1859. JJ Coll: Cocoa, Chocolate and Confectionery 2 (40) verso

In 1911, the contents of Rowntree’s Elect Coronation casket looked not dissimilar similar to chocolate selections today.

Advertising adds 1 (15) (Closed)
Fig. 8a. Coronation Casket, 1911, JJ Coll. Advertising adds 1 (15)


Rowntree's Elect Coronation Casket, 1911
Fig. 8b. Rowntree’s Elect Coronation Casket, 1911. JJ Coll. Advertising adds 1 (15)








Canadian Pacific Prominent at the 1924 British Empire Exhibition: guest post by John Sayers

We are grateful to John for sending guest posts about the treasures of the Sayers Collection of Ocean Liner Ephemera, now being transferred to the Bodleian Libraries where it forms one of the named collections added to the John Johnson Collection.

Canadian Pacific postcard
Figure 1. The original Canadian Pacific postcard

I already had in my Ocean Liner collection a postcard of the Canadian Pacific Pavilion at the British Empire Exhibition (Figure 1) drawn by an artist whose signature is illegible. Recently, I found a booklet describing the Pavilion, with a similar cover image as the postcard, drawn by P. A. Staynes. But it also had a centrefold drawing of the beautiful interior of the Pavilion (Figure 2). Since it was a promotional item, it also carried CP advertising, including a captivating page promoting their services to the Far East (Figure 3). This ephemera is a realm beyond postcards.

Centre spread of Canadian Pacific brochure, showing the Canadian Pacific Pavilion, Wembley
Figure 2. Centre spread of Canadian Pacific brochure, showing the Canadian Pacific Pavilion, Wembley
Promotion of Far East tour within Canadian Pacific brochure
Figure 3. Promotion of Far East tour within Canadian Pacific brochure

So much for the Ocean Liner element. But to appreciate the significance of the Exhibition and whether CP was relatively prominent, one has to go beyond this single building at the Exhibition to look at the larger aspect of the Fair itself. At this time the British Empire of Queen Victoria’s era was relatively intact. There were rumblings of a thirst for independence in the colonies, notably Gandhi’s activities in India, but the sun hadn’t yet set on the British Empire.The Exhibition was officially opened on April 23, 1924 so the booklet would have been harvested by an Empire Exhibition visitor who was among the eventual 27 million visitors to this largest-ever event of its type to this date.

This was a landmark event, but it also flags the high commercial status of the Canadian  Pacific organization.

Broadening the focus from Ocean Liner companies to the nature and extent of the Fair itself, and having come to appreciate the significance of the event, one can now place the Canadian Pacific Ocean Liner material’s British Empire Exhibition component in its proper context within the Sayers Collection.

This material, and a significant amount of other Canadian Pacific shipping ephemera such as Passenger Lists, Brochures, Menus and Cruise Activities, is contained in The Sayers Collection in the John Johnson Collection at the Bodleian Library. A vast quantity of other ocean liner ephemera capturing social, shipping, historical, and commercial information in The Sayers Collection, continues to migrate across the Atlantic to the John Johnson Collection.


A catalogue of American trees and shrubs that will endure the climate of England

The Art of Advertising exhibition. Blog post 2

A catalogue of American trees and shrubs that will endure the climate of England, Christopher Gray, Fulham, [c. 1737]

A catalogue of American trees and shrubs that will endure the climate of England, Christopher Gray, Fulham, [c. 1737]

Magnolia detail
Magnolia detail

The second item in our Printing case exemplifies copper engraving and etching, and is accompanied by the following description of the process:

In copper engraving and etching the print is taken from hollowed-out marks on a copper plate. These marks were inscribed through a coating that resists acid, and then subjected to etching, or physically engraved into the copper with a tool known as a burin. Often the plate was first etched and then engraved.
To take a print, ink is forced into the recessed lines, and the surface cleaned of ink. A sheet of paper is laid on top of the plate and pressure from the printing press forces the ink out of the hollows. The process was capable of great delicacy, although the soft copper plate would wear out over time. Text could be engraved as part of the plate, as in this example, but if type was needed, the two had to be printed separately.

This exquisite broadside is unusual in combining masterly etching and engraving with extensive alphabetical and bilingual text. Christopher Gray (1694-1764) specialised in plants from North America. This catalogue, referenced in the DNB article for Gray (odnb-9780198614128-e-37479) includes dogwoods, tulip trees, maples and American oaks as well as magnolias. The illustration of a magnolia altissima (or grandiflora) is based on a drawing by G.D. Ehret.

A catalogue of goods.... Gillery Pigott, 1766. Women's Clothes and Millinery 10 (26)
A catalogue of goods…. Gillery Pigott, 1766
JJColl: Women’s Clothes and Millinery 10 (26)

The title is unusual in explicitly identifying this item as a catalogue. It is more elaborate than a shopkeeper’s bill, but terminology was fluid. Another 18th century single sheet, similarly identified in its title as a catalogue: A Catalogue of Goods, sold Wholesale and Retail, by Gillery Pigott would usually be styled as a ‘shopkeeper’s bill’ or a tradesman’s list.

The John Johnson Collection is fairly rich in Horticultural ephemera. Early seedsmen’s lists are kept in two guard books (Bodleian shelfmarks: Johnson a.50 and Johnson d.1640). These are catalogued on SOLO (advanced search by shelfmark) and were listed by John Harvey in his Early Horticultural Catalogues: A Checklist of Trade Catalogues Issued by Firms of Nurserymen and Seedsmen in Great Britain and Ireland Down to the Year 1850, Bath, 1973.

There are also trade cards, such as those of Arabella Morris and Humphry Repton.

Trade card of Arabella Morris, 1748.
Trade card of Arabella Morris, 1748. JJColl: Horticulture 8


Trade card of Humphry Repton
Trade card of Humphry Repton. JJColl: Trade Cards 14 (5)

The main trade card sequence of the John Johnson Collection can be searched through our Zegami project.