Tinsel Prints


Tinsel Prints


Like modern baseball or hockey cards, tinsel prints were collectable images of famous actors and actresses produced in nineteenth century England. Tinsel prints could be purchased as singles or in sets of six or four,[1] in colour or in black and white from.[2]

As the popularity of these prints became wide spread, bags of prepared tinsel decorations were sold along with the prints making them customizable by the purchaser. Thus after the tinseling process, no two prints would be identical. Tinsel prints emerged from the tradition of toy theatres. Once an appropriate model theatre was purchased, the public could buy prints depicting actors, actresses and scenery from plays that were being performed at the time and recreate those plays in their home.[3] As the "juvenile drama" became popular, play books were published along side prints so the words of the plays could be recreated as well. While the genre flourished the desire to purchase a larger print of a specific actor or actress remained. Thus two types of theatrical prints became to be printed: those for juvenile dramas that were small and excluded specific actors names, and actors portraits that were larger and more individualized.[4]

In the larger theatrical portraits, characters were "always displayed full length" and "striking [a] habitual and dramatic pose".[5] The 1830's marked the emergence of tinseling prints as a past time. [6] Before this time, if an individual wished to embellish a portrait, individual sheets of metal foil would have to be purchased, measured and cut to fit an individual print. Once tinseling became common, different packages of precut tinsel (specific to the print)would be sold with each print as aforementioned. The term tinsel specifically refers to the metal sheets used to represent armor and weapons, but more broadly includes pieces of satin, silk, velvet, leather, and feathers among other embellishments. [7]

Although tinsel prints are now viewed as works of art, in the nineteenth century they were no more than a child's pastime. Most sources cite tinseling, as well as toy theatre, as being most popular among boys from the working class. Their popularity among boys could explain why male portraits were produced more frequently than female, however, it is more likely that male costumes, with their multiple pieces of armor and arms, offered more opportunities to use tinsel in comparison to the largely fabric costumes of women. [8]

Juvenile Dramas and accompanying prints as a whole experienced their heyday from the 1810's-1850's. [9] The decline in the popularity of the genre reflects the shift of theatrical performances from extravagant, heroic romances to witty comedies and dialogue heavy dramas that addressed societal issues. [10] While toy theatres and tinsel prints continued to be produced that related to these plays, they no longer featured the action spectacles which made Juvenile Dramas popular at their inception.

[1] George Speaight, The History of the English Toy Theatre (London: Studio Vista, 1969), 111.
[2] George Speaight, The History of the English Toy Theatre, 12.
[3] ibid, 12.
[4] ibid, 13.
[5] ibid, 112.
[6] ibid, 129.
[7] ibid, 131-132.
[8] ibid, 135.
[9] ibid, 134.
[10] ibid, 144.


[1] George Speaight, The History of the English Toy Theatre (London: Studio Vista, 1969), 111. [2] ibid, 12. [3] ibid, 12. [4] ibid, 13. [5] ibid, 112. [6] ibid, 129. [7] ibid, 131-132. [8] ibid, 135. [9] ibid, 134. [10] ibid, 144.

Collection Items

Mr. Fechter as La Gardare
Although born in England, Charles Albert Fechter was raised in France. He spent much of his career there, but after his success as a stage director of a French company touring in England, he decided to stay and perform in London. He had varied…

Mr. Phelps as Sir John Falstaff
Although Mr. Phelps was considered a second tier actor, he was still considered "one of the best 'all around' actors the English stage has known." [1] He began his career touring England before joining the company at Covet Garden in 1837 under W.C.…

4 engravings mounted
It is unknown whether the four prints mounted in this frame were originally printed together. Collections of portraits would often be published together either to represent characters from one play, actors who were engaged at a specific theatre, or…

Miss Romer as Columbine
The Miss Romer depicted in this print is most likely Emma Romer, who continued performing under her maiden name after becoming Mrs. George Almond after 1835. Apart from performing, Miss Romer also managed the Surrey Theatre in London from 1852-55.…

Mr. Yates as The Red Rover
Frederick Yates made his theatrical debut in 1817. [1] He began his London career at Covet Gardens and in 1825, he purchased the Adelphi theatre with Daniel Terry. During their joint management of the theatre, numerous plays by Edward Fitzball were…

Miss E. Tree as Ion
Miss Tree's career spanned over 40 years. She was well known for her ability to play comedic and tragic roles equally well and for her fine singing voice. [1] She married one of the best known actors of the time, Mr. Charles Kean, in 1842. [2] Unlike…

Mrs. Lovell as Guderia, wife of Caractacus
Although Mrs. Lovell retired from the stage after her 1830 marriage to playwright George William Lovell, she made an appearance in James Planché's 1837 play Caractacus. During her time on stage she was best known for her parts in tragic plays. Later…

Mr. H. Marston as Mephistopheles
Mr. Henry Marston (also known as Henry Marsh) was best known for his portrayal of Shakespearian leads, especially during his time at Sadler's Wells under Samuel Phelp's management. [1] Mephistopheles is a demon character from the Faust tale of…

Mr. G. Almar as Coral Crown, The Water King
Mr. George Almar was a playwright as well as an actor. He is credited with writing over 30 melodramas and romantic dramas between 1830-1849. [1] The character of Coral Crown, The Water King is from Almar's 1834 melodrama The Cedar Chest, also known…

Mr. Brunton as Ladi
The play from which the character of Ladi is from is unknown, and the identity of Mr. Brunton himself is uncertain. He could possibly be the actor and theatre manager John Brunton. However this Mr. Brunton died in 1822, during the heyday of Juvenile…

Miss M. Woolf as Joe Jessamy
While no details on the life of Miss. Woolf are known it is assumed that the character of Joe Jessamy originates from Thomas Taylor's 1842 farce Claude Duval or The Ladies Highwayman. [1][1] Allardyce Nicoll, XIX Century Drama, 1800-1850, vol.…

Mr. Butler as Caractacus, the British Chieftain
At time of website launch, no biographical information has been found on Mr. Butler. However, the play Caractacas (the title character of which Butler is portraying) is significant within the Robertson Davies collection. The first framed playbill in…

Mr. Haines as Wat Tyler
Mr. John Thomas Haines was primarily a playwright who occasionally acted in his own plays. [1] He has over 40 writing credits to his name between 1823 and 1843. [2] Wat Tyler is the title character of a drama writhen by Robert Southey. Originally…

The antagonist of harlequinades, Pantaloon is a 19th century parallel to the contemporary trope of the overprotective father who tries to keep his daughter and her lover apart. While Pantaloon is described as either the father of or guardian of…

Mr. Huntley as Edward the Black Prince
Mr. Francis Huntley made his acting debut in 1809 and was said to have had a slow start to his career. He was best known for his ability to portray strong emotions such as rage and fear. Unfortunately, Mr. Huntley's career was ended by his love of…

Miss Louis as Delha in Koulikhan
Although no biographic information has been found on Miss. Louis herself, the inscription on the image identifies her as "Delha" in the play "Khoulikan". It is most likely that this specific play is an adaptation of Charles Dibdin the Younger's…

Mr. Mead as Hotspur
Mr. Mead played many roles throughout his life: he was a playwright and manager of the Elephant and Castle Theatre as well as an actor. [1] Of his wide repertoire of characters, Mead's voice is said to have been best suited to playing villains. [2]…

Mr. G. French as Harlequin
As of this website's launch, no biographic information on Mr. G. French. The character of Harlequin is a stock character from the English iteration of the Comedia dell' arte known as Harlequinade. Due to the popularity of the genre and the recycling…

Mr. T.P. Cooke as Goyoneche in the War Woolf of Tlascala
Best known for his portrayals of sailors, Thomas Porter Cooke was one of the most celebrated actors of the era. [1] At the time of his retirement, Cooke had portrayed the character of William in Black Eyed Susan a total of 785 times. [2]…

Mr. G. Clair as Matthioli
As of this website's launch, no biographic information on Mr. G. Clair or the character of Matthioli has been found.
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