Explore our collection of tinsel prints online nowDecember 19, 2011 About my museum job, Blogs, Collections online
As part of our collections online programme bringing greater online access to our collections over the next three years, including the addition of over 90,000 objects, today sees our collection of tinsel prints go live on our website, just in time for Christmas.
Either search “Theatrical tinsel portraits” to browse the collection or you can access them directly using this link.
Here our Project Assistant, Ellie, provides her perspective on some of the prints she has recently been working with:
During the nineteenth century, London’s theatres were a popular medium. Whole genres of popular plays would develop and protests were carried out when theatre prices rose. Theatre-goers could buy prints of actors playing various roles and soon tinsel prints also became available. Many of the plays included spectacular combat and dramatic sequences, and by adorning prints with paint, fabric and metal foil, theatregoers could convey some of the spectacle of the stage.
One of the collections the museum is putting online is its collection of theatrical tinsel prints. These have been carefully photographed and their museum database records updated. The prints could be intricately detailed, which suggests that they were made by adults. The majority of subjects of tinsel prints are male actors, and a high proportion of these are depicted in combat. Figures in chain mail and armour offered ample potential for the keen tinseller, as the metallic elements of their costumes invited tinsel adornment.
They could use metal foil and fabric, such as these velvet ‘monstrous beasts’. Often tinsel prints depict spectacular moments of drama within a performance. The earlier ones give information about roles, performances and actors. Later on the activity of tinselling became an established pastime and the information about specific performances is printed infrequently.
Most of the items in the museum’s collection come from Jonathan King, who ran a stationary shop in Essex road, Islington. His collection of tinsel prints was especially illustrative, as it gave an account not only of the material cultures of enthusiasm, popular craft and souvenir collecting, but because the prints themselves also include a printed record of London’s theatre during the middle of the nineteenth century. The collection is also significant because it includes items relating to the production of tinsel materials.
This illustration shows how sample sheets were used to decide which colour adornments would be used. The way the imaged is repeated reminds me of Andy Warhol’s Marilyn series (external link). The repetition of shapes and colours pre-empts the ways that Warhol’s colourful, printed images would later depict the actress as iconic.
The museum’s collection includes a number of actresses, such as this print, which have been adorned. Women feature less often in tinsel prints, perhaps because their costumes didn’t offer as much scope for the tinsel-mad enthusiast. Writers have also speculated that the scarcity of actresses suggests that tinselling was an activity for young boys, who were more interested in dramatic and heroic scenes.
The collection also includes some of the printing plates used to make the penny prints and this one also shows Mrs Daly as Poll Maggot.
Initially tinsel pieces were sold to match the prints, and this stock sheet shows how they were fastened and bundled in packages.
Dies like these would be used to cut out individual pieces. This bow stamp is from the collection, and looking along the side of the stamp you can see evidence of how hard it must have been struck to shape the metal foil pieces.
The museum’s collection of the tools for tinsel production is very rare. Collections online makes it possible to see the stamps, the tinsel pieces made from them and then to find the pieces on the finished tinsel print.
You can read Ellie’s first blog post on her work here.