Digital Exhibition 1 : Posters & Handbills
A continuing series of stories from our collection
HFC:2021:177 Courtesy of Kingsley Wright
Posters, handbills and even a well-placed advert are a simple and visual way to generate excitement surrounding forthcoming performances. In this digital exhibition we’ll focus on some of the very varied highlights which sit within our own heritage collection.
Throughout the history of City Hall and more recently, Hall for Cornwall, posters have been used to great effect in a variety of different ways.
Handbills vs Posters
What is the difference? A poster is designed to be admired, pasted to a wall and takes a certain amount of care and consideration in its aesthetic layout. It tends to be printed on a thicker paper stock than a handbill.
A handbill is an earlier document, designed to inform the viewer, held in hand and would have been largely text only. Handbills were often long and narrow whereas a poster was broader. The exact distinction and definition continues to this day!
Given by Dr G.B. Gardner. © Victoria & Albert Museum.
This handbill is an example of a single handbill decorated with a simple graphic border and multiple typefaces used to highlight the most important parts of the information being shared. It its part of the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum.
Find Out More: Victoria & Albert Museum’s Theatre Collection is an excellent resource full of costumes, sets and theatre history from theatres across the UK and beyond.
During the early-mid 20th Century, handbills and posters were pasted up backstage at City Hall. These items were casually layered on top of each other and often acted as a tool to inform performers about forthcoming acts and performances. As more posters were added, they partially obscured the documents beneath, creating a collage effect.
The photographs of these handbills and posters act as a useful guide to the sheer variety of different acts on stage as well as the number of different names which City Hall has held over the years.
Type & Printing Presses
HFC:2020:124 Courtesy of the Collection of Bert Biscoe
Theatre posters are highly collectable and can tell us a lot about design and societal trends of the time. Posters from the mid-20th Century would have been printed using wooden type and large printing presses. For City Hall, printers in Truro were often used, although companies in Plymouth and as far away as Bristol were used for more elaborate designs.
HFC:2020:123 Courtesy of the Collection of Bert Biscoe
The colours used in the illustrations reflect a typical 1950s colour palette and reference relatively early days of printing in colour for posters. The fact that the posters are in colour indicate the popularity and perceived draw a pantomime would have to the residents of Truro and beyond. The vivid colour indicates to the viewer that the performance will also be bright, bold and lavish and that tickets should be sought quickly! To this day, pantomimes and Christmas-performances draw some of the largest audiences in the year.
The size of type was also used as an indicator of which piece of information was most important, a technique used in visual communications just as regularly today. In the example below, the theatre title is rendered with less impact than the performing company. The musical itself, Bless The Bride stands out more than anything else.
Detail from a 1951 handbill for a Truro Amateur Operatic Society musical
During the mid-late 20th Century, City Hall hosted regular music festivals, music competitions, and informal gatherings for local bands to perform. Largely, these events were informal and attracted a youthful crowd keen to see and experience new talent.
Flyers were collaged together, printed cheaply (perhaps even using a photocopier to keep costs down) and often featured hand-drawn illustrations. They were designed to be handed out prior to the event and distributed quickly without any thought to the permanence of the object.
Find Out More Visit Kernowbeat a dedicated account detailing gigs from a broad range of venues across Cornwall from the 1960s 1970s.
During the 1990s and early 2000s at Hall for Cornwall, performers would be invited to sign a show poster following their performance at the venue. This trend echoed an era in which autographs were highly sought after from celebrities more broadly and pre-dated the era of the ‘Selfie’, which has somewhat usurped autograph hunting. A number of performers wrote a longer message in a Visitor’s Book held backstage.
Hear more about what went on backstage with performers by listening to our Podcast with BBC Journalist (and former Front Of House Manager) Debbie McCrory.
Hall For Cornwall has been lucky enough to receive multiple touring productions of well-known musicals, ballets, operas and theatre productions over the years. Often these productions visit many venues and will have been produced by multiple companies.
As part of the tour, production teams will often distribute a poster design to each venue and will leave space for that venue’s logo to be digitally added to the design.