With Hot Air Balloons!
(Theater Playbills). Theatres-Royal. London, 1783–84. Folios.  f.
Each: $450.00 Benefit performances, dances with great names, in-theatre “balloon ascensions,”
two pantos, and wonderfully *various* evenings are offered although this is
too early for “Mr. Kite” and there appear to be no “effects” involving
trampolines. The broadside bills below advertise productions at the Theatres-Royal in Covent Garden and Drury Lane, with dates running from the winter of 1783 through the spring of '84.
These theatrical ephemera are quite scarce: While 19th-century examples are fairly common, a check of ESTC found only a few scattered instances of 18th-century Theatre-Royal playbills, none with more than one holding.
Secondary attractions range from dances to minor dramatic works to pantomimes, with sheets for consecutive evenings showing how a main attraction might be paired with a comedy one night and a musical entertainment the next. John Kemble and his sister Sarah Siddons appear together on several playbills, while William Lewis (that "airiest and most mercurial of comedians," according to the Oxford Companion to the Theatre) takes the lead role in many productions.
All of the playbills list cast members by part, and the majority have a final banner promoting the next evening’s production. Many include the phrase "Vivant Rex & Regina," while on several sheets it is mentioned that the main play’s accompaniment will be a "Pantomime Entertainment called Fortunatus / In which will be introduced an Air Balloon." Throughout the series, the typography is workmanlike — reflecting speedy job-printing — but is surprisingly accurate, with only a few reversed letters, hardly any letters dropped, and consistent orthography.
A few playbills are actually bifolia — double spreads — with conjoined leaves for consecutive nights at the two different theaters, showing that Covent-Garden and Drury-Lane sent their bills in to be printed at the same time.
In Mylar folders. Most leaves with chipped edges, in a few cases touching last lines; a few leaves with small holes. Leaves in overall good condition, with varying degrees of off-setting, fading, and age-toning or soiling to edges. “Mini-collections” of these playbills can be invoiced at the “collection” rates of: Five items, 10% off; ten items, 15% off; ALL items, 20% off. Shipping FREE on the gatherings.
All material © 2013
The Philadelphia Rare Books & Manuscripts Company