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A PENNY PLAIN AND TWOPENCE COLOURED
A Penny Plain and Twopence Coloured was a catch phrase penned by the Scottish writer, Robert Louis Stevenson in 1884, the result of his childhood forays in Leith Walk, Edinburgh, and his love of the toy theatre, and his obsession for collecting the miniature theatrical wonders.
Stevenson wrote his essay first in The Magazine of Art‘, and later, in 1887 published
in his book, ‘Memories and Portraits‘. The origins of the phrase was based on the
fact that the sheets of characters and scenery published for the toy theatre cost
one penny plain and two pence hand-
It was the melodramas of the Romantic Period that inspired so many of the most popular toy theatre plays. and it was the melodramas that inspired the young Stevenson as a young writer. Pirates, rogues and villain’s, combats, and the fantasy world of pantomime were the stuff of the toy theatre, and there it all exists in Stevenson’s ‘Treasure Island’,
In 1811 William West produces a sheet of the principle characters from the first production on the London stage of ‘Mother Goose’, with Joseph Grimaldi in one of his most celebrated roles of Clown. The popularity of this role led to the publication of sets of sheets of characters, scenery and props, also elaborate prosceniums, the designs based on those of popular London theatres. Books of words, abridged versions of the most popular melodramas and pantomimes to be seen on the London stage.
From this time the popularity of the toy theatre, also known as the ‘Juvenile Drama’, saw the rapid growth in the number of publishers producing versions of plays, with the drawings for the engravings made by such leading artists as Georg e Cruickshank and William Blake. The legacy of the 19th century toy theatre is that of the most complete documentation of the costumes, scenery, and the performance style of the actors of the London Theatres of the period.
It is generally accepted that the height of the popularity of the toy theatre was during the 19th century, even so, repeats of the early plays continues to the present day. Stevenson was not the only Scottish writer to contribute to the subject, Sir Walter Scott, and numerous other well known men of letters include W.B Yeats, Gordon Craig, C.J. Chesterton and others.
No longer can the sheets be bought for pennies, they are now much sought after antiquarian objects of desire, and of great value.