Collection of theatrical correspondence and ephemera, 1697-1930.

Collection History

Identified by the prices (in English coin) purchasers paid for them, the "penny plain" and "twopence coloured" theatrical portraits here depict renowned actors Joseph Grimaldi, Edmund Kean, Charles and Fanny Kemble, Madame Vestris and William Macready, among others.

William Worthen Appleton has collected documents and books on theatre for most of his life. A respected scholar, he taught theatre courses at Columbia University from the 1940's through the late 1970's. Professor Appleton has written widely in his field including books on Beaumont and Fletcher, Charles Macklin, and Madame Vestris. The toy theatre prints form part of a larger donation in 2001 from his extensive collection, of manuscript letters from theatre personalities-chiefly British-such as Edward Gordon Craig, David Garrick, Henry Irving, the Keans and Kembles, Sarah Siddons, and G.B. Shaw, to which Professor Appleton continues to add.


The toy theatre prints in the Appleton Collection are English. By 1811 William West of London was printing sheets of stage characters for purchasers to colour, paste on cardboard and cut out, though others treaured them as individual portraits. Single prints in black ink on white paper were called "penny plains" while those with color added by the seller were the "twopence coloured." West's first subject was Joseph Grimaldi in "Mother Goose," a role that brought him fame and lifelong success on the stage.

In "A Penny Plain and Twopence Coloured," the title of a chapter by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) in his Memories and Portraits, the author recounts his childhood experience of gazing longingly through a store window at sets of prints for successful plays with renowned actors, and his first acquisition.

Related Resources

Baldwin, Peter. Toy Theatres of the World. (1992)

Garde, Georg. Theatergeschichte im Spiegel der Kindertheater: Eine Studie in populärer Graphik. (1971)

NYPL. Guide to the William Appleton Collection of Theatrical Correspondence and Ephemera, 1697-1930.

Speaight, George. The History of the English Toy Theatre. (1946, rev. ed. [1969])

Stevenson, Robert Louis. "A Penny Plain and Twopence Coloured." In his Memories and portraits. (1887)

Tudor-Craig, Pamela. "Times & Tides - History of Toy Theatres." History Today (May 1997) <>

Wilson, Albert Edward. Penny Plain, Two Pence Coloured; A History of the Juvenile Drama. [c1932]

Collection Data

Collection of theatrical correspondence and ephemera, 1697-1930.
Appleton, William Worthen (Collector)
Library locations
Billy Rose Theatre Division
Shelf locator: *T-Mss 2001-065
Physical Description
Extent: 2.25 lf. (8 boxes)
NYPL catalog ID (B-number) : b15358301
UUID: 96e19f20-c610-012f-760e-58d385a7bc34
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