Theatre Royal playbill for William Shakespeare's Cymbeline
Covent Garden Theatre, London
5 May, 1779
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London
The Great Bill, or large playbill, was the immediate ancestor of the theatre poster. The Museum has two posters in its collection for this production of Cymbeline at Covent Garden theatre on 5 May 1779 - this large version and a smaller one. The large one is printed in red and black ink and is more than four times the size of the smaller one. It would have cost more to produce because of the size of the paper and because red ink cost more than black ink. Both posters contain the same amount of information and include almost all the names of the cast of Cymbeline in the same sized letters. Only Mr Fearon and Mr Booth could have complained about preferential treatment for others! When the earliest Great Bills were printed, Letterpress printers had no special typefaces but chose the largest letters in stock. In 1765 however, a printer called Thomas Cotterell issued specimens of a special poster typeface called the 12-line Pica letter, and this is used here.