There Will Be Fun: Magic & Mystery at The British Library

Magic show, Pantomime or Freak show – one things for sure, we just love to be entertained. The newest exhibition at The British Library is a celebration of just that, showcasing amazing typographic posters and intriguing objects transporting you back in time.

In the words of Robbie Williams; Let me entertain you! And this exhibition will via the stories of 5 entertainers; Evanion, Maskelyne, Lord George Sanger, Miss Annie De Montford and Dan Leno. I mean, I’m not a massive fan of the kerning on the royal conjuror poster below – you could fit a bus between that V & A – but I can let it slide in the name of showbiz…

There Will Be Fun Victorian Entertainment There Will Be Fun Victorian Entertainment

Despite being ephemera (intended for short term use), the beautiful poster designs are available for us to ogle at thanks to conjuror Evanion’s hoarding skills. It’s hard to believe that these amazing posters were intended to be thrown away, especially as they would have been set by hand on a printing press. But I guess that’s actually still the case with Graphic Design today; train tickets, night club flyers and chocolate bar wrappers – all examples of throw away design culture.

I’m glad the posters were saved anyway – I wonder if the posters of today will appear in museums in 200 years…

(Images (C) of The British Library Board – collage by me)

There Will Be Fun Victorian Entertainment

To accompany the posters, there are a number of items on loan from the Magic Circle Museum; a magic wand, books about talented pigs and trade secrets, and even the toilet lock behind the saying ‘spend a penny’ – it was patented by magician Maskelyne.

There Will Be Fun Victorian Entertainment The British Library

Life in showbiz wasn’t always a song and dance though, with stiff competition for the best pitch in town sometimes resulting in fights. The curators of There Will Be Fun told us about the Battle of Oxford, in which Lord Sanger was almost burnt alive in his over turned carriage.

Doing it for the ladies, mesmerist Miss Annie De Montford was a self help guru way before that title ever existed. Hailing from humble beginnings as the daughter of a Miller herself, she offered to help people achieve the life they wanted regardless of their background – sounds like a Girl Boss if you ask me.

There Will Be Fun Victorian Entertainment There Will Be Fun Victorian Entertainment The British Library

There Will Be Fun is at The British Library from 14th October 2016 to 12th February 2017, so plenty of time for you to pop in and be entertained 😉 Did I mention it’s FREE? And also there will be performances every Saturday until 17th December between 3pm and 5pm so pop in for a show.

Let me know if you visit, and your favourite discovery… if you can choose!


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© Natasha Nuttall | January 2022

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