Advert for the Empire Theatre

Printing technology and advertising

At the beginning of the 19th century most printing was carried out in small, haphazardly adapted workshops, on heavy wooden hand presses, using traditional methods which had changed very little in 300 years. By the end of the century the industry was made up of fewer, larger firms, operating in specially-built factories housing batteries of noisy machines, and where nearly all the processes were fully mechanised.

The new technologies churned out all sorts of texts: novels, cookery books, newspapers, advertisements, pamphlets, posters, song sheets, greetings cards. These texts were quicker, easier and cheaper to produce. As literacy rates rose so did the demand for reading material, and this also increased the opportunities for advertisers. Thousands upon thousands of ephemeral texts were produced, encouraging people to spend their money, and to fill up their leisure time.

Take a look at the Victorian posters below. During the 19th century, new typographies were developed specifically for advertising. They were designed to grab attention, and were used on posters or handbills. These traditional Victorian circus posters use different sized lettering to attract the eyes of passers by.




The Empire Theatre was one of the leading theatres in London during the Victorian period. This advert reveals all sorts of details about the entertainments on offer there, including 'musical clowns', 'The White-Eyed Musical Kaffir', a ballet named 'Cecile', and a 'troupe of skaters'.

There are other advertisements in this extract, all of which provide a fascinating glimpse into the kinds of commercial activities going on in England at the time. There are all sorts of products being advertised: whiskey and table water, boots and newspapers, cafes and furniture sellers, ales and champagnes.

Continue to explore the Written Word Timeline or else try out some Victorian English activities .