Booth Stripes- Red/White or Red/Yellow?

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Booth Stripes- Red/White or Red/Yellow?

Postby ProfessorKincaid » 12 Apr 2017, 07:03

Greeting to my fellow Professors-

Gentleman & Ladies, I need your valued opinion...and there is certainly no better "last word" on the subject than you.

I am constructing a new Punch Booth to take on tour, and- like the last one I built- I would like for it to be as historically accurate as possible (mid to late 1800's).

My questions are- should the "traditional" stripes on the booth be Red/White (most common) or Red/Yellow? Is one color scheme more "traditional" than the other? Or does this matter? My last booth- constructed in the mid-90's- featured red/white stripes, but I discovered that George Speaight- in his excellent book- makes a reference when discussing Punch and Judy booths (on page 177)- to "gaily striped red and yellow designs". I have also noticed that certain antique Punch and Judy items/toys in my collection feature Red/Yellow striping on the puppet booth.

There is a picture of my old booth here on this website that Professor Somerville was kind enough to post; it appears first at the beginning of the article:

http://www.punchandjudy.com/prosceniums.htm

My warmest regards to you all and I look forward to your comments!

Professor Douglas Kincaid
The Kincaid Karacter Puppets
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Re: Booth Stripes- Red/White or Red/Yellow?

Postby Richard Coombs » 12 Apr 2017, 15:40

Hello Proff Kincaid

Well you have opened a can of works with this one and I am surprised you have not had answers yet.

Any replies are always going to be biased to the views of whoever is answering ...so don't be swayed or dismayed by anything anyone says , including me.

But I ask WHY you ask the question?
Check out the black and white photos on here and elsewhere from the period and you will see a huge variety of fabrics used on booths in the Mid 1800s

Those early photos show all kinds of fancy brocades , and curtaining fabric , as well as plain canvases and waxed bed ticking.
And occasionally even striped canvass , although black and white pics would not tell you the colours of those stripes.
The canvass and waxed fabrics were presumably to keep rain out of the booth ...and the fancier fabrics to make an impressive show of things on dry days ( I am surmising)

Also guessing that only a very small percentage of showman would have bought 'new' fabric for their theatres.
The 'fancier' fabrics would almost certainly have seen use as Parlour Curtains in a previous existence.

I cannot say when exactly stripes became the accepted norm for a Punch Booth.
Doubtless whenever that type of fabric became cheap enough and readily available ...so to get a full answer you would need someone with knowledge of the fabrics industry of the time.
But for 'most' performers to have switched from using any available fabric to solely striped canvass cannot have been on overnight thing.
So an actual 'date' is probably going to be a decade ( maybe even two ) at best.

Some colour oil paintings show outdoor booths sporting white fabric with a blue lines making up a check pattern This fabric we now know to to be a waxed bed ticking.
Waxed to keep in any bugs that were in the straw mattress stuffing, but also perfect for Booths as it was bright and waterproof.
Being for Bedding , this material was readily available to buy , waterproof , and presumably woven on large looms to be wide enough for bedding use.

Availability and necessity have always played a part in puppetry aesthetics.
Chris has noted on this board before, that so many marionette troupes had Black backcloths and wings for their touring shows in the 1940s and into the 1950s and even 1960s because of the abundance of 'Black out fabric' form the War.
Necessity and availability again.

..So what were a Punch performers options for covering his booth in the period you want to replicate ?
Look to that to find your answer.

So if you are wanting to make something 'Historically Accurate' for the mid 1800s - then whether you use red and white or red and yellow stripes is purely down to your own personal taste ( and the aesthetic of what will best compliment the Proscenium you intend to use)

I would say that personal taste IS the most historically accurate factor here ..showmen would have used whichever of those those canvas patterns they either thought looked nice -or could get their hands on.
And if they couldn't get hold of any , then they would have used some second hand parlour curtains the next time someone they knew was replacing theirs .

True enough at the moment most Booths in the UK are red and white stripe.
Any glance at Mayfayre photos will amply demonstrate this.
But there are Booths of different coloured stripes even in that crowd.
I know some proofs that absolutely hate the fact that red and white has become the 'norm'.

And even though my booth(s) are currently red and white , I am toying with the idea of some other options to mix things up every now and then.

So I would say pick the canvas stripes you personally prefer ..but also if you have time and means , make up another booth cover in some nice ornate brocade or suchlike and see how it looks.

Who says showman only had one set of covers in the 1800s?
I daresay they more successful chaps would have had a fancier set for doing indoors at better paid establishments.
So who says that you only have to have one set of covers for your Booth ?

Good Luck with the whole project.
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Re: Booth Stripes- Red/White or Red/Yellow?

Postby Chris » 12 Apr 2017, 23:40

If you want to be historically accurate you won't use red and white stripes which only have any history since the 1940s. Red and yellow stripes have no particular history.

There's a lot of nonsense talked about tradition, a lot of it being invented in modern times.

The real tradition about booth coverings is that the showman would purchase the cheapest available suitable material. This would generally be bed ticking which was a tight weave and therefore relatively lightproof, cheap, and readily available. If came in a limited range of patterns but mainly it seems to have been checked, frequently blue and white. So if you want to be as authentic in appearance as possible you would go for a large check pattern in a natural fibre. Also many of the booths would use a combination of patterned and plain material. It really was a case of what you could find and what you could afford.

On the other hand is historical accuracy of any value? We are in show business and perhaps it is more important to fulfil the audience's expectations, in which case stripes may be more appropriate?

Red and white stripes came when seaside Punchmen started using canvas for their semi permanent booths and red and white stripes was all that was available since it was popular for shop awnings, especially barbers' shops since it matched their red and white pole symbol. About the same time you were getting another kind of Punch performer - no longer was it the Victorian itinerant street performer but now it was more and more the semi professional who was probably also a children's magician widening his repertoire. This type of punch man rarely made his own puppets, nor built his booth. It started to be usual to buy the figures and the booth, and of course the makers would buy the available red and white canvas in bulk to get a good price, and pretty soon you find the majority of booths become red and white and so is created the idea that this must be traditional. Below is a booth Mark Poulton built after much consultation and research which may be of interest.
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Re: Booth Stripes- Red/White or Red/Yellow?

Postby Richard Coombs » 13 Apr 2017, 09:46

Thanks for reposting those pics of Marks Historical Booth Chris.

Line drawings and paintings often show that split of using two different fabrics for the Roof and then the Rest.

I had always assumed this was because getting the fabric in long enough pieces to do the full length in one might not always be possible.
Or that it is easier to fit the roof piece separate from the drop.

But as we have been talking about the waterproof bed ticking , there is another possibility.

If you could only find a little of the close weave and waxed Bed Ticking , then you would use it for the roof section , as that is where it does the most work keeping the rain off you inside.

The bit of cloth around the lower section does less work in keeping you dry ...as it can get quite wet before you do ( gravity playing its part in making the water 'run off' the cloth.)

So again practicality leads any design issues

Marks booth wonderfully shows us the use of two different cloths.


Not getting wet is high in my mind at he moment as I am right in the middle of altering my Booth from having a flat fabric roof ...to having a sloped thin wood slatted one ...to let gravity do its job !

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Re: Booth Stripes- Red/White or Red/Yellow?

Postby Chris » 13 Apr 2017, 10:26

One small point, I've never heard of bed ticking being waterproof? Waxing cloth is, I know, a way of waterproofing heavy outdoor wear but I would have thought pretty uncomfortable to sleep on or under. Ticking always used to be cotton or linen, very tightly woven making it strong and also and to prevent feathers from poking through the cloth of mattress covers. Ticking is of course still available and in use.
This is not to say that some Punchmen didn't use some wax process in order to waterproof their booths, they may well have done.
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Re: Booth Stripes- Red/White or Red/Yellow?

Postby Richard Coombs » 13 Apr 2017, 10:54

The waxing of ( the inside ) of bed ticking is something I have been told anecdotally.
Im pretty sure it was by someone at Blists Hill Victorian Town Hill Victorian town when Ive done shows there.

They "laminate' posters at the candle making premises , by dipping the printed posters into the vat of hot wax ...this makes them weatherproof when nailed up on the side of the wooden goods shed.
they did some smashing ones for the Punch and Judy show they first few times I performed.

Im pretty sure our conversation strayed to bed ticking from there.
Ticking was not 'dipped' .. but a bar of wax was hand rubbed onto one side.

Perhaps this was only for the 'top notch' stuff ...or only done in certain parts of the country ?

In any case as you said , Punch men could treat there own roof covers by rubbing candle stubs over the fabric themselves.

But you are certainly right , Ticking was a very close weave ( for the same purpose of keeping any bugs INSIDE the straw /horsehair mattress stuffing.

So I expect , although ticking was available ...it was probably a quite expensive cloth : because of the high thread count. That might be why it was sometimes only used on Booth roofs , where you got value for your money.
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Re: Booth Stripes- Red/White or Red/Yellow?

Postby Chris » 13 Apr 2017, 22:12

I don't think ticking was expensive Richard, it was one of the cheapest available fabrics which is why, I imagine, it was such a favourite with itinerant Punch men.
I am sure you are right that wax was used to waterproof fabric (it still is). I just don't think it would be used generally to waterproof bedding. Most people perspire, especially in bed. A waterproof fabric would surely mean you waking up in a pool of water!

As for the use of different patterned or coloured fabrics to cover the booth; might this not be simply a matter of choice, of design? Personally I prefer the two-tone look since I think it draws the eye to the top, to the playing area, and also serves to disguise the upright coffin nature of the booth.

And yes, there was also matter of being able to use up odd sizes of available material - old worn curtains etc. - insufficient to make a complete tilt but enough to clad top or bottom, or maybe just the front.

The thing to remember is that people generally were poor, and used to making do and mending and adapting. This would be just as true with the Punch community. I imagine they would be amazed at the wealth of today's Profs who have the available cash to buy several metres of a material of choice, maybe even canvas, and maybe even have it professionally made up. Actually we have it pretty good don't you think?
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