London’s first purpose-built theatre was a 1576 open affair rather like a stockade, and was known as The Theatre in Shoreditch. The Theatre was dismantled and stolen one night in 1598, taken across the Tames and used in the construction of the first Globe Theatre.
Admission to the theatre was collected by door keepers, and then inside gatherers collected for seats in the gallery. Their ticket management was simple. To attend, a person dropped a jetton or German token, valued at a penny, more or less, into a money box.
In time the money boxes became known as theatre boxes, stored in the box office. The boxes, round not square, were earthernware closed containers with a knob on the top for a firm grip and a slit on the side for paying admission. They kept the door keepers, gatherers, and pickpockets honest. They were easy to keep in a firm grip, and hard to shake a coin out. The boxes were smashed open when the take for the performance was counted.
Surviving theatre money boxes are very rare but shards are more plentiful. The Museum of London has a few, one of which we used for our reproductions. The originals were typically 10-15cm tall, round, and glazed in brown or green. They were “whiteware” earthenware made from sandy clay mined in Surrey and along the Surrey-Hampshire border area.
Our stoneware reproductions match the form and size but of course we could not reproduce the patina of the originals. To suggest age, we gave an iron wash instead of the bright green glaze typical of the period.
The originals were most likely thrown “from the hump” on a kick wheel with a production goal fo 100 to 200 per day for each potter. Because a lot of energy would have been wasted stopping and starting the manual throwing wheel if each box was thrown from a single ball, a large hump of clay would be put on the wheel. Once the wheel was turning, the potter would have sat there throwing, cutting, and setting aside boxes until the hump was used up. Cheap labor and boxes made the job grueling and relentless. There were no excuses.
The Barnet, Vermont, potter Norma St Germain has agreed to make a limited edition of 30 theatre money boxes for a fundraising project in support of the Clarion County Community Foundation. For more of her wonderful pottery, stop in at the Northeast Kingdom Artisans Guild in St. Johnsbury.
For a contribution of $100, we will ship a theatre money box to you along with our thanks. Of your $100, the potter will receive $10, the shipping will be contributed by me, and the rest will go to The Unrestricted Grants Fund of CCCF. Please do not let the suggested contribution inhibit you from giving more than $100; no one at CCCF will be offended. Send your check to Charles Marlin, 436 Dengler Road, Knox PA 16232. Charles Marlin