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Below are two amazing burlesque posters. If you click on them you will go to their associated Library of Congress entries. More information follows below.

A promotional poster for the burlesque group named The High Rollers Extravaganza Company. Poster illustration depicts High Rollers member Mamie Lamb riding a burning, firey stove w/flames licking out from the interior that is being pulled by two giant lobsters. The poster was received by the US Copyright Office mailroom from the Courier Lithography company on May 24, 1899.

A promotional poster for the burlesque group named High Rollers Burlesque Company. Poster illustration depicts unnamed High Rollers woman member sitting on a table, lighting a cigarette off the table candle. An elderly gentleman nods off at the table holding a tipped glass of champagne, unaware that his wig has fallen onto the floor. The title at the top reads 'DeVere’s High Rollers Burlesque Co.' The caption at the bottom reads 'DINING A HIGH ROLLER GIRL AFTER THE SHOW-' The poster was received by the US Copyright Office mailroom from the H C Miner Lithography Company on June 13, 1898.

First, definitions. “Burlesque” back in the late 19th-early 20th century was a bit different than its modern definition. Burlesque shows “[...] consisted of three parts: first, songs and ribald comic sketches by low comedians; second, assorted olios and male acts, such as acrobats, magicians and solo singers; and third, chorus numbers and sometimes a burlesque in the English style on politics or a current play.” An “extravaganza” was a more complicated affair consisting of many different types of acts that in Britain also somehow involved conjuring up fairies and whatnot as one does, but from the time and place we're considering, was “a relatively ‘high’ form of burlesque, intended for an urbane adult audience.” (Gilbert and Sullivan: Gender, Genre, Parody [2010; Professor Carolyn Williams])

The January 30th, 1898 issue of popular business propaganda broadsheet The New York Times published an article describing Aaron H Woodhull turning over the management of the Manhattan theatre to “Brody and Ziegfeld” and embarking on a new entertainment: “[...] a burlesque company which he recently organized to tour the variety and popular houses of the country. The name of the piece is ‘The High Roller.’ Mr. Woodhull is of the opinion that there is more money in this style of amusement than any other, and he is determined to recover the money he lost in his management of the Manhattan Theatre.” I wonder how Brody and Ziegfeld made out. [FX: rummaging] Oh, that Ziegfeld. “GOOD LUCK ZIGGY, I LOST MY SHIRT RUNNING THIS DUMP” [FX: dramatic cartoony exit speed puffs]

“What ... will make me the most money?” It is how the large majority of people get into the arts. Woodhull initially named the burlesque group “DeVere’s High Rollers Burlesque Company.” A lithography company was hired to create posters advertising troupe member Sylvia Starr and a more fanciful comical scenario poster as displayed above. Two copies of the latter were received by the US copyright office on March 24, 1898. The Mamie Lamb poster was also sent to the US copyright office a little over a year later, May 24th, 1899.

I spoke with a mammalogist friend of mine and he indicated that the size of the lobsters pulling the stove was just slightly exaggerated from back in the day when ... sea creatures lived at peace in the briny deep before humankind’s discovery of oceanic succulence in 1865 by famed sea explorer Jackie Stewart. But ... why lobsters?

Iconographically, the upper-class “mashers” are frequently represented in terms of a metonym for the luxurious life-style they offer – the lobster. In a High Rollers poster featuring Mamie Lamb, Lamb rides a red-hot stove turned carriage pulled by two giant lobsters. In a Bon-Ton Burlesquers poster, “A Warm Reception,” a lobster dances with a burlesquer atop a dining table while three seated male admirers raise their champagne glasses in salute. In the 1890s new and spectacular restaurants opened along Broadway to accommodate the theater crowd and other “men about town.” Rector’s, Shanley’s, Maxim’s, Bustanoby’s, and Churchill’s all featured gilded interiors and specialized in expensive late-night suppers – so-called bird-and-bottle dinners. If a “sport” or a baldhead wanted to show off his “bird,” these lobster palaces, as they were called, could oblige. If he desired more privacy, private dining rooms were available. Lobsters came to signify culinary extravagance, the elaborate setting in which such expensive fare was served, and the man who attempted to impress his dining companion by ordering it.
Horrible Prettiness: Burlesque and American Culture (1991), 214.

The posters are part of a larger theme of the women of the burlesque companies “dunking” on the more well-heeled, elderly male patrons. Horrible Prettiness goes on to explain:

If we assume that the “model viewer” of these posters was male (as it almost certainly was, given the largely male audience for burlesque), then burlesque’s upside-down world of enormous, powerful women and powerless, victimized men is explicable only when one takes into account the class difference betwen the men within that world and the intended viewer [...] wealthy, sexually frustrated but effete old men [...] “Baldheads” [...] pathetic fascination with feminine sexual display makes them easy marks, while their wealth makes them favorite targets.
ibid., 206.

This was a constant trope hammered on by the burlesque companies; in the September 21st, 1899 edition of the Janesville Daily (Wisconsin), it appears as if they just shuffled the High Rollers PR drop wholesale into column 3:

“The High Rollers.” A great show is billed for Friday and Saturday at the Myers Grand opera house. “The High Rollers” burlesque company will make their debut before a Janesville audience at this time, and callow youths and aged baldheads, with money to incremate, are speculative up on the topical time which will be in vogue at the Grand during this engagement. The “High Rollers” are happily named. Their two burlesques, “The High Rollers at the Paris Exposition” and “The Great Rubie” having caught on all along the line. The Paris Exposition affords Blanche and Rene Washburn as the Misses High Rollers, who ever looking for a good time, an excellent opportunity to display the good looks and accomplishments nature has so lavishly endowed them with. They are very handsome women, with beautiful figures, rich and highly cultured voices and elegant stage presence.

The support is an excellent one, including ten comedians and a bunch of twenty beautiful maidens. They are a lot of pretty peaches, which to be seen is to be appreciated. The olio is up to date with 365 days to its credit in advance of all competitors. Every act adds to the strength of the program. The performance closes with a burlesque on Augustin Daly’s reproduction “The Great Rubie”. It bubbles over with with and mirth-provoking situations that thoroughly demostrate the versatitlity and talent of this excellent company, all of whom appear in this part of the bill, and taken together, are away above the average burlesques seen in this city, and prove that what the Washburns and their associates do not know about High Rolling, is like the North Pole, still undiscovered.

Mamie Lamb spent some of her time before The High Rollers as a member of the Bon-Ton Burlesquers. She apparently did one season as a High Roller then split, subsequently touring/making appearances with Robbie’s Knickebocker Burlesquers, Al Reeves Beauty Show, and Watson’s Oriental Burlesquers. In April of 1906, Mamie Lamb or her manager Ivan L. Davis placed an ad in The New York Clipper advertising her services.

An April 1906 advertisement placed by Mamie Lamb or her manager: AT LIBERTY Coming Season, / MISS MAMIE LAMB / Good All Around Character Woman. Made good everywhere with my "Old Maid" character. Also with my "Chappie." With Mr. Watson three seasons. Stock and road. Address all coummincations (t)o my permanent address, 1664 CARROLL AVE., CHICAGO, ILL., care of IVAN L. DAVIS.

That’s chappie

Mamie Lamb’s last know archived whereabouts in the trades was a September 1907 appearance in Variety as party to a lawsuit brought about by the aggrieved wife of her paramour (2). In the article Mamie is referred to as “Mrs. Charles Spaulding” of Brooklyn.

The High Rollers were still listed as a touring burlesque route in the April 23rd, 1915 issue of Variety. The last mention I can find for The High Rollers is a quick drop in the February 4th, 1921 issue of Variety, playing at the Baltimore Folly as a “stock burlesque.”

You can of course get large digital copies of each of these High Rollers burlesque posters free at the Library of Congress (the poster images link to the relevant pages). Additionally, you can order prints of the posters from the Library of Congress. Independent printing firms also make offerings online of the various burlesque posters available at the Library of Congress, and the prices at some of these concerns is much lower than the Library of Congress. At some point I’d like to look into this, compare quality and whatnot.

You can cheerfully ignore the online retailers offering digital copies of the posters for hundreds of dollars (or any amount of money). They are scam artists.

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