What comes to mind when you hear the name Madame Nora? I picture a woman, draped in colorful fabrics and jangling bracelets, reading my fortune over a crystal ball or channeling spirits at a séance. The real Madame Nora was a traveling entertainer who used glass in her act, but there were no thumping chairs or dire predictions. Instead, she conjured fantastical sculptures, like the animals and ships pictured on this broadside. Nora, billed as “the only lady glass artist in the profession,” led a troupe of touring glassmakers for several decades. They demonstrated their flameworking skills to curious onlookers, and every paying guest went home with a present.
This broadside advertised a show in April (possibly 1876) and featuring Nora; Mr. Oliver Lock, “the prince of glass blowers”; Mr. Wm. Allen, “the youngest and most talented artist before the public”; Prof. Thos. Edwards, “glass worker and descriptive lecturer”; and Mr. T.J. Jordan, “glass spinner and weaver.” General Garfield, their glass steam engine, was on display and the audience watched a practical demonstration on how to silver glass. As an added bonus, Saturday’s entertainment included a Baby Show (basically a contest to decide the town’s most beautiful baby). What more could a 19th-century entertainment-seeker want?
While the show boasted an impressive lineup, my eye was caught by the tiny type that appears all the way at the bottom of the broadside. Not only was Madame Nora the group’s headliner, she was also the “Sole Proprietress” (a.k.a. – the head honcho), an unusual role in an era when women had limited rights and career opportunities.
The troupe’s lineup changed over the years – a paper from 1888 shows Nora and William Allen along with three new faces – but they continued to tour into the 20th century. Thanks to the survival of this broadside, part of her story is preserved in the Library.
What’s a broadside?
Generally, a broadside is a large piece of paper with a message or announcement printed on one side. Broadsides featured many types of information, including advertisements, proclamations, and poetry. They were often created for a specific purpose, like Madame Nora’s show in Stiner’s Hall, and were meant to be thrown away after they were no longer relevant. Think of concert posters plastered on the side of a building or flyers for a lost dog – timely in the moment, but eventually covered over by new posters or taken down when Spot is found. The temporary nature of these broadsides means we’re pretty lucky to have as many as we do.
Read about Scott, a traveling glassmaker in 1830s England.
The Rakow Research Library is open to the public 9 am to 5 pm every day. We encourage everyone to explore our collections in person or online. If you have questions or need help with your research, please use our Ask a Glass Question service.