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19th Century playbills


Held at: Free Library of Philadelphia: Rare Book Department [Contact Us]Philadelphia, PA, 19103

This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the Free Library of Philadelphia: Rare Book Department. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.

Overview and metadata sections

Theater in Philadelphia has a long history, extending at least as far back as 1766 with the construction of the Southwark Theatre, which was located on South (then Cedar) Street, close to the waterfront. Since that time, the city has developed a rich theatrical heritage that included the establishment of theater troupes and the construction of new theaters throughout the city. Of note was the Chestnut Street Theatre, nicknamed as “Old Drury,” the Walnut Street Theatre, Arch Street Theatre, and the Academy of Music. Philadelphians enjoyed a wide breadth of popular entertainment at those theaters including, but not limited to, burlesque shows, minstrel shows, vaudeville, melodramas, comedies, and musical shows. In the mid 1800s, “Philadelphians loved ephemeral pieces based on contemporary life. At least thirty-seven plays, produced between 1841 and 1854, had the name of Philadelphia in their titles…” (Weigle, p. 342).

Paul E. Glase (born 1885) was an avid collector of early American playbills and materials relating to the history of the entertainment world. He is one of the best known directors and producers of amateur productions in the greater Philadelphia area. Glase started his entertainment career as an extra at the turn of the 20th century and later gravitated towards theater management. He was a manager of Wilmer & Vincent’s Embassy in Reading, PA, the State and Capitol theaters, and a press agent for the Hippodrome, Princess, Empire, Pictureland, Grand, Palace, and Orpheum Theatres. Glase also wrote for The Historical Review of Berks County and issued an annual pamphlet, “Lest We Forget,” in 1938 that contained brief reviews of careers of show people who died the previous year.


Weigle, Russel, editor. Philadelphia: A 300 Year History. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1982.

“History of Theatre in Collection of Showbills.” Box Office, January 26, 1952. 48-49. (

The 19th Century Playbills collection contains over 100,000 playbills dating from 1803 to 1899. The majority of playbills in the collection are from Philadelphia theaters, but there are also selected playbills from New York and other cities in the Northeastern United States.The collection also includes 26 scrapbooks which document the theater culture of Philadelphia from 1852 to 1939.

The “Playbills” series, 1803-1899, houses playbills from Philadelphia theaters including: the Walnut Street Theatre, the Academy of Music, the Arch Street Theatre, the Chestnut Street Theatre, National Theatre (Walnut Street), the National Theatre (Chestnut Street), the Melodeon, and the Continental Theatre. The series also contains playbills from the Chestnut Street, Arch Street, and 11th Street opera houses; and advertising sheets for several local museums, including the City Museum, Colonel Wood's Museum, and the Dime Museum.

The “Scrapbooks” series, 1852-1939, consists of two sets of theatrical scrapbooks. The first, “Philadelphia Programs,” is a set of 16 scrapbooks that documents the history of Philadelphia theater through playbills, articles, and illustrations of actors and actresses clipped from popular magazines. These volumes cover the period 1852 to 1939.

The other set of scrapbooks, “Paul E. Glase scrapbooks,” were compiled and donated to the Free Library of Philadelphia by Paul E. Glase. These ten scrapbooks are arranged alphabetically by actor and actress, and include playbills, programs, articles, and magazine illustrations. The Glase scrapbooks include materials from Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Baltimore, and Washington D.C.

With the exception of the Glase scrapbooks, most items in the collection are included in the Theatre Collection's Philadelphia Theatre Index, which chronicles where and when professional productions played in Philadelphia between 1855 and 2000.

The collection is arranged in two series: I. Playbills; and II. Scrapbooks. Series I is arranged alphabetically by theater. Series II is divided into two subseries: i. Philadelphia programs is arranged chronologically; ii. Paul E. Glase is arranged alphabetically by actor or actress's last name.

This collection was minimally processed in 2009-2011, as part of an experimental project conducted under the auspices of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries to help eliminate processing backlog in Philadelphia repositories. A minimally processed collection is one processed at a less intensive rate than traditionally thought necessary to make a collection ready for use by researchers. When citing sources from this collection, researchers are advised to defer to folder titles provided in the finding aid rather than those provided on the physical folder.

Employing processing strategies outlined in Mark Greene's and Dennis Meissner's 2005 article, More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Processing Approaches to Deal With Late 20th-Century Collections, the project team tested the limits of minimal processing on collections of all types and ages, in 23 Philadelphia area repositories. A primary goal of the project, the team processed at an average rate of 2-3 hours per linear foot of records, a fraction of the time ordinarily reserved for the arrangement and description of collections. Among other time saving strategies, the project team did not extensively review the content of the collections, replace acidic folders or complete any preservation work.

Free Library of Philadelphia: Rare Book Department
Finding Aid Author
Finding aid prepared by Megan Good and Forrest Wright
Finding Aid Date
The processing of this collection was made possible through generous funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, administered through the Council on Library and Information Resources’ “Cataloging Hidden Special Collections and Archives” Project.
Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research use.

Use Restrictions

The right of access to material does not imply the right of publication. Permission for reprinting, reproduction, or extensive quotation from the rare books, manuscripts, prints or drawings must be obtained through written application, stating the use to be made of the material.

The reader bears the responsibility for any possible infringement of copyright laws in the publication of such material.

A reproduction fee will be charged if the material is to be reproduced in a commercial publication.

Collection Inventory

11th Street Opera House (Sanford's Opera House), 1855-1862.
Box 1
11th Street Opera House (Sanford's Opera House), 1859-1871.
Box 2
11th Street Opera House (Sanford's Opera House), 1863.
Box 3
11th Street Opera House (Sanford's Opera House), 1863 September-1863 December.
Box 4
Academy of Music, 1860-1895.
Box 5
Arch Street Opera House, 1872-1878.
Box 6
Arch Street Theatre, 1828-1849.
Box 7
Arch Street Theatre, 1851 September 18-1852 December 31.
Box 8
Arch Street Theatre, 1853 January 1-1853 May 31.
Box 9
Arch Street Theatre, 1853 April 1-1853 December 19.
Box 10
Arch Street Theatre, 1854-1858.
Box 11
Arch Street Theatre, 1858 August-1859 May.
Volume 12
Arch Street Theatre, 1860-1899.
Box 13
Arch Street Theatre, 1860 August 20-1860 December 29.
Volume 14
Arch Street Theatre, 1861.
Volume 15
Arch Street Theatre, 1861 January 1-1861 April.
Volume 16
Arch Street Theatre, 1861-1863.
Box 17
Arch Street Theatre, 1863-1864.
Box 18
Arch Street Theatre, 1864-1866.
Box 19
Arch Street Theatre, 1866-1868.
Box 20
Arch Street Theatre, 1867-1868.
Box 21
Arch Street Theatre, 1869-1871.
Box 22
Arch Street Theatre, 1871-1874.
Box 23
Arch Street Theatre, 1874-1879.
Box 24
Arch Street Theatre, 1876-1878.
Box 25
Arch Street Theatre, 1879-1883.
Box 26
Arch Street Theatre, 1883-1885.
Box 27
Arch Street Theatre, 1885-1887.
Box 28
Arch Street Theatre, 1887-1890.
Box 29
Broad Street Theatre, 1880-1900.
Box 30
Chestnut Street Opera House (Fox's American Theatre), 1880-1899.
Box 31
Chestnut Street Theatre, 1803-1827.
Box 32
Chestnut Street Theatre, 1828.
Box 33
Chestnut Street Theatre, 1829-1849.
Box 34
Chestnut Street Theatre, 1851-1900.
Box 35
Chestnut Street Theatre, 1876-1879.
Volume 36-37
Chestnut Street Theatre, 1876 January-1979 June.
Volume 38-41
Dime Museums, 1842-1889.
Box 42
Scope and Contents note

This box contains playbills from the following museums: American Museum (1871), Barnum's Museum (undated), Broadway Theatre (1852), The City Museum (1854-1889), Colonel Wood's Museum (1872-1883), Forepaugh's Theatre and Museum (1886), Frazier's Museum and Theatre (1887), The Great European Museum (undated), Long's Museum (1859), Peale's Museum (1847), and Philadelphia Museum (1842-1849)

The Melodeon, 1860-1861.
Box 43
Minstrels, 1830s-1915.
Box 44
Minstrels, 1860s-1870s.
Box 45
National Theatre, Circus, and Amphitheatre (Chestnut Street), 1842-1853.
Box 46
National Theatre (Walnut Street), 1854-1860.
Box 47
National Theatre (Walnut Street), 1861-1863.
Box 48
National Theatre (Walnut Street), 1880-1883.
Volume 49
New York Bowery Theatre, 1827-1828.
Volume 50
New York Bowery Theatre, 1828-1829.
Volume 51
Philadelphia Theatre, 1817-1818.
Volume 52
Walnut Street Theatre, 1820-1835.
Box 53
Location note

Walnut Street boxes and volumes can be found on top of the filing cabinet adjacent to the other playbills.

Walnut Street Theatre, 1835 January-1849 November.
Box 54
Walnut Street Theatre, 1850 June-1852 December.
Box 55
Walnut Street Theatre, 1853 January-1862 March.
Box 56
Walnut Street Theatre, 1858-1859.
Box 57
Scope and Contents note

This box includes some Arch Street Theatre playbills from 1858-1859

Walnut Street Theatre, 1862 September-1862 December.
Box 58
Walnut Street Theatre, 1863 January-1863 December.
Box 59
Walnut Street Theatre, 1864-1900.
Box 60
Walnut Street Theatre, 1866.
Volume 61
Walnut Street Theatre, 1866-1867.
Volume 62
Walnut Street Theatre, 1868-1869.
Volume 63
Walnut Street Theatre, 1869-1870.
Volume 64
Walnut Street Theatre, 1870-1871.
Volume 65
Walnut Street Theatre, 1871-1872.
Volume 66
Walnut Street Theatre, 1874-1875.
Volume 67
Walnut Street Theatre, 1874, 1877-1878.
Volume 68
Walnut Street Theatre, 1875-1876.
Volume 69
Walnut Street Theatre, 1882-1883.
Volume 70
Walnut Street Theatre, 1883-1884.
Volume 71
Walnut Street Theatre, 1885-1886.
Volume 72
Walnut Street Theatre, 1886-1887.
Volume 73
Walnut Street Theatre, 1887-1888.
Volume 74
Walnut Street Theatre, 1880-1889.
Volume 75
Walnut Street Theatre, 1889-1890.
Volume 76
Walnut Street Theatre, 1890-1891.
Volume 77
Walnut Street Theatre, 1891-1892.
Volume 78
Walnut Street Theatre, 1892-1893.
Volume 79
Walnut Street Theatre, 1893-1894.
Volume 80

Scope and Contents note

Researchers should be aware that dates provided for the scrapbooks are approximate. Though not always noted, processors noticed clippings from as late as the 1960s intermingled with clippings and other materials from the late 19th centry.

Volume 81
Volume 82
1876 January-1876 August.
Box 83
Volume 84
Box 85
Volume 86
Box 87
Box 88
Box 89
Box 90
1890 December-1891 December.
Box 91
1891 December-1892 April.
Box 92
1892 October-1893 March.
Box 93
Volume 94
Scope and Contents note

Material from the following theatres can be found in this scrapbook: Broad Street Theatre (1890-1895), Grand Opera House (1892-1894), Chestnut Street Theatre (1890-1900), Walnut Street Theatre (1899, 1901), Chestnut Street Opera House (1893-1900), and the Garrick Theatre (1902).

1893 March-1893 December.
Box 95
Box 96
Box 97
Box 98
Box 99
Volume 100
Box 101
Volume 102
Box 103
Box 104
1897 September 4-1898 July 4.
Volume 105
Volume 106
Box 107
Arrangement note

The Paul E. Glase subseries is arranged according to its original order, first with "Minstrels" then arranged alphabetically by actor and actress's last name.

Location note

Paul E. Glase scrapbooks can be found in the walk-in closet by the front door of the Theatre Collection.

Minstrels, undated.
Box 108
A-Bos, undated.
Box 109
Bou-C, undated.
Box 110
D-F, undated.
Box 111
G-H, undated.
Box 112
I-L, undated.
Box 113
M-O, undated.
Box 114
P-R, undated.
Box 115
S-T, undated.
Box 116
U-Z, undated.
Box 117

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