Skip to main content
COLLECTION Identifier: MS Thr 425

Nathan Appell papers


Business records of the American theater owner and manager Nathan Appell.


  • Creation: 1897-1955
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1911-1920

Language of Materials

Collection materials are in English and Hebrew.

Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on physical access to this material.

Boxes 1-46, which form the majority of this collection, are housed offsite at the Harvard Depository. Boxes 47-55 are shelved in the Pusey library. Retrieval requires advance notice. Readers should check with Houghton Public Services staff to determine what material is offsite and retrieval policies and times.


52 linear feet (55 boxes)

The Nathan Appell papers consist primarily of his business records, dating from 1897 to 1955, though the bulk of the materials date 1911-1920. Material dating after Nathan Appell's death was likely collected by his son Louis J. Appell.

Correspondence to and from Appell is voluminous and elaborates in great detail his many business interests in the theatrical and bill posting arenas. While much of it is impersonal business correspondence, Appell's letters to his stock company managers, senior employees, and some of the performers he hired show in great detail how personalities and finances shaped each season. The correspondence section is broken into general business correspondence and the correspondence of the Central Managers Association. The former is arranged topically and covers a range of subjects, from booking to Appell's touring companies. The latter is grouped according to Appell's own state and regional designations, with the business of the Executive Committee filed separately. As the Secretary of the Association, Nathan Appell was responsible for recruiting and answering membership inquiries. Correspondence also discusses the political action of the Association. The file marked "Family" (Box 38, Folder 19) contains approximately twenty letters to and from Appell, and while not numerous, the letters are personal and frank and reveal much about Appell family relationships in the mid to late 1910s.

The ledgers and datebooks give a quick picture of the financial status of Appell's interests, as well as of the acts and productions of the time. Financial records consist of box office statements, receipts, deposit slips and checkbooks. These relate primarily to Nathan Appell's theatrical stock companies in Malden and Somerville, Massachusetts, and to a lesser degree, his other various financial interests. These financial records and the contracts in a later series document well the outfitting and use of Appell's theater buildings, and his constantly changing staff of performers and support personnel.

The show reports generated for the Wilmer and Vincent Company and the Central Managers Association provide an evaluation of the various acts on a night's bill. These range in date from 1914 to 1919 and review shows at the York Opera House, the Orpheum at Reading, the Colonial and Majestic at Harrisburg, and the Orpheum at Altoona.

The Appell Collection also includes programs, scripts and sides, acting editions, photographs (generally of New York productions, used for publicity), motion picture heralds, catalogs, and industry directories.

Biographical / Historical

Nathan Appell was perhaps the best known theatrical man in Pennsylvania during his lifetime. Appell was born in 1869, and died at his home in York, Pennsylvania on May 24, 1928. During his career he owned and managed a number of theatres throughout Pennsylvania, put out several touring companies, and established theatrical stock companies in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts. In addition to these responsibilities, Appell was the Manager of the Harrisburg Advertising Company and the York Poster Advertising Company, the secretary of the Central Managers Association, a 32nd degree Mason, and member of the Friar's Club and the Elks.

Nathan Appell began his career in Harrisburg, where he was responsible for building and managing both the Lyceum Theatre (later named the Orpheum) and the Majestic Theatre. He was also the manager of the Opera House in that city, giving him something of a monopoly in the town. His interests and involvement with the Wilmer and Vincent Theatre Company eventually led to the management of theatres in Allentown, Shenandoah, Reading, Pottsville, Lebanon, Norristown, Carlisle, Hanover, Red Lion, and Lancaster.

Beginning in 1897 Nathan Appell managed several touring companies, including the King Dramatic Company, and the Cameron Clemens Company. In 1902 he established the Highland Park Stock Company at York, Pennsylvania. Soon after he installed stock companies in Utica, New York: and in Pennsylvania at Williamsport, Altoona, and Harrisburg. Appell also managed tours of the Allen Stock Company, Miss Helen Grayce (Mrs. Nathan Appell), the Grayce-Chatterdon Company, and the Arthur Chatterdon Company. In 1915 Nathan Appell formed stock companies at the Temple Theatre in Malden, Massachusetts, and at the newly built Somerville Theatre in Somerville.

Appell appears to have been involved in theatrical advertising as early as 1902, when he served as advertising agent for the Harrisburg production of J. H. Pain's "The Last Days of Pompeii." Eventually, he became manager of both the York Poster Advertising Company and the Hanover Poster Advertising Company.

Nathan Appell served as treasurer for the Central Managers Association from 1918 to 1920. This organization served as a voice for the interests of the managers of houses across the United States which played one night stands. After two years, the CMA was absorbed into the International Theatrical Association.


Organized into the following series:

  1. I. Correspondence
  2. ___A. General Correspondence
  3. ___B. Central Managers Association
  4. II. Datebooks and ledgers
  5. III. Financial records
  6. ___A. Box Office Statements
  7. ___B. General Statements
  8. ___C. Expenses
  9. ___D. Savings and Checking Accounts
  10. IV. Contracts
  11. V. Show reports
  12. VI. Programs
  13. VII. Scripts and sides
  14. VIII. Acting editions
  15. IX. Publicity materials
  16. ___A. Production Photographs
  17. ___B. Window Cards
  18. ___C. Miscellaneous
  19. ___D. Heralds
  20. ___E. Miscellaneous Publicity
  21. X. Catalogs and directories.
  22. ___A. Catalogs
  23. ___B. Directories

Physical Location

Harvard Depository

Physical Location


Immediate Source of Acquisition

2003MT-235. 93-94.076. Gift of Louis J. Appell, Jr., Nathan Appell's grandson, in 1993. One small addition to the collection was made in January of 1994.

General note

The majority of this collection (but not all) is shelved offsite at the Harvard Depository. See access restrictions below for additional information.

Processing Information

Approximately 75 documents in the Appell Papers arrived at the Theatre Collection damaged by water and mildew. These documents were replaced by photocopies made on acid-free paper; the originals were discarded. Revised 3 March 2004.

At one time, a Box 56 was listed, it is missing as of May 2009, and should be noted that it is not mentioned in the folder listing below.

Processing Information

This finding aid was revised in 2021 to contextualize racist, outdated, and harmful descriptive language. During that revision, contextual historical notes were added to files related to the play Squaw Man, a 1905 play. If you have questions or comments about these revisions, please contact Houghton Library. For more information on reparative archival description at Harvard, see Harvard Library’s Statement on Harmful Language in Archival Description.

Appell, Nathan, 1869-1928. Nathan Appell papers, 1897-1955: Guide.
Houghton Library, Harvard College Library
Language of description
Support for the processing of the Appell Papers was provided by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Repository Details

Part of the Houghton Library Repository

Houghton Library is Harvard College's principal repository for rare books and manuscripts, archives, and more. Houghton Library's collections represent the scope of human experience from ancient Egypt to twenty-first century Cambridge. With strengths primarily in North American and European history, literature, and culture, collections range in media from printed books and handwritten manuscripts to maps, drawings and paintings, prints, posters, photographs, film and audio recordings, and digital media, as well as costumes, theater props, and a wide range of other objects. Houghton Library has historically focused on collecting the written record of European and Eurocentric North American culture, yet it holds a large and diverse number of primary sources valuable for research on the languages, culture and history of indigenous peoples of the Americas, Africa, Asia and Oceania.

Houghton Library’s Reading Room is free and open to all who wish to use the library’s collections.

Harvard Yard
Harvard University
Cambridge MA 02138 USA
(617) 495-2440