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COLLECTION Identifier: MS Thr 1835

Harvard Theatre Collection popular entertainment playbills, posters, prints, and clippings


Contains depictions of popular entertainment including circuses, equestrian and acrobatic acts, automata, processions, pageants, tableaux, puppetry, commedia dell'arte, Harlequinade and pantomime, and burlesque performances, including advertisements, playbills, posters, programs, printed illustrations, and newspaper clippings.


  • 1618-1979
  • Majority of material found within 1805-1895


Language of Materials

French, English, German, Italian, Latin, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research.

A portion of this collection is fragile, but is still open for research. Please use additional caution when handling.(Those items are contained in drawers P1.C2.02.17-P1.C2.02.19 and P1.C2.03.04-P1.C2.03.08.)

A portion of this collection is shelved offsite at the Harvard Depository. Retrieval requires advance notice. Readers should check with Houghton Public Services staff to determine what material is offsite and retrieval policies and times.


23.68 linear feet (4 flat boxes and 595 oversize folders)
Contains playbills, posters, prints, and clippings from various forms of popular entertainment collected by the Harvard Theatre Collection over time. The bulk of materials relate to the promotion of nineteenth century circuses, variety shows, sideshows, exhibitions, and similar performances, including equestrian and animal acts, menageries and zoological exhibitions, automata exhibitions, and shows involving people with disabilities. Further materials relate to tableaux, pageants, and processions, including photographs and clippings related to the funeral procession of Queen Victoria of England. A collection of material related to Astley’s Amphitheatre includes a remnant of sheet music burned in the fire of 1841. Further materials promote nineteenth century tableaux, panoramas and dioramas, as well as seventeenth century harlequinade and commedia dell’arte materials. Additional posters include those featuring burlesque performances of the late nineteenth century, including traditional burlesques, vaudeville, and fairy revels. Some materials were promotional materials for minstrel shows and similar performances by African Americans or depicting interpretations of African American and other minority groups' cultures.

Most of the materials included are promotional playbills or posters, along with programs and prints, some of which were likely commemorative. Additional materials including related newspaper clippings, illustrated magazine articles, and costume designs. The materials are primarily in English but also in French, German, Italian, Latin, Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch, and were the products of popular entertainment activities throughout the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries across the United States and much of Europe. A few items relate to circuses and other performances in the twentieth century, mainly in the first three decades.

Biographical / Historical

The Harvard Theatre Collection was founded in 1901 through the efforts of Professor George Pierce Baker, and collects documentary materials pertaining to the history of the performing arts, including theatre, dance and ballet, and opera and musical theatre, among other areas. The popular entertainment materials have been collected through donations and purchases throughout the history of the Harvard Theatre Collection.


Arranged in loose groupings by type of popular entertainment, as organized prior to processing by Harvard Theatre Collection staff members.

Physical Location

Harvard Depository, pfd (P1.C2.02.11 - P1.C2.02.19 [Folders 1-438, 568-576, 593-594]), ppf (P1.C2.02.20 - P1.C2.03.08 [Folders 439-567, 576-582], P1.C4.01.04, Folders 583-592]) (Note: all items in drawers P1.C2.02.17-P1.C2.02.19 and P1.C2.03.04-P1.C2.03.08 are fragile: restricted.)

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Various gifts and purchases, various dates. Known acquisition information is noted in the file description.

Processing Information

Processed by Betts Coup, 2018 August.
Processing Information Historical titles have been used to describe items and folders of related items, and may include offensive, racist, pejorative, ableist, innacurate, and troubling terminology. Those titles are derived from the production names and were used in order to provide access for those searching for specific productions or shows. General groupings were described by the processing archivist without using historical language.
Link to catalog
Harvard Theatre Collection. Harvard Theatre Collection popular entertainment playbills, posters, prints, and clippings, 1618-1979 (inclusive), 1805-1895 (bulk) (MS Thr 1835): Guide.
Houghton Library, Harvard University.
2018 August 13
Description rules
Language of description
Finding aid written in English.

Repository Details

Part of the Houghton Library Repository

Houghton Library is Harvard College's principal repository for rare books and manuscripts, literary and performing arts archives, and more. The library's holdings of primary source material are managed by an expert staff and shared with scholars, students and the public in the reading room.

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