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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, and Harlequinade and pantomime, 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

A portion of this collection is fragile: restricted. (Those items are contained in drawers P1.C2.02.17-P1.C2.02.19 and P1.C2.03.04-P1.C2.03.08.) Consult curatorial staff to see any restricted items, which are noted in the file description. The remaining portion of the collection is open for research.


9 linear feet (4 flat boxes and 566 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. Further materials promote nineteenth century tableaux, panoramas and dioramas, as well as seventeenth century harlequinade and commedia dell’arte materials.

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

b, pfd (P1.C2.02.11 - P1.C2.02.19 [Folders 1-438]), ppf (P1.C2.02.20 - P1.C2.03.08 [Folders 439-567]) (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.
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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