19th Century playbills


Free Library of Philadelphia: Rare Book Department
Call Number
Glase, Paul E.
19th Century playbills
Date [bulk]
Bulk, 1852-1902
Date [inclusive]
29.25 Linear feet 117 volumes (many volumes are boxed)
The 19th Century playbills collection contains a range of material related to theater culture in nineteenth century Philadelphia and in selected other theaters across the northeastern United States. Researchers will find nineteenth century playbills from the following Philadelphia theaters: 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. There are also playbills from the Chestnut Street, Arch Street, and 11th Street opera houses. This collection contains an assortment of scrapbooks which include newspaper clippings, photographs, and reviews of actors and performances. The majority of scrapbooks were assembled by various theater enthusiasts; however ten were compiled by theater producer and director Paul E. Glase, who was active in the Philadelphia theater scene during the early twentieth century. Because the collection covers an extensive period of time, it would be extremely valuable to researchers interested in the history and evolution of theater in Philadelphia, especially the latter half of the nineteenth century. The scrapbooks also have considerable research value, as many include newspaper clippings and photographs of famous actors and actresses of the nineteenth century whose careers may not otherwise be extensively documented.
Cite as
[Description and date of item], [Box and folder number], 19th Century playbills, 1803-1939 (bulk, 1852-1902), Free Library of Philadelphia, Rare Book Department -- Theatre Collection.

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. (http://issuu.com/boxoffice/docs/boxoffice_012652-1)

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.

Publication Information:

Free Library of Philadelphia: Rare Book Department, 2010.06.22

Finding Aid Author:

Finding aid prepared by Megan Good and Forrest Wright


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.

Processing Information:

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.

Corporate Name(s)
  • Academy of Music (Philadelphia, Pa.).
  • Arch Street Theatre (Philadelphia, Pa.).
  • Chestnut Street Theatre (Philadelphia, Pa.).
  • National Theatre (Philadelphia, Pa.).
  • Walnut Street Theatre (Organization : Philadelphia, Pa.).
  • Clippings
  • Playbills
  • Scrapbooks
  • Souvenir programs
Geographic Name(s)
  • Philadelphia (Pa.)
  • Burlesque (Theater)
  • Comedy
  • Drama
  • Minstrel shows
  • Musicals
  • Performing arts
  • Theater
  • Vaudeville
  Date Box Volume
Playbills 1803-1915
11th Street Opera House (Sanford's Opera House) 1855-1862 1
11th Street Opera House (Sanford's Opera House) 1859-1871 2
11th Street Opera House (Sanford's Opera House) 1863 3
11th Street Opera House (Sanford's Opera House) 1863 September-1863 December 4
Academy of Music 1860-1895 5
Arch Street Opera House 1872-1878 6
Arch Street Theatre 1828-1849 7
Arch Street Theatre 1851 September 18-1852 December 31 8
Arch Street Theatre 1853 January 1-1853 May 31 9
Arch Street Theatre 1853 April 1-1853 December 19 10
Arch Street Theatre 1854-1858 11
Arch Street Theatre 1858 August-1859 May 12
Arch Street Theatre 1860-1899 13
Arch Street Theatre 1860 August 20-1860 December 29 14
Arch Street Theatre 1861 15
Arch Street Theatre 1861 January 1-1861 April 16
Arch Street Theatre 1861-1863 17
Arch Street Theatre 1863-1864 18
Arch Street Theatre 1864-1866 19
Arch Street Theatre 1866-1868 20
Arch Street Theatre 1867-1868 21
Arch Street Theatre 1869-1871 22
Arch Street Theatre 1871-1874 23
Arch Street Theatre 1874-1879 24
Arch Street Theatre 1876-1878 25
Arch Street Theatre 1879-1883 26
Arch Street Theatre 1883-1885 27
Arch Street Theatre 1885-1887 28
Arch Street Theatre 1887-1890 29
Broad Street Theatre 1880-1900 30
Chestnut Street Opera House (Fox's American Theatre) 1880-1899 31
Chestnut Street Theatre 1803-1827 32
Chestnut Street Theatre 1828 33
Chestnut Street Theatre 1829-1849 34
Chestnut Street Theatre 1851-1900 35
Chestnut Street Theatre 1876-1879 36-37
Chestnut Street Theatre 1876 January-1979 June 38-41
Dime Museums
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)
1842-1889 42
The Melodeon 1860-1861 43
Minstrels 1830s-1915 44
Minstrels 1860s-1870s 45
National Theatre, Circus, and Amphitheatre (Chestnut Street) 1842-1853 46
National Theatre (Walnut Street) 1854-1860 47
National Theatre (Walnut Street) 1861-1863 48
National Theatre (Walnut Street) 1880-1883 49
New York Bowery Theatre 1827-1828 50
New York Bowery Theatre 1828-1829 51
Philadelphia Theatre 1817-1818 52
Walnut Street Theatre 1820-1835 53
Walnut Street Theatre 1835 January-1849 November 54
Walnut Street Theatre 1850 June-1852 December 55
Walnut Street Theatre 1853 January-1862 March 56
Walnut Street Theatre
This box includes some Arch Street Theatre playbills from 1858-1859
1858-1859 57
Walnut Street Theatre 1862 September-1862 December 58
Walnut Street Theatre 1863 January-1863 December 59
Walnut Street Theatre 1864-1900 60
Walnut Street Theatre 1866 61
Walnut Street Theatre 1866-1867 62
Walnut Street Theatre 1868-1869 63
Walnut Street Theatre 1869-1870 64
Walnut Street Theatre 1870-1871 65
Walnut Street Theatre 1871-1872 66
Walnut Street Theatre 1874-1875 67
Walnut Street Theatre 1874, 1877-1878 68
Walnut Street Theatre 1875-1876 69
Walnut Street Theatre 1882-1883 70
Walnut Street Theatre 1883-1884 71
Walnut Street Theatre 1885-1886 72
Walnut Street Theatre 1886-1887 73
Walnut Street Theatre 1887-1888 74
Walnut Street Theatre 1880-1889 75
Walnut Street Theatre 1889-1890 76
Walnut Street Theatre 1890-1891 77
Walnut Street Theatre 1891-1892 78
Walnut Street Theatre 1892-1893 79
Walnut Street Theatre 1893-1894 80
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.
Philadelphia programs 1852-1939
1852-1876 81
1863-1933 82
1876 January-1876 August 83
1878-1887 84
1878-1892 85
1879-1923 86
1886-1890 87
1887-1893 88
1889-1890 89
1890-1891 90
1890 December-1891 December 91
1891 December-1892 April 92
1892 October-1893 March 93
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).
1890-1902 94
1893 March-1893 December 95
1893-1900 96
1894-1896 97
1894-1897 98
1894-1900 99
1894-1900 100
1895-1902 101
1895-1902 102
1896-1909 103
1896-1939 104
1897 September 4-1898 July 4 105
1898-1899 106
1899-1900 107
Paul E. Glase
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.
Minstrels undated 108
A-Bos undated 109
Bou-C undated 110
D-F undated 111
G-H undated 112
I-L undated 113
M-O undated 114
P-R undated 115
S-T undated 116
U-Z undated 117

Table of Contents

Expand All | Collapse All


Rare Book Department:
Third Floor, Central Library

Hours of Operation

Weekdays 9 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Tours of the department are available Monday through Friday at 11 a.m., or at other times by prior arrangement



About Finding Aids