Scope and Content
Title: Jay T. Last Collection of American Entertainment: Theatrical Broadsides and Playbills
Dates (inclusive): 1809-1923
Bulk dates: 1840-1890
Collection Number: priJLC_ENT_TBroadsides
Last, Jay T.
approximately 1,000 items in 39 oversized folders
The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.
Prints and Ephemera
1151 Oxford Road
San Marino, California 91108
Abstract: This collection contains approximately 1,000 printed 19th and early 20th century entertainment broadsides, playbills, and
related advertisements, and forms a subset within the
Jay T. Last American Entertainment Collection. These items date from 1809 to 1923, with the bulk spanning between 1840 and
1890, and publicize theatrical performances including plays, variety
entertainment such as minstrel, burlesque, and vaudeville shows, and optical displays such as dioramas, living statues, and
tableaus. Over 250 theaters primarily from the Northeastern United States are represented
in the collection, though there are also materials from theaters in the Midwestern, Southern, and Western United States, and
26 items from Canada, Ireland, England, and Scotland.
Finding aid last updated on January 6, 2014.
The collection is open to qualified researchers by prior application through the Reader Services Department. For more information,
please visit the Huntington's website:
In order to quote from, publish, or reproduce any of the visual materials, researchers must obtain formal permission from
the office of the Library Director.
Permission for publication is given on behalf of the Huntington as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to
include or imply permission of the
copyright holder, which must also be obtained.
[Item title, Call number]. Jay T. Last Collection of American Entertainment: Theatrical Broadsides and Playbills, The Huntington
Library, San Marino, California.
This collection forms part of the Jay T. Last Collection of Lithographic and Social History, which was
donated to the Huntington Library by Jay T. Last in 2005 as a gift in progress.
The bulk of the Theatrical Broadsides and Playbills was transferred to the Library between 2010 and 2012.
A majority of the playbills were originally compiled by American minstrel and variety show performer and theatrical manager
Al Emmett Fostell (1856-1920) as part of his extensive collection of historical theatrical memorabilia.
These items were acquired by Last in 2009 from Jack Bacon & Company.
The Jay T. Last Collection is an unparalleled archive of printed paper artifacts that documents American lithographic, social,
and business history. The collection began in the early 1970s when
physicist and Silicon Valley pioneer Jay Last moved to Southern California and started collecting citrus box labels he found
at local flea markets and rummage sales. As his collection grew,
Last realized that these labels conveyed important information about commercial printing, graphic design, and social history,
and he expanded his collection to include other forms
of American visual culture. Today this collection contains more than 185,000 lithographic prints, posters, and ephemera of
mostly nineteenth- and early twentieth- century American
origin and represents works by more than five hundred lithographic companies.
Related materials in the Huntington Library
Scope and Content
This collection contains approximately 1,000 printed 19th and early 20th century entertainment broadsides, playbills, and
related advertisements, and forms a subset within the Jay T. Last Collection of American Entertainment. These items
advertise theatrical performances including plays, variety entertainment such as minstrel, burlesque, and vaudeville shows,
and optical displays such as dioramas, living statues, and tableaus. Over 250 theaters primarily from
the Northeastern United States are represented in the collection, though there are also materials from theaters in the Midwestern,
Southern, and Western United States, and approximately 26 items from Canada, Ireland, England, and Scotland.
Theaters with the largest subsets include the Boston Museum (Boston, Massachusetts) with 120 items, Liberty Hall (New Bedford,
Massachusetts) with 96 items, Theatre Comique (New York, New York) with 66 items, and the
Troy Museum (Troy, New York) with 47 items.
The materials date from 1809 to 1923, with the bulk of the items spanning between 1840 and 1890. The earliest dated item in
the collection is an August 1809 playbill from the Lyceum Theatre in London, England;
the most recent item is a March 1923 broadside for the Hyperion Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut. Almost all of the items
are in English except for an Italian bill for the Teatro Italiano (New York, New York)
and a Spanish bill for the Gutierrez Show; there is also one bill for the Heywood Bros. Combination that has both English
and German text.
The materials range in size from approximately 9 ½ x 6 inches to 42 ½ x 14 inches and consist of single-sheet unfolded advertisements
for theatrical productions that were intended to be
distributed by hand, posted on walls, fences, or in windows, or sold to playgoers entering the theater. The printed text typically
includes the name of the theater and lists information about the play or entertainment,
names of performers, acts or scenes, dates and times of performances, and admission prices. Often the text publicized multiple
performances over the course of a day or a few days. Among the names given to these types of advertisements, according to
their size and mode of
distribution, are broadsides, dodgers, handbills, hangers, playbills, posters, and show bills. The notices in this collection
are primarily long, narrow broadsides printed on one side of newsprint
paper in black ink using letterpress type of varying fonts and size, though some have colored ink, colored paper, or woodcut
illustrations. More than 100 bills have illustrations, often consisting of head-and-shoulder portraits of show
proprietors or performers, depictions of performances by minstrel blackface entertainers and musicians, or scenes from plays
or variety show acts.
The items are grouped by theater and arranged in folders according to the geographic location of the theater, with the largest
number coming from theaters in the Northeast United States.
The states and foreign countries with theaters represented in the collection consist of:
- Northeast (805 items): Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island
- Midwest (62 items): Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, and Wisconsin
- South (61 items): Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and Washington,
- West (6 items): California and Colorado
- Foreign (26 items): Canada, Ireland, England, Scotland
There are also approximately thirty playbills focused on specific performers or shows without theater information, as well
as two playbills for unidentified locations.
Among the most commonly credited printers in the collection are Metropolitan Job Printing (New York, New York); Richardson
& Foos (New York, New York); Cameron & Co. (New York, New York);
C.L. Mac Arthur (Troy, New York); F.A. Searle (Boston, Massachusetts); Hooton’s Press (Boston, Massachusetts); and the Van
Benthuysen Printing House (Albany, New York).
The contents list below contains a brief entry for each item in the collection. All entries include the theater name and date
if known; some entries also include additional notes that typically indicate the presence of illustrations or minstrel troupes
featured in the text.
The collection is arranged in the following six series:
- Series I. Northeast
- Series II. Middle West
- Series III. South
- Series IV. West
- Series V. Foreign
- Series VI. Performer-based and Unidentified
The first four series are based on the four geographic regions of the United States recognized by the United States Census
Individual items within series are arranged alphabetically first by state and then by city and theater name, and described
in the following format:
- Theater, Date
- Printer (when identified)
- Item notes (when applicable)
Actresses -- Portraits.
Blackface entertainers -- Pictorial works.
Minstrel shows -- Pictorial works.
Theater -- United States -- History -- 19th century -- Sources.
Theater -- United States -- History -- 20th century -- Sources.