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The Collation

A "lost" drawing by Ellen Terry

Is it possible to lose something you never had? The other day I managed to “lose” a 1905 sketch of a theater interior by actress Ellen Terry (1847-1928). I had caught a glimpse of it when sorting through a small group of recently acquired letters, and was looking forward to having a closer look later.

Drawing that appear at first glance to be a theater interior

Detail of Folger Y.c.7366 (9), page 2. Photo by Erin Blake.

As far as I could tell in a glance, it was either a rough sketch looking out from the stage, like this 1768 engraving of the Amsterdam Schouwburg by Simon Fokke (1712-1784):

Engraving of theater interior looking from the stage to the audience

Folger ART File A528.5 no.16. Click the photo for the link to Luna.

…or it was a rough sketch looking towards the stage, like Simon Fokke’s companion engraving of the same theater:

Engraving of theater interior looking to the stage from the audience

Folger ART File A528.5 no.17. Click the photo for the link to Luna.

I didn’t want to interrupt my sorting, though, so anticipation about the mystery theater kept building. Finally, I was able to return to the letter, and examine the drawing more closely.

But as it turned out, I did not have a sketch of a theater interior. Instead, I had an object lesson in the unreliability of eyewitnesses, and a sketch of a “handsome old fireplace”:

Drawing of a fireplace that looks, at first glance, to be a theater interior

Folger Y.c.7366 (9), page 2. Photo by Erin Blake

The letter was addressed to Ellen Terry’s friend and neighbor Kate Padgett, and is written on four tiny sheets of thin paper:

4-page letter from Ellen Terry to Kate Padgett; transcription in body of text, below.

Folger Y.c.7366 (9), pages 1-4. Photo by Erin Blake

It reads as follows:

215 Kings Rd. 29th Mar [1905]
Thanks my dear Katharine
for sending off the tiles
so promptly. I enclose
cheque £3-6-0. for them.
I want them for my Drawing-room
which I am having cleaned up
a bit. I wonder have you a

handsome old fire-place?
This kind of
thing. Mine
is a beauty.
Iron back
steel base
& brass front–
but it is

so enormous! I gave
only £6 for it 2 year ago
It came from Ham House.
If I c[oul]d find one like it
smaller I’d like to exchange
it — There are many modern
reproductions but oh, they are
not like mine. I guess
I shall have to put up
with my big real one.
Play comes out on
the 5th & I’m feeling
awful. You must come soon
after it is out. A small
theatre & for 1st night

I find it’s impossible to get
more than 4 seats.
Love to Nell — & to
Kate!! & again thanks
for sending so quick
quick.  Y[ou]rs affec[tionate]ly,

Consolation for losing a sketch of a theater (though gaining one of a fireplace) comes from the fact that Ellen Terry also wasn’t seeing things right. She went to great lengths to try to squeeze her letter onto the last page, turning the sheet of paper sideways to use up every last bit of space.

Handwritten page crammed with writing, some of it sideways. Small portion at upper left is actually on the page below.

Folger Y.c.7366 (9), page 3, with portion of page 4 circled at upper left. Photo by Erin Blake

Then she realized she actually had two sheets stuck together, as revealed by the way the blotches of ink in the upper left of the last page match up to the sideways word “awful” on the previous page. Thus, the strangely spacious writing of the true final page.

And who knows, maybe Ellen Terry also thought her fireplace looked like a theater interior?


Given the Folger’s rich resources, I suspect we’ve all had that frustrating experience of noticing something significant in our research there, neglecting to make a note about it, then struggling to find it again!

Richard M. Waugaman, M.D. — August 16, 2018

That’s the silver lining here: it’s not that I couldn’t find it again, it’s that the drawing was a fireplace the whole time. It’s just my eyes paying tricks on me from having seen many more drawings of theater interiors than fireplaces.

Erin Blake — August 17, 2018

On the other hand, a new version of “I can’t find it again” has emerged over the past few years: I “note” discoveries I can’t follow up on right away by snapping a photo on my phone, with the call number flag showing….. and then later I struggle to find the photo.

Erin Blake — August 17, 2018