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The Collation

Folger Collections related to Dramatic Performance

In hopes that we can help theater historians discover more about relevant Folger holdings through their own explorations, we have created this post on “named” collections at the Folger that relate to actors, dramatic performance, and the texts used by actors to stage drama. We hope it elucidates some of the “librarian’s short-hand” that we started to demystify in a previous post. 

Theatrical Promptbooks and Play Texts

Theater historians probably already know that we have some 1,800 theatrical promptbooks and marked-up play texts from the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries. Most of the Folger promptbooks are restricted—in part due to their fragility—but many of them have recently been digitized in a collection called “Shakespeare in Performance” by Adam Matthew Digital. While there are some subscription-related restrictions on using these promptbooks off-site, part of the digitizing agreement was that all of these promptbooks are freely accessible to on-site users. (Interested scholars should consider applying for a Folger fellowship or read about becoming a reader.)


The Folger holds the world’s largest and most comprehensive collection relating to David Garrick’s life and work, including thousands of pages of correspondence. Garrick was among the first celebrity actors of the English stage, and certainly the biggest Shakespeare promoter of his day, as researchers at the Folger have documented and exhibited. Our collection includes some of Garrick’s personal promptbooks.

One of David Garrick’s promptbooks (Prompt Ham. 16). Image from Luna.

Researchers may also find playbills associated with Garrick and his theater in our finding aids.

Henderson Playbill Collection

Supplementing scholars’ understanding of early theater and performance is the William Henderson collection of over 7,000 playbills concerning music on the British stage—which of course includes Shakespeare. This collection also features stage adaptations of Sir Walter Scott’s works and Scottish plays (including plays with Scottish characters).

Playbill from Edinburgh Theatre Royal. Image from Luna.

In the early 1990s, Dr. Barbara Bell used early digital tools to analyze the Waverly-related portion of the Henderson collection. Her research and findings have been added to Folgerpedia.

Other playbills have been categorized by their place of origin with collection-level records. For more on ways to find playbills by region, read our Folgerpedia article on the subject.

Babette Craven Collection of Theatrical Memorabilia

When Babette Craven donated her extensive collection of theatrical memorabilia to the Folger in the 1990s, she added another 500 playbills to our holdings. Begin your research here for more background on the contents and context of this collection.

This superb donation meant that we also had to devise ways to house almost 300 porcelain figurines—along with over 600 images—depicting famous actors from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in their signature poses. Fortunately, the gift came with the means to create a state-of-the-art art vault in which to store and preserve them!

Thomas McCall Shakespeare Collection

Thomas C. McCall was a lifelong Shakespeare teacher, enthusiast, and careful collector of porcelain statuary. His donation of almost 300 Shakespearean and theatrical porcelains represents a high-quality and wide-ranging object history of theatrical memorabilia. Thanks to McCall, we are able to study multiple examples such as these representations of Richard III, which allow us to understand theater history, popular culture and celebrity, and the commercialization of art.

David Garrick flatbacks. Image from Luna.

One of the depictions of Shakespeare that doesn’t show him leaning on a pedestal piled with books can be found in the McCall Collection.

William Shakespeare spelterware figure. Image from Luna.

Robert Hamilton Ball Collection

Robert Hamilton Ball, film critic and late chair of the English department of Queens College-CUNY, donated many items from his personal library to help the Folger build our modern holdings of scholarship on Shakespeare in film. Often, the hard-to-find titles include his marginal notes. Many of these holdings contributed to this author’s research for his influential monograph, Shakespeare on Silent Film (1968). By selecting the “Browse” function in Hamnet, and conducting a “Name Browse” of “Ball, Robert Hamilton,” researchers can begin looking through some of the collection under the “Former owner” heading.

More significantly, the Folger holds Ball’s archive of personal interview notes, photographs, magazine articles, reviews, and film ephemera relating to Shakespeare film adaptations at the Folger. This collection includes film stills, programs, and other publicity, plus a number of screenplays, and about 1,500 handwritten index cards (arranged by film).

Peggy Cass and Carl Fisher Collection of tinsel prints

During the mid- to late-nineteenth century, print sellers manufactured juvenile drama memorabilia that allowed young people to color and decorate printed scenes, characters, and actors for their personal collection and delight. The prints sold for between a halfpenny and two pence, depending on their quality and design. One subset of the genre is “tinsel prints,” innovated by print seller William Webb, who created custom die-cut tinsel to adorn the prints sold from his shop. The Peggy Cass and Carl Fisher tinsel print collection at the Folger—many of which are beautifully colored and carefully decorated—comprise fifty-two prints of prominent theater actors in their famous roles, in what are known as “souvenir character sheets.”

Tinsel print of Mr. Kean as Richard III. Image from Luna.

C. Walter Hodges

C. Walter Hodges was a talented artist and illustrator of children’s books. He also assisted in the visual reconstruction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theater.

Globe Theater design drawings. Image from Luna.

He added some of those drawings for that project to his Kate Greenaway medal-winning children’s book, Shakespeare’s Theatre. In 1986, Hodges sold almost 900 theatrical and Elizabethan drawings, along with their copyright, to the Folger (these are now cataloged under the call number ART Box H688). The collection contains many sketches and drawings for the reconstruction of a planned Globe Theater in Detroit, as well as costume sketches, stage settings, and illustrations for many of his books. We have digitized many of his illustrations, which are helpfully linked in the finding aid to the collection. For anyone interested in modern reconstructions of the Globe or in children’s literature and Shakespeare, this collection is a must-see.

William Winter Collection

William Winter (1836-1917) was a theater critic and author. The collection of his papers houses hundreds of photographs, scrapbooks, and literary manuscript materials about the conduct of business in the theater and biographies of luminaries in American theater during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, such as Edwin Booth and Sir Henry Irving. The collection is quite large, and therefore has been described with three different finding aids:

  1. Autograph letters from William Winter signed to various recipients
  2. Robert Young Collection of William Winter: This collection comprises the collaborative work and research of Robert Young and William Jefferson Winter (son) to document the life and work of William Winter.
  3. Autograph letters from William Winter to Elsie Leslie: This collection comprises correspondence from Winter to his daughter-in-law (who married William Jefferson Winter) during the years 1898-1916.

Augustin Daly

Augustin Daly (1838-1899) was a prominent theatrical manager and theater owner in New York and London. He, with his company (which included Ada Rehan, Isadora Duncan, and Tyrone Power, among others), crafted fresh productions of Shakespeare plays to high acclaim. The Folger holds an extensive collection of his materials, including correspondence in English and German relating to his theaters, conversations with actors (including Edwin Booth), account books, and other ephemera.

We also hold a beautiful collection of his extra-illustrated theatrical volumes that far exceed most theatrical scrapbooks in terms of material and design. For more information on them, read our previous Collation post. The breadth of this collection provides many avenues for study that will hopefully provide Daly with the broad audience he deserves.

Taming of the Shrew, arranged by Augustin Daly. Image from Luna.

Records of the Drury Lane and Covent Garden Theaters

Two theaters, alike in dignity…as well as destruction by fire, and popularity among the theatergoers of London. Researchers will find the records of the Drury Lane and Covent Garden theaters filled with illuminating anecdotes about daily life in the theater, as well as important records of the material culture of the theaters that allow us to better understand innovations and traditions over time.

These records contain documents that discover how post-Restoration theaters conducted business, such as journals, nightly accounts, pay books, records of the wardrobe keepers, lists of plays with casts, and inventories. Within these seemingly prosaic records, we get a first-hand look at the “who’s who” of actors and directors of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries in London and the bustling activities of these two theatrical giants.

Gordon Goode Collection of Royal Shakespeare Company photographs

Gordon Goode (1931–2008) ran a freelance photography studio in Stratford-upon-Avon between 1958 and 1968, the decade that coincided with the formative years of the Royal Shakespeare Company. Frequently called upon to photograph rehearsals and performances, Goode left behind an archive of approximately 15,000 negatives. Each binder in the collection represents one production and includes the final program from that production, a set of photonegatives, a few prints, and other various publicity materials. Upon acquisition of these materials, the Folger also obtained the copyright to these images. While we have not yet digitized the negatives, they are available for consultation and comparison with the publications in which they eventually appeared.

Ian Holm as Richard III. Image from Luna.

We hope that the brief descriptions of these collections pique your interest to come to the Folger to research them. We invite your comments and thoughts below.

Updated 2017-12-12 1:02pm: Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this post omitted the description of the collection of personal interview notes, photographs, magazine articles, reviews, and film ephemera relating to Shakespeare film adaptations compiled by Robert Hamilton Ball.

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