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Performance History

The Folger performance history collection includes a massive array of resources on past productions, including about 250,000 playbills and some 2,000 promptbooks. Although Shakespeare is well represented, these materials are not restricted to his work. Films, recordings, and more continue to be added to the collection, as do the papers of major theatrical figures.

Playbills and Other Ephemera

“Ephemera” is a general term for cheap, often fragile, items that were never meant to last for long. Needless to say, this makes them more likely to be rarities today, and a challenge to conservators. The ephemera collection at the Folger includes more than a quarter of a million playbills, primarily from the 19th century, and not limited to Shakespeare—an invaluable resource for research into American and British stage history. Scrapbooks, programs, theater tickets, paper toys, and more round out the collection.



The Folger has almost 2,000 promptbooks, roughly half of which are for Shakespeare productions. Promptbooks, the marked copies of plays prepared for professional productions, are among the best evidence for details of staging, effects, costumes, and cuts and adaptations of the text. Some of them are working promptbooks, reflecting the process of creating a production by its makers; others were produced as souvenirs, designed to capture the end result of a production, rather than its creation.


Costumes and Props

The Folger collection includes about three dozen complete or partial costumes, most of them from 19th-century or early 20th-century Shakespeare productions. Stage props include crowns, scepters, swords, and money (for the character of Shylock). Actors and actresses represented by full or partial costumes include the married team of E.H. Sothern and Julia Marlowe, Ada Rehan, Lewis Waller, Charles Kean, Edwin Booth, and Herbert Beerbohm Tree.

Theatrical Design

The Folger holds a varied collection of costume designs, particularly for Shakespearean productions from the 19th and 20th centuries. Designers include Percy Anderson, W. Graham Robertson, and C. Walter Hodges. Set designs are also represented in the collection, as are even a set of lighting plots.