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Brooklyn theater collection

Call Number



1733-1939, inclusive
; 1863-1911, bulk



3.84 Linear Feet in two manuscript boxes and two oversize boxes.

Language of Materials

English .


The Brooklyn theater collection consists of playscripts, playbills, programs, and other ephemera from various theater venues in Brooklyn and Manhattan, dating from the early 18th century to the 1930s. In addition to playbills, there are some programs relating to concerts, musical comedies, and musical revues, as well as ephemera.

Historical Note

Brooklyn has had a lively history as an entertainment outlet, particularly through its active theater scene during the gas-light days of the 18th and 19th centuries. Audiences were enthralled by the performances of such actors and actresses as Maude Adams, the first actress to portray Peter Pan, in The Pretty Sister of Jose, and Sir Henry Irving, the first noted English actor to have been granted knighthood in 1895, in The Amber Heart. These materials document the dynamic venues that working-class and middle class Brooklynites alike attended on a weekly basis, from the Manhattan Beach Amusement Park in Coney Island for musical comedies to the infamous Conway's Brooklyn Theater, which, on December 5 of 1876, went down in flames due to the dangers posed by overcrowding, combustible materials, raucous audiences, and inadequate escape exits. This event later spurred local legislation to regulate theater design, incorporating it into city building codes in 1885.

Many of these playbills and programs were kept by patrons as theater souvenirs and cover a variety of genres, including early musicals, traditional vaudeville shows, comedies, revues, and English dramas.


  1. Brooklyn Genealogy. "1876 Brooklyn Theatre Fire." Accessed February 28, 2008.
  2. The Irving Society. "The Irving Society." Accessed February 28, 2008.


The collection is organized into two series:

Series 1: Playscripts and printed plays

Series 2: Playbills, programs, and ephemera

Scope and Contents

The Brooklyn theater collection is comprised of playscripts, playbills, programs, and other ephemera from various theater venues in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Although some material dates from the early 18th century to as late as the 1930s, most of the material focuses on the years 1823 to 1911. Programs relating to concerts, musical comedies, and musical revues are also included. In addition, the collection has some early rare examples of handwritten director's promptbooks dating back to 1733. Some examples of ephemeral material contained in the collection are an invitation to a ball sponsored by the Academy of Brooklyn to the Prince of Wales, Brooklyn Academy ticket statements, and clippings.

The majority of the collection centers on Brooklyn and Manhattan theater venues. Such well-known establishments as the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Montauk Theatre, Orpheum Theatre, Payton's Lee Avenue Theatre, the Lyceum Hall, the Astor Place Opera House, Barnum's American Museum, Franklin Theatre, and Laura Keen's Theatre are included in this collection.

For an index of individual performers and plays listed, see Box 1, Folder 1: Playbills and Programs Finding Aid (1968). Please note that this list is no longer representative of the entire collection.

Conditions Governing Access

Open to users without restriction.

Preferred Citation

Identification of item, date (if known); Brooklyn theater collection, 1977.041, Box and Folder number; Brooklyn Historical Society.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Portions of the collection were the gifts of Miss G.M. Fitzpatrick, 1949; Henry S. Gorman, 1940; Gabriel Harrison, 1941; and Betsy B. Sand, date unknown. Sources and dates of acquisition for remaining items in the collection are unknown. The collection was formally accessioned in 1977.

Related Materials

Related archival collections at the Brooklyn Historical Society:

Missing Title

  1. 1977.049, Brooklyn Theatre Fire Relief Association Records, 1876-1879
  2. 1977.205, Brooklyn and Manhattan theater and concert programs scrapbook, 1875-1885
  3. 1977.220, Mabel L. Mackey theater scrapbooks, 1897-1958
  4. 1980.011, Brooklyn Theatre playbill, 1867-1887
  5. 1992.023, Frank Jenks theater program collection, 1877-1892
  6. ARC.138, Brooklyn Institute of Arts and Sciences publications and ephemera, 1877-1998

Other Finding Aids

A preliminary inventory of the collection and an earlier finding aid containing a complete container list are available in paper form at the Othmer Library. Please consult library staff for more information.

Collection processed by

Cynthia Tobar

About this Guide

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on 2023-08-21 11:09:31 +0000.
Using Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language: Finding aid written in English

Processing Information

Minimally processed to the series level. Finding aid entered into Archivists' Toolkit and the issue of "The Theatre Goer" added to the collection by Nicholas Pavlik in September 2011. Additional material relating to the Brooklyn Park Theater, Columbia Theater, Montauk Theatre, New Montauk Theatre, and The Orpheum and the finding aid updated by John Zarrillo in March 2017.


Brooklyn Historical Society


Box: 1977.041 4 of 4 (Material Type: Mixed Materials)
Box: 1977.041 2 of 4 (Material Type: Mixed Materials)
Box: 1977.041 3 of 4 (Material Type: Mixed Materials)
Box: 1977.041 1 of 4 (Material Type: Mixed Materials)
Center for Brooklyn History
128 Pierrepont Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201