Boston Athenaeum Theater Collection

The Boston Athenaeum Theater Program is a guide to the theater programs and playbill collection at the Boston Athenaeum. More than 90% of the material represented in the spreadsheet consists of playbills or portions of playbills from about 45 Boston theaters, many of which no longer exist. The bulk of the playbill collection dates from circa 1860 to 1900, an especially vibrant period in the city’s theater history when Boston was a theatrical beacon drawing to its stages some of the world’s finest actors.

The Boston Athenaeum’s collection of Boston theater playbills includes many examples from more enduring 19th century playhouses such as the Colonial and the Boston Theatre, but also programs from lesser known and short-lived theaters such as Whitman’s Continental Theatre and the Toy Theatre. A description and guide to these important artifacts of Boston’s cultural life spanning the years from the 1840s to the early twentieth century is therefore of paramount importance both for facilitating research into the collections as well as highlighting the unique character of the Athenaeum’s collection.

Theater critic Francis H. Jenks donated many of the Boston Athenaeum’s scrapbooks containing theater, opera and concert programs as well as related ephemera. With additional gifts from Isabella Batchelder, Cora Swann and other generous donors, the Athenaeum soon had a small, but choice collection of theater programs and ephemera dating from the 1840s to about 1940. As many of the scrapbooks donated by Jenks became brittle and dirty with age, some were dismantled and the programs incorporated in the Francis H. Jenks Collection, which is not included in the theater program database but has a guide of its own listing the boxed programs by theater name.


Read about the collection and the history of Boston theaters present in the collection


Bibliography and links

Boston Athenaeum Theater Program

Guide to the theater programs and playbill collection at the Boston Athenaeum (Microsoft Excel spreadsheet)

Questions? If you would like to know if a particular actor, play, date, or theater are listed, please ask Reference: