Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays -- Research Guide


The Collection

The largest collection of theatrical material in the John Hay Library is in the Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays. The goal of this Collection is to acquire all American and Canadian poetry, drama, and vocal music, published at any time, in any place. Consequently, it is perhaps the largest collection of its kind in existence, with over 250,000 volumes.

Play ManuscriptApproximately 35,000 of these volumes are American and Canadian plays, dating from the 18th century to the present day. The oldest title in the entire Harris Collection, Les Muses de la Nouvelle France, by Marc Lescarbot, published in Paris in 1609, contains a pageant that was performed in Nova Scotia in 1606. Included in the Collection are 79% of the play titles published in America prior to 1830, as represented in Frank Pierce Hill's bibliography. Holdings of the acting text services are extensive, with long runs of the plays issued by such companies as A.D. Ames, Samuel French, Dramatists Play Service, Playwrights Canada, as well as plays published by the trade presses. Harris holds a nearly complete run of the plays of the Walter Baker Company; Mrs. Theodore Johnson, the widow of the president of the company, many years ago presented the collection with a complete run of publications. At present, standing order and approval arrangements bring in most of the material that is currently published, although finding titles published by small and private presses is always a challenge.

In addition to the play texts, the Collection includes a large group of vocal scores and selections from musical plays and comedies, dating back to the 19th century. There are in place arrangements with music dealers to acquire those currently published, and thus the collection is quite extensive. There are also large numbers of songsters (books of lyrics to popular songs), most published in the 19th century. Often these songsters were associated with particular performers, such as Harrigan and Hart or the Hutchinsons, so they provide one means of access to the repertoire of performers of the period. The music collection also contains numerous anthologies of composers' works, including many associated with the musical theatre, such as Gershwin, Berlin, and Porter. It is usually possible to find most of the songs of these composers somewhere in the Collection.

The Harris Collection does not particularly specialize in theatrical memorabilia, but, as with any collection of this size and age, there are all sorts of materials to be found in it. There are playbills and souvenir programs, mostly from the late 19th and the 20th centuries, scrapbooks, primarily made up by local theatre buffs of the same period, as well as theatre histories and reference books. Published radio plays, television scripts, and motion picture scripts have also been collected, and there is a small amount of memorabilia associated with these forms in the Collection as well.

One particular aspect of the Collection should be mentioned. The Harris Collection has a fine collection of texts from the Yiddish-language theatre in New York at the turn of the century. These texts, mostly in Yiddish, represent works by most of the best known writers for that theatre, and include musical works as well as straight drama. The Collection, based on that amassed by a New York dealer and collector, Menache Vaxer, includes much manuscript material that can provide many very rewarding research topics.

Self Copying of Plays in the Harris Collection

See Also:
» Music
» Songsters
» Yiddish-American Literature
» Sources for the Study of 19th and 20th Century Blackface Minstrelsy

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Related Collections

In addition to the Harris Collection, theatre materials are to be found in the Asa Cushman Collection, Sheet Music Collections, the Broadsides Collection, and the Manuscripts Collections, the Sidney Albert George Bernard Shaw Collection, the H. Adrian Smith Collection of Conjuring Books and Magicana, and scattered throughout the remainder of the rare book collection in the John Hay Library. The Asa Cushman Collection consists of prompt books and plays in parts, from the collection of Asa Cushman, a mid-19th century actor-manager.

The Sheet Music Collection is one of the largest in the country, containing some 500,000 pieces of music. Most are of American imprint, and date from the late 18th century to the present, with the bulk of the collection dating from approximately 1840 to 1950. Approximately 35,000 pieces, filed by title, are of Broadway show music, or music from motion pictures, radio, and television. Another important segment of the collection, some 10,000 pieces, is the Afro-Americana. This segment includes much music from the 19th century minstrel stage and the turn of the century Black musical theatre. A small portion of this segment is fully cataloged, and available through Josiah, the Library's online catalog; the remainder is filed by title. 1,500 pieces of the cataloged Afro-Americana have been digitized as part of the Library of Congress' National Digital Library Program, American Memory, and are available in full-text as part of the Library's Center for Digital Initiatives. There is also a collection of 2,000 titles of Yiddish-American music, mostly published between 1880 and 1940, and much of it associated with the Yiddish musical theatre in New York at that period; it complements the collection of play texts and musical scores in the Harris Collection. The Yiddish sheet music is currently being digitized.

The Broadsides Collection includes copious numbers of slip ballads (lyrics to popular songs, mostly from the mid-19th century) and playbills and programs of all sorts. The Manuscript Collections include a number of individual collections with theatrical interest. Foremost is the Langdon Collection of Pageants. William Chauncey Langdon was founder and president of the American Pageant Association, which presented many community and organizational spectacles in the years prior to World War I. Holdings include Langdon's scripts, photographs, notes, music, and ephemera for the pageants with which he was associated, along with notes, clippings, and texts for many other pageants in this country.

In addition, the Manuscript Collections include over 1,000 unpublished television scripts and over a hundred film scripts. Many of the film scripts are adaptations of stage plays, so that it is possible to examine the alterations that are made to a text in adapting it to film. Also included in the Manuscript Collection are the papers of Frances Herriott Sargent, including those concerned with the production of Porgy and Bess. The Tierney Collection adds extensive holdings of theatrical memorabilia, in the form of posters, playbills, autographed photographs, scripts, tickets, and publicity materials for local and regional theatrical and variety performances of the past fifty years.

The George Bernard Shaw Collection includes correspondence, programs, editions of Shaw's works, a large number of biographical and critical works relating to Shaw, along with a considerable number of works dealing with his contemporaries and associates, both in the theatre and in relation to other interests. There are photographs, costume designs, recordings, stills and lobby cards from films of Shaw's plays, publications of Shavian societies, translations and many other items, allowing for very extensive research on Shaw's life and times.

The H. Adrian Smith Collection of Conjuring and Magicana is composed of over 10,000 items on the art, theory, and history of magic as a performing art, including books, serials, pamphlets, posters, broadsides, playbills, catalogues, prints and engravings, photographs and ephemera, along with some magical apparatus and other museum pieces. Included are approximately 500 extremely rare or scarce magic books, dating from the sixteenth century.

There are, in addition, theatrical materials scattered throughout all the other collections in the John Hay Library. The Archives contains records of performances at Brown University throughout the years; the Lincoln Collection includes plays about Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War; the H.P. Lovecraft Collection includes scripts and plays based on Lovecraft's works. The John Hay Library is thus the repository of an enormous quantity of theatrical materials, largely focusing on American theatre and drama from the seventeenth century to the present day.

The Orwig Music Library contains many supportive and general materials related to American musical theatre. Circulating copies of play texts, and general biographical and historical supportive material related to American theatre and drama may also be found in the Rockefeller Library.

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Essential References

Afro-American Poetry and Drama, 1760-1975. A guide to information sources.
Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1979.

American playwrights, 1880-1945 : a research and production sourcebook / edited by William W. Demastes
Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press, c1995

American theatre companies, 1749-1887 / edited by Weldon B. Durham

Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press, 1986

American theatre companies, 1888-1930 / edited by Weldon B. Durham

Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press, c1987

American theatre companies, 1931-1986 / edited by Weldon B. Durham

New York : Greenwood Press, 1989

Ball, John Leslie
A bibliography of Canadian theatre history, 1583-1975. / John Ball, Richard Plant ; general editor, Anton Wagner
[Toronto : Playwrights Co-op, c1976]

Ball, John Leslie
The bibliography of Canadian theatre history : supplement, 1975-1976 Toronto : Playwrights Co-op, 1979

The Best plays
New York [etc.] Dodd, Mead, [etc.]

Bloom, Ken
American song : the complete musical theater companion
New York, N.Y. : Facts on File, c1985

Bloom, Ken
Hollywood song : the complete film & musical companion
New York : Facts on File, c1995

Bordman, Gerald Martin
The Oxford companion to American theatre / Gerald Bordman

2nd ed
New York : Oxford University Press, 1992

The Brock bibliography of published Canadian plays in English, 1766-1978 / edited by Anton Wagner ; compiled by Bonita J. Orosz Bryan, ... [et al.]
Toronto : Playwrights Press, c1980

Cambridge guide to American theatre / edited by Don B. Wilmeth and Tice L. Miller [England] ; New York, NY, USA : Cambridge University Press, 1996

The Cambridge history of American theatre / edited by Don B. Wilmeth, Christopher Bigsby. 3 vols.

Cambridge ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 1998-2000

Clapp, William Warland, 1826-1891
A record of the Boston Stage / by William W. Clapp, Jr

New York : Johnson Reprint, 1968

Directory of Canadian plays and playwrights / editor, Jane Cunningham
10th anniversary ed.
Toronto : Playwrights Canada, c1981

Doucette, Leonard E.
Theatre in French Canada : laying the foundations, 1606-1867

Dunlap, William, 1766-1839
History of the American theatre. By William Dunlap.

London, R. Bentley, 1833

The Federal Theatre Project : a catalog-calendar of productions / compiled by the staff of the Fenwick Library, George Mason University
New York, N.Y. : Greenwood Press, 1986

Ganzl, Kurt
The encyclopedia of the musical theatre / Kurt Ganzl

2nd ed
New York : Schirmer Books, 2001

Glassberg, David
American historical pageantry : the uses of tradition in the early twentieth century / by David Glassberg

Chapel Hill : University of North Carolina Press, c1990

Hatch, James Vernon, 1928-
Black playwrights, 1823-1977 : an annotated bibliography of plays/ compiled and edited by James V. Hatch and Omanii Abdullah.
New York : Bowker, 1977.

Hill, Frank Pierce, comp.
American plays printed 1714-1830. A Bibliographical Record..
(Stanford, Cal: Stanford University Press, 1934)
At the time of composition, Brown was credited with 211, or 52% of the titles listed. Today, 79& of the titles are held by the Harris Collection.

Hischak, Thomas S
The theatregoer's almanac : a collection of lists, people, history, and commentary on the American theatre / Thomas S. Hischak

Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press, 1997

Hoffman, Herbert H.
Latin American play index
/ by Herbert H. Hoffman
Metuchen, N.J. : Scarecrow Press, 1983-

Huerta, Jorge A.
A bibliography of Chicano and Mexican dance, drama, and music
. Edited by Jorge A. Huerta

Innes, C. D
Twentieth-century British and American theatre : a critical guide to archives / Christopher Innes ; with Katherine Carlstrom and Scott Fraser

Aldershot, Hants, England ; Brookfield, [Vt.] USA : Ashgate, c1999

Kanellos, Nicolás.
A history of Hispanic theatre in the United States : origins to 1940
/ Nicolás Kanellos
Austin, TX : University of Texas Press, 1990

Kanellos, Nicolás.
Mexican American theater : Legacy and reality
/ Nicolás Kanellos
Pittsburgh, Pa. : Latin American Literary Review Press, 1987

Keller, Dean H
Index to plays in periodicals / by Dean H. Keller

Rev. and expanded ed
Metuchen, N.J. : Scarecrow Press, 1979

Keller, Dean H
Index to plays in periodicals, 1977-1987 / by Dean H. Keller

Metuchen, N.J. : Scarecrow Press, 1990
Supplement to: Index to plays in periodicals, 1979

Larson, Carl F. W., 1939-
American regional theatre history to 1900 : a bibliography / compiled by Carl F. W. Larson

Metuchen, N.J. : Scarecrow Press, 1979

Lifson, David S.
The Yiddish theatre in America
New York, T. Yoseloff [c1965]

Martin, Edwin, 1943-
Mud show : American tent circus life / photographs by Edwin Martin ; essay by Don B. Wilmeth

Albuquerque : University of New Mexico Press, c1988

Mexican American theatre : then and now / edited by Nicolás Kanellos
Houston : Arte Público Press : Revista Chicano-Riqueña, c1989

Moody, Richard, 1911- ed.
Dramas from the American theatre, 1762-1909.
Cleveland, World Pub. Co. [1966]

The New York times great songs of the Yiddish theater / arr. for voice, piano, and guitar; lyrics transliterated [and music editing by Zalmen Mlotek] ; selected by Norman H. Warembud ; foreword by Molly Picon
[New York] : Quadrangle/New York Times Book Co., [c1975]

The New York Public Library performing arts desk reference
New York : Macmillan, c1994

Nuevos pasos : Chicano and Puerto Rican drama / Nicolás Kanellos and Jorge A. Huerta, editors
Houston, TX : Arte Público Press, c1989

Odell, George Clinton Densmore, 1866-1949.
Annals of the New York stage.
New York, Columbia University Press, 1927-49.

O'Neill, Patrick B.
Canadian plays : a supplementary checklist to 1945.
Halifax : Dalhousie University, University Libraries, School of Library Service, 1978

Peterson, Bernard L.
The African American theatre directory, 1816-1960 : a comprehensive guide to early Black theatre organizations, companies, theatres, and performing groups. Foreword by Errol Hil l.
Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press, 1997.

Peterson, Bernard L., jr.
A Century of Musicals in Black and White. An Encyclopedia of Musical Stage Works By, About, or Involving African Americans .
Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1993.

Peterson, Bernard L., jr.
Contemporary Black American Playwrights and Their Plays. A Biographical Directory and Dramatic Index .
New York: Greenwood Press, 1988.

Peterson, Bernard L., jr.
Early Black American Playwrights and Dramatic Writers. A Biographical Directory and Catalog of Plays, Films, and Broadcasting Scripts .
New York: Greenwood Press, 1990.

Play index
New York : H. W. Wilson Co., 1953-

Riis, Thomas Laurence.
More than just minstrel shows : the rise of Black musical theatre at the turn of the century
New York : Institute for Studies in American Music, Conservatory of Music, Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, c1992.

Riis, Thomas Laurence.
Just before jazz : Black musical theater in New York, 1890-1915
Washington : Smithsonian Institution Press, c1989.

Rosenfeld, Alvin H.
Yiddish poets and playwrights of America; a preliminary report on a recent addition to the Harris Collection
Providence, R.I., Brown University, 1968

Samples, Gordon.
The drama scholars' index to plays and filmscripts : a guide to plays and filmscripts in selected anthologies, series, and periodicals

Metuchen, N.J. : Scarecrow Press, 1974-

Sampson, Henry T., 1934-
Blacks in blackface : a source book on early Black musical shows
Metuchen, N.J. : Scarecrow Press, 1980.

Sampson, Henry T., 1934-
The ghost walks : a chronological history of Blacks in show business, 1865-1910
Metuchen, N.J. : Scarecrow Press, 1988.

Sandrow, Nahma
Vagabond stars : a world history of Yiddish theater
New York : Harper & Row, [c1977]

Sedgwick, Dorothy
A bibliography of English-language theatre and drama in Canada 1800-1914.
Edmonton, Alta. : [s.n.], 1976

Silvester, Robert
United States theatre : a bibliography from the beginning to 1990 / Robert Silvester

New York : G.K. Hall ; Romsey : Motley Press, 1993

Slide, Anthony
The encyclopedia of vaudeville / Anthony Slide

Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press, 1994

Smith, Bill, 1903-
The vaudevillians / Bill Smith

New York : Macmillan, c1976

Sobel, Bernard
A pictorial history of burlesque / Bernard Sobel

New York : Putnam, c1956

Southern, Eileen
Biographical dictionary of Afro-American and African musicians.
Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press, 1982

Southern, Eileen
The music of black Americans : a history.
3rd ed
New York : W.W. Norton, c1997

Stoddard, Roger E.
Further corrigenda and addenda to Hill's American plays printed 1714-1830.
[New York : Bibliographical Society of America, 1983]

Toll, Robert C
Blacking up : the minstrel show in nineteenth century America / Robert C. Toll

New York : Oxford University Press, 1974

Traubner, Richard
Operetta : a theatrical history / Richard Traubner

Garden City, N.Y. : Doubleday, 1983

Two centuries of Hispanic theatre in the Southwest / Nicolás Kanellos ... [et al.]
[Houston, Tex]. : Revista Chicano-Riqueña, 1982

Who was who in the theatre, 1912-1976 : a biographical dictionary of actors, actresses, directors, playwrights, and producers of the English-speaking theatre / compiled from Who's who in the theatre, volumes 1-15 (1912-1972)

Detroit : Gale Research Co., c1978

Wilmeth, Don B
American and English popular entertainment : a guide to information sources / Don B. Wilmeth ; foreword by Brooks McNamara

Detroit : Gale Research Co., c1980

Wilmeth, Don B
The American stage to World War I : a guide to information sources / Don B. Wilmeth

Detroit : Gale Research Co., [c1978]

Wilmeth, Don B
The language of American popular entertainment : a glossary of argot, slang, and terminology / Don B. Wilmeth

Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press, c1981

Wilmeth, Don B
Variety entertainment and outdoor amusements : a reference guide / Don B. Wilmeth

Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press, 1982

Woll, Allen L.
Black musical theatre : from coontown to dreamgirls
Baton Rouge : Louisiana State University Press, c1989.

Woll, Allen L.
Dictionary of the Black theatre : Broadway, off-Broadway, and selected Harlem theatre
Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press, 1983.

Woll, Allen L.
Songs from Hollywood musical comedies, 1927 to the present : a dictionary
New York : Garland Pub., 1976

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Tyler, Royall. The contrast, a comedy; in five acts: written by a Citizen of the United States; performed with applause at the theatres in New-York, Philadelphia, and Maryland; and published (under an assignment of the copy-right) by Thomas Wignell .. Philadelphia: From the press of Prichard & Hall, in Market Street, between Second and Front Streets, 1790.
Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays

United Artists. George Bernard Shaw's Major Barbara. Lobby Card. [n.p., 1941] Starring Wendy Hiller, Rex Harrison, and Robert Morley. Sidney P. Albert -- George Bernard Shaw Collection