Arts & Culture

Rare artifacts from the Harvard Theatre Collection

2 min read

Three centuries of the arts and humanities are reflected in curios and props at Houghton Library

The Harvard Theatre Collection was founded in 1901, making it one of the oldest collections of its kind in the world. Beyond the theatrical materials at its core, the collection includes documentary material pertaining to music, opera, dance, and popular entertainment ranging from the circus to vaudeville and film. While the primary impetus of the library is preserving books, manuscripts, prints, and other works on paper, it also houses an array of unusual artifacts. The most common of these are props used in theatrical productions or souvenirs created to celebrate particular occasions or notable performers, but the collection also includes more curious items. The objects tell rich stories that illuminate the history of the performing arts in the United States and around the world.

Figurine by Jean-Auguste Barré of the young French ballerina Emma Livry (1842-1863) in “Le Papillon” (“The Butterfly”), 1861. Livry, one of the great dancers of the Romantic ballet, trained at the Paris Opéra with Marie Taglioni, who saw in her the ethereal lightness for which she herself was famous.
Jigsaw puzzle of a Russian dance scene, ca. 1850. From the Edwin Binney III Collection.
Bronze cast by Samuel James Kitson of the actress Sarah Bernhardt as Queen Maria de Neubourg in the drama “Ruy Blas,” given to her by Harry Houdini in 1916.
“The Little Conjurer” magic set, Germany, ca. 1880.
Detail of containers and a puppet used in “The Little Conjurer” magic set.
Shylock’s bond used by actor Edmund Kean (1787-1833) in Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice.”
Clock face of a pocket watch made by James Tregent for David Garrick, 1776.
Souvenir fan for a performance of “The Beggar Student,” Boston’s Bijou Theatre, 1883.
Bronze death mask of American playwrights Clifford Odets, 1963. Donated to the Harvard Theatre Collection by the French filmmaker Jean Renoir.
Gold medal minted by Joseph Callender and presented to architect Charles Bulfinch (1763-1844) by the proprietors of the Boston Theatre, 1794.
Early movie projector, Ernst Plank Co., Germany, ca. 1900.
The sign of the Castle Square Garden Theatre, a small but elegant playhouse that opened in Boston’s South End in 1894 and was converted into a movie theater before being demolished in 1933.