CHRISTIAN-ALBRECHT GOLLUB: Give us, if you would, a brief overview of the Theatre Collection of the Free Library.
GERALDINE DUCLOW: The Theatre Collection is one of several special collections here at the Free Library of Philadelphia, such as
the Rare Book Department, the Automotive Reference Collection, the Foundation Center. Special Collections here means that we are
giving extra attention to a certain subject area, which means we are covering it in more depth than a general department might, and it
also means that we have some unusual materials in the collection that enhance the subject research as well as take some special
handling. The difference between us is that we are not all available for full public service. The Theatre Collection is a public service
department. The Automotive Reference Collection, for example, cannot be directly accessed. Our material is also closed shelf, which
means that the public cannot browse through the collection. The material does have to be brought out to them. Since that is the case,
we really have to know what the person is looking for, so we can match up his interests and questions with the collection itself. With
a collection like this, it is practically impossible to index or catalog everything in it. Some of the indexes that we have probably only
we would be able to understand. Everyone who does come in does have the advantage of a reference interview with a librarian –
myself. I am the only librarian here. I have two very good clerical assistants, and we could not run this collection without them. All
the reference work, for the most part, goes through me.
GOLLUB: Philadelphia has a long theatre tradition. It used to be the off-off-off Broadway try-out city, and it has theatres that are
renowned throughout the United States, if not internationally. How long has the Theatre Collection been here at the Free Library?
How was it started? How has the Theatre Collection dealt with the changes in Philadelphia as a theatre community?
DUCLOW: Yes, indeed, Philadelphia does have a very strong historical theatrical tradition, and we certainly want to support that. As
a matter of fact, we are the only collection in Philadelphia that concentrates on theatre and also related topics. No other institution in
the area has a collection to match this in the subject, and no one else has a commitment to maintaining information on Philadelphia
theatre. The collection itself was started approximately twenty give years ago with a couple of significant donations, and the Library
has been building on those donations ever since. The first large donation came in when Mr. Mark Wilson passed away, and he left his
material to the Free Library of Philadelphia. Mr. Wilson was public relations manager for the Schubert Brothers here in Philadelphia
for something like 30 years. All the press releases, all the photographs, all the playbills that he inherited over all those years were
brought to the Free Library. It’s a wonderful collection, but it also took quite a lot of sorting around because we literally got his
office emptied out into the Library. I understand my predecessor spent many, many hours opening boxes and drawers and trying to
make some order out of the gentleman’s chaos. The attention which that brought to the Library in terms of theatre caused us to go
after purchasing another significant collection. This was the private collection of a gentleman by the name of Paul Glase. He resided
in Reading, Pennsylvania. He was also involved in public relations as well as management of various theatres, but, more importantly,
he was a collector. Mr. Glase actually went after a lot of 19th-century material and early film material, and he created some
magnificent scrapbooks. Upon his passing the Library purchased his collection. When we put together these two large collections,
the Library realized that they really had something very special. They decided to create a special collection integrate the items, pull
together a cook collection and a periodical collection to help back it up, and eventually give it a staff of its own and a home of its
own. The Collection has been in these quarters for approximately 25 years. We have been building on that ever since. All the books
and magazines we have do come through the regular Library budget, but everything else we have – playbills, photographs, posters –
we do receive by donation.
GOLLUB: Is the focus on Philadelphia and the Philadelphia area?
DUCLOW: It’s actually much broader than that. The term Theatre Collection is a misnomer, and that’s something we’ve been
dealing with for 25 years. The Theatre Collection subject areas actually include theatre, film, radio, TV, circus, vaudeville, minstrels,
burlesque. While our major commitment is to Philadelphia theatre history, what we actually do is an overview of just about
everything else. The emphasis beyond that is American as opposed to foreign. We do have pretty general coverage of all those
subject areas. Anything in those areas which relates to Philadelphia is what we’re most concerned with, but it certainly is not our
only focus. For example, we couldn’t really run a theatre collection without information on the New York stage, the Broadway stage.
We probably have just as many New York playbills as we have Philadelphia playbills. We have clippings from New York newspapers,
etc. You couldn’t do this without having that because the New York stage is such an integral part of the entire theatre scene in
America. We have the most Philadelphia playbills of anyone that we know.
GOLLUB: How far back do they go? What is the earliest?
DUCLOW: Our earliest Philadelphia playbill dates from 1803 from the Chestnut Street Theatre. That’s the oldest, physically, that we
have. I wish I had some 18th-century Philadelphia material, but I do not. I know the Historical Society [of Pennsylvania] does have
some 18th-century playbills and a few other playbills as well, but no one has as many as we do. The Walnut Street Theatre, of
course, here in Philadelphia is the oldest theatre in continuous use in the English-speaking world, and we have many, many playbills
from the Walnut as well as from all three Chestnut Street theatres, the Arch Street Theatre, run for many, many years by the
Barrymores’ grandmother, Mrs. John Drew, and many other notable theatres in Philadelphia. We have playbills from all of them, and
we continue to collect playbills. As you mentioned briefly, the theatre scene has changed in Philadelphia s well as in other parts of the
country. There are more shows coming through and different companies coming up. At one point the distinction between amateur
theatre and professional theatre was a much firmer one than it is now. Now, thank goodness, Actors Equity has recognized many
different levels of participation by theatre companies, and we have a difficult time now saying “amateur” and “professional” – it used
to be we briefly covered amateur theatre. Now we try to cover everything. But no one else does it. The theatre companies in
Philadelphia use us very, very frequently. Our clients come from around the world.
GOLLUB: Who comes in to use the collection, and what is the focus of what they do? Is it theatre, radio; more historical, more
DUCLOW: We get a little bit of everybody for a little bit of everything. The main focus, of course, is student use.
GOLLUB: Research for papers?
DUCLOW: Yes. It’s also, in some cases, visual research just as much as it is informational research. Naturally, of course, nothing in
the Theatre Collection is available for circulation, which can make it rather awkward, but the same time it does mean that the material
is here. Students working on term papers, or students working on any kind of a film course of theatre course probably will
eventually have to touch base with us, because we’re the only ones that maintain this large a reference collection in the City. People
who are perhaps not studying film and/or theatre exclusively but in some other phase of the graphic arts will come in and do some
picture searches. We are not arranged for a picture archive, but certainly if they can pinpoint a particular film, a particular performer,
or a particular play, we certainly do our best to try to provide a picture, and then we can make a photocopy of it.
GOLLUB: I noticed the exhibit by the entrance devoted to Marlene Dietrich. Stills and posters from various films. You also have a
collection of stills then.
DUCLOW: Yes. The material on film almost rivals the material on theatre. Most of the book collection is actually devoted to film.
We have approximately 50,000 film stills. They’re all by donation from a variety of sources. We keep them filed by the title of the
film. We also have approximately 900 movie posters, and we have a special interest in early film. Philadelphia had one of the early
pioneer film companies. That was the Lubin Film Company. Sigmund Lubin, actually known as Pop Lubin, came from Germany,
opened an optical shop here in Philadelphia, began to experiment with “motion” pictures, began to make some, began to show some,
and actually formed a film company. The Lubin Film Company ran from approximately 1910 up until 1916, and it was one of the
companies that was in contention with Edison. Vitagraph, Lubin, and Edison were continually having battles over who owned the
rights to the motion picture equipment and the whole system. Lubin was based here in Philadelphia, built film studios here. When we
did get the material from the Glase collection, we inherited some very wonderful, early film stills. We have about 2000 silent film
stills, and probably another 500 just from the Lubin Company. This has given us a focus on the early silent film period. Fortunately
the Free Library had, down in the stacks, several runs of early film periodicals which were then brought up here to add to the
Theatre Collection. We’ve been trying to build up that part of the collection ever since. One of the periodical titles is Moving Picture
World which started back in the 1890s. Our particular run begins with 1912; we have the entire run from 1912 until its demise in
1970. There are only four large sets of that periodical in the country. Ours is in the best condition.
GOLLUB: Is all this material indexed and/or cataloged?
DUCLOW: The books that we have in the collection are listed in the main catalog. Periodicals are roughly the same. We often don’t
know if we have something unless we go looking for it. We turn up things in that way, and that’s really part of the fun of it.
GOLLUB: How do you pursue material to augment the collection?
DUCLOW: It’s a little bit of everything. It depends on what we need, and on what turns up. Many people offer us playbills. People
tend to keep playbills, they collect them, and they offer them to us. We need playbills. We don’t need any after 1950, but if anyone
has any that date before that time, we’d be interested. The earlier, the better. Anything from the 19th century is delightful. We also
have other things offered to us: books, souvenir programs, scrapbooks, special things.
GOLLUB: Such as?
DUCLOW: We have someone right now who is working on a book on Helen Morgan, and he is delighted to find that Helen Morgan’
s family gave us a collection of scrapbooks that they had kept on her. It’s somewhat more difficult to go after material. We would
like to have something representing people who are from Philadelphia, because, after all, that is one of our main focuses. We have
monetary limitations, and we have space limitations. If someone wanted to donate something that we physically could not handle or
we could not effectively service, I’m afraid I’d have to turn that down. I’ve had to do that on several occasions. Monetarily the
Theatre Collection does have a very small endowment fund, and we’d certainly like it to be bigger. We occasionally get donations
from people. The regular budgets do not allow for us to get things from a rare book dealer, an out-of-print dealer, or a poster dealer.
When something like that comes up for sale that fits into our collection, I do use whatever gift money we have to buy it.
GOLLUB: Do you have a favorite piece that you have come across? A personal favorite?
DUCLOW: The theatre, if you will, is an ephemeral art up until the time that we have film and video tape, and even so, most
performances do not ever get preserved on tape or on film. When you’re trying to make a show come alive for someone, it’s
wonderful to have illustrations. We don’t have nearly as many pictures as I’d like. When it comes to the 19th century especially,
getting engravings and paintings and occasionally the older photographs is rather difficult and rather costly. When the Edwin Forrest
home was dismantled – that was a home for retired actors funded by Edwin Forrest’s will – many of the things that Edwin Forrest
owned remained property of the home. When the home was being dismantled, we did get material from the Edwin Forrest home, as
did the University of Pennsylvania and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. I was especially interested in some of the paintings and
engravings. While we cannot always display them, I was very delighted when indeed we did get some. We have a lovely engraving
taken after a Gainsborough portrait of the actor David Garrick. We’ve had it on exhibit here a couple of times at The Free Library.
We also have two paintings of the actor Richard Mansfield. There were two portraits at the Edwin Forrest home, and when I viewed
the paintings there, I was especially taken by one of them, the larger of the two. There was a portrait of a person in the role or in the
character of Shylock from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, and there was another smaller portrait which was called “Cardinal
Woolsey,” apparently from another Shakespeare play. The paintings were signed by the artist, Mr. Cameron, and they were dated,
but there was no indication as to whether or not they were merely a character portrayal or if they portrayed an actual actor. I was
very pleased when indeed the Edwin Forrest home did give us both those oil portraits. It wasn’t’ too difficult to find information on
the artist. Mr. Cameron was an artist based mainly in Chicago. He was noted, however, for his murals and his landscapes, not for his
portraits. I had gone through every picture I could get my hands on of a Shylock performer and also tried to trace Cardinal Woolsey.
I could not find any picture of approximately the period – and the period is about 1913 – that made any kind of match. I was pleased
to have the paintings, but I was rather frustrated, because we didn’t really know much more about them than when we got them.
Months went by, and on a totally unrelated topic, I got a question about the actor Richard Mansfield. To answer the question I
brought out a biography of Richard Mansfield, written in approximately 1920. The pages were rather brittle, and I had to handle it
rather carefully, and as I set it down on my desk to open it, it literally opened to a page reproducing the painting of Shylock. I found
out that the reason why I hadn’t identified it so far was, while I had seen pictures of Mansfield’s portrayal of Shylock, this painting
shows him in his third costuming of Shylock. I also found out that he owned the painting at one time. I thought, well, if that’s
Mansfield as Shylock, I wonder about the Cardinal. I took the folder out of the drawer on Richard Mansfield and proceeded to find a
reproduction of the other painting. Except the other painting wasn’t of the “Cardinal.” The other painting was a picture of Richard
Mansfield as Ivan the Terrible. The “Cardinal,” now Ivan the Terrible, is in a new frame. It has been cleaned, and it has been on
exhibit in the Rare Book Department for the last few months in connection with an exhibit that they’re doing. The Shylock painting
remains in need of professional help. The canvas is damaged, and I’m hoping to get some funds to be able to restore the painting.
The Shylock painting is still my favorite.
GOLLUB: You had the material here and just by chance came across it.
DUCLOW: It doesn’t happen often. There was a chance to add some different material to the collection, to provide additional
pictorial references, which is something that you really have to have in the performing arts. We are very, very pleased to get that kind
of thing. We still don’t know why Cameron painted Mansfield. Mansfield’s wife’s stage name was Beatrice Cameron, but it’s
possible that there was some connection. Maybe Cameron was some other name in the family, and they may have been related. It
was rather out of character for Mr. Cameron to do these paintings, so we still have to find out more. Also, there’s a third one that I
now know he did of Mansfield, and I would like to know where it is. We know what it looks like because we have original pictures
of it, but we don’t know where it is.
GOLLUB: How do you deal with preservation and conservation of the materials you get?
DUCLOW: We’re riding a fine line between maintaining admittedly fragile material and ephemera and making it available for public
use. We try very hard to make sure that the material is handled carefully. We have to discourage browsing. We’re not set up for that.
We want the material to be used, but we want it to be used in a way that will be most productive for the patron as well as extending
the life of the material. My friends in other theatre collections across the country and I have come to the conclusion that a theatre
collection like this one probably contains every preservation problem that anybody in this business could have thought of, plus a few
extras that nobody had thought of until we started to come along. Much of the material is ephemera. Much of it is newsprint,
probably one of the worst nightmares.
GOLLUB: Do you deacidify?
DUCLOW: We do a little bit of everything. The Library has been very supportive in supplying to all the special collections funds on a
regular basis for preservation activities. Occasionally we’ve gotten grants for preservation purposes, and we’ve occasionally used
gift money for preservation purposes. We’ve been trying consistently over many, many years to do some preservation work on the
collection. One of the first things we tried to work on was our Philadelphia playbill collection. At this point all of the single, loose
Philadelphia broadsides have been deacidified. All of them are stored in deacidified boxes. These are mainly playbills prior to 1900.
We have had some of our engravings deacidified. We are putting as many of our turn-of-the-century Philadelphia theater posters as I
can possibly manage into Mylar sleeves so we can handle them. We cannot afford to deacidify the great number that we have. If we
could, I would. We have our periodicals stored in deacidified boxes if they are not bound. If the binding is old and brittle, they’re also
in deacidified boxes. We have done some preservation microfilming. I mentioned the Lubin Film Company. We were able to get
scrapbooks kept by the Lubin Film Company. They were given to us by the Lubin family, and I must admit they are one of the really
special things that we have in the collection. When we received those, we fortunately also received money from the family to
preserve them. We had the pages removed from the scrapbook bindings, we had the pages cleaned, and each page has been inserted
into a Mylar sleeve. There were six fat scrapbooks. In addition to that we have had each page microfilmed. Now the microfilm can
be used without the pages having to be physically handled, and yet we are keeping the originals because there are pictures on them
and items that the microfilm really cannot adequately represent. We are microfilming another scrapbook, one of the scrapbooks that
came from Mark Wilson. They are in very poor condition. They are newsprint. We are microfilming them, and, in this case, when
we are satisfied that the microfilm is adequate, we are destroying the originals. They are much easier to use on microfilm.
GOLLUB: What kind of connections do you have to other theatre collections throughout the United States?
DUCLOW: I’ve been on the board of the Theatre Library Association for several years now. The Theatre Library Association has
been around for at least 40 years, and that does act as a clearing house. Many collections around the country do not include all the
things that we do. Some do. Some are just theatre. Some are more specialized. For example, the Schubert Archives in New York is
literally the archive collection for the Schubert Company, great play producers for years and years. The Theatre Collection, as will
other special collections here in the Library, will entertain a loan request from another institution. Much of our material has gone out
around the country.
GOLLUB: What do you see as the future of the Theatre Collection? Will it become more focused? Will it remain as diversified as it is?
DUCLOW: The City of Philadelphia has recently reinstated their commitment to an Avenue of the Arts [South Broad Street].
Everybody realizes that the performing arts are a very, very important part of the City, in all of its aspects. There isn’t any other
collection or institution in the City that concentrates on theatre and film as does the Theatre Collection here. We are supported by the
City. We also get some money from the State. The Library certainly is going to maintain its commitment o providing as much
information and support of the performing arts as possible. As far as our focus: we aren’t doing as much with television as we used
to. I don’t see, however, that we’re going to change too much of our coverage of Philadelphia theatre. That’s very, very important.
The film material comes in on a different level. We’re not having too much trouble managing in those areas, and I don’t see that that’
s going to change very much. If anything, I’d like to expand our services as soon as I possibly could to be able to get more people in
here to use our material.
GOLLUB: Do you feel the collection is underused at the moment, because of physical constraints?
DUCLOW: Yes. Mainly because our location in the building is such that we cannot get a lot of people up here that I think would like
to use the material. It’s not a major problem.
GOLLUB: Is the Theatre Collection one of the better-kept, or best-kept secrets of the Library?
DUCLOW: That has been said. The interest in the performing arts is not going to diminish. It’s one thing to sit in the classroom and
talk about something, but when I can actually show students an original Ziegfeld Follies program or an original film still from Gone
With The Wind, their eyes light up. It makes it come alive for them. If we can do anything to promote that and keep it alive, we have
to do it.
|The Theatre Collection
of the Free Library of Philadelphia:
One of the City’s Best-Kept Secrets?
An Interview with Geraldine Duclow
Head, Theatre Collection
The following interview with Geraldine Duclow was first published
in PACSCLnews, Volume III, Number 1 (March 1993), pp. 10 – 15.
Interview © Geraldine Duclow and Christian-Albrecht Gollub
To contact the staff at the Theatre Collection,
please phone (215) 686-5427.