Henderson collection

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The Henderson collection of playbills and other materials, purchased by Henry Folger at the Augustin Daly dispersal sale, comprises four sections, entitled "Shakespeare", "Music on the British Stage", "Waverley" and "Scottish (other than "Waverley")". The most complete picture we have of the collection at the moment comes from a brief article in the journal "Scottish Notes and Queries" for October 1889, a copy of which can be found at the end of this report. This rather bald account of type and numbers hardly does justice to the richness of the material itself.the "Waverley" and "Scottish" sections, which contain around 2,000 of the 7,200 playbills. This leaves the bulk of the collection, some fifty or so boxes, virtually untouched, apart from the work, over the last few months, of Miss Heather Hill, who has been cataloging the autograph letters, manuscripts and pictures, etc., in the first two or three boxes of the "Music" section. What is clear from this first partial survey, is that the Henderson collection has a breadth and depth to it that should place it, once more widely known, in the forefront of British playbill collections. Firstly, and most importantly, it has a most unusual structure - by "type" or "genre". The majority of playbill collections are amassed by theatre, by period, or are concerned with the careers and tastes of individuals. There are some specialised collections, for example, of music hall or circus materials, but Henderson's Nineteenth Century attempt at illustrating the progress of "Music on the British Stage" is pearly unique and, particularly given his profession, worthy of the closest study. Similarly the "Shakespeare" section could provide scholars with unparalleled opportunities for comparitive studies of production styles and performance trends. Certain patterns emerge amongst the materials from the sections already examined which might reasonably be assumed to hold good for the collection as a whole. The single greatest emphasis within the "Waverley" and "Scottish" sections is upon the work of the Theatre Royal, Edinburgh;however, this is only to be expected, given the subjects, and should not therefore necessarily be considered a weakness in the collection as a whole. The major London theatres are adequately represented,1 in that everything that one would expect to find,in terms of "Waverley" productions at Covent Garden and Drury Lane, is present in that section, without overemphasis, ie., whilst these bills are more easily come by than many, Henderson resists the temptation to pad out his numbers with duplicates. The minor London theatres are similarly dealt with and towards the middle and latter parts of the century there are pleasing examples of the work of some of the more obscure London venues. However, it is in the sheer breadth and range of the provincial bills that collection's real strength lies. Bills from major provincial cities are inter- Pised with lovely examples from towns and villages all over Britain, where frequently theatre is more properly described on the bill as "a commodious room" in the inn. Comparison of the contents of the "Waverley" and "Scottish" sections t seem to suggest that, along with individual items, Henderson had access to s of bills from small provincial circuits, which he then split between his sections, according to his own criteria. Certain areas are under represented, for example Glasgow, Leeds and Birmingham, but very few places are omitted entirely, and it is more than likely for example, that Glasgow would figure more prominently in the "Shakespeare" section. There are also a few 'exotic' items, notably a series of bills from Demerara. Overall, the impressive scope of the collection, allied with its' unusual structure, positively invites scholarly examination on a host of topics, not the least of which being the collector himself, about whom we know very little. The collection is, by and large, in first class condition, although some work will have -to be done if it is to remain so, especially after its' general release to readers. There is no doubt that the material has greatly benefited from its having rested undisturbed in the Folger vaults for eighty years;however, two connecting areas of concern are repairs and the mounting. The material occupies some seventy or so unbound folio 'volumes', each with a printed title page. The bills are stuck down at the corners on both recto and verso sides of the folios and there is no great consistency shown , although the recto predominates. Although providing protection from damage by knocking against the side of the boxes, the mounting paper is not acid-free and blank leaves often display a 'negative' imprint of the item opposite. This has the sole merit of giving some indication of 'missing' items. It is virtually impossible to identify any changes made to the content or order of the collection whilst in the possession of Augustin Daly, but some handful of leaves would appear to be out of order. The vast majority of the bills before 1840 are in near perfect condition. There are a number of items that were evidently cut or torn before Henderson stuck them down, but there are no more than 2-3% of bills that require repair today. After 1840 the picture is not so happy and is complicated by the increasing tendency to print sheets on both sides, and for bills covering more than one day. The fragile paper of the later bills has frequently split or is showing signs of distress along the folds necessary to contain these larger items within the mounting. Some edges are very brittle and Henderson's habit of sticking down the bigger bills by two, three or four corners, seemingly at random, puts them at risk, for example, an item pasted by the upper two corners on the verso is at great risk of tearing at those corners from the free weight of the rest of the bill when the page is turned. Also, because Henderson has made specific choices about the placing of items within the collection, it becomes difficult to examine them fully in their present state - a double-sided bill containing a production of "Guy Mannering" is pasted down with that cast uppermost, despite the fact that the name of the theatre and date cannot be seen without detatching the bill from its' mounting. In instances where only two corners have been pasted to allow for access to both sides the deteriorating state of the paper makes even that operation dangerous. (It should be stated in fairness, that the worst of the Henderson bills are in better condition that some of the Folger's general holdings of the same kind of material.)