The Folger has approximately 250,000 playbills, most from late 18th and 19th century Britain and the United States. Unlike programs, which are multi-page documents, a playbill describes a performance on one side of one sheet of paper. Most surviving playbills are small handbills, though some are poster size.
Bill boxes and bill volumes
Most playbills in the Folger collection are arranged in City - Theater - Date order in boxes ("BILL Box" call numbers) or in bound volumes ("BILL Vol." call numbers). They are indexed on cards in the "Special Collections" section of the catalog room (the little alcove behind the computers), but no information on the performances themselves are provided (no play names, no actor names). However, the London playbills in the collection were used by George Winchester Stone and others to compile The London stage, 1660-1800: a calendar of plays, entertainments & afterpieces, together with casts, box-receipts and contemporary comment (see Hamnet record) so their content can be found through that publication. Playbills personally examined by George Winchester Stone have a penciled "GWS" on the front (NOT a practice that continues).
453 playbills collected by Babette Craven are stored in the Art Vault, and indexed in a Filemaker Pro database that is currently only available to staff, or with staff assistance. Most are late 18th and early 19th century, from England.
7,188 playbills form the bulk of the Henderson collection.
Playbills acquired since about the 1980s are shelved at the end of the BILL Box/Vol section on Deck C, in accession number order, identified by a six-digit accession number and the prefix or suffix "PLAYBILL." Those acquired after 1997 have minimal-level records in Hamnet. Many other playbills have been bound into extra-illustrated books (particularly actor biographies and Shakespeare's works), manuscript volumes, and scrapbooks. Some of these are listed in the Playbills card file in the "Special Collections" section of the catalog room; some are briefly mentioned in Hamnet in Folger copy notes for the books.