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World 19th-century playbills to be restored and digitized

Hundreds of playbills, mostly from 19th-century New York theater performances, will be restored and digitized, thanks to a grant by the National Endowment for the Humanities to the Museum of the City of New York.

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19th-Century Playbills to Be Restored and Digitized play

19th-Century Playbills to Be Restored and Digitized

(The New York Times)

The museum’s collection consists of about 700 of these broadsides, many of which are extremely fragile; all of them will be digitized, while half of them will go through a conservation process.

The NEH has given $143,804 for this project.

“A lot of the pieces have bits barely hanging on by a thread,” Morgen Stevens-Garmon, the project’s director and an associate curator of the museum’s theater collection, said in an interview.

These one-sheet playbills trace the history of theater in New York. They were originally posted around Manhattan to advertise Shakespeare plays, minstrel shows, new American plays and early musicals. One showcases a performance of “The Black Crook,” which opened in 1866 and is often credited as the first musical. The earliest broadside in the collection advertises the Old American Company’s performance of “The Merchant of Venice” in 1785; tickets were 4 shillings for a gallery seat.

While modern theater advertisements are often dominated by photos, illustrations and reviews from critics, these broadsides were almost exclusively textual and filled with plot summaries, cast and ticket information.

Once the project is finished, scans of the broadsides will be put up on the museum’s website. And the restored artifacts themselves may be shown at the museum at a later point. “The chance of them being exhibited increases 10,000 fold because they will be stable enough,” Stevens-Garmon said.

The NEH awarded about 200 grants on Monday for a total of more than $18.5 million. They include funding for research projects, traveling exhibitions and a project to turn out-of-print books into e-books. More information can be found at neh.gov.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

ANDREW R. CHOW © 2018 The New York Times

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