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Collection Posters: Performing Arts Posters

About this Collection

Contains approximately 2,100 posters in the online Performing Arts Posters category represent the entire contents of three collections: the Magic Poster Collection, the Minstrel Poster Collection, and the Theatrical Poster Collection.

Background and Scope

Originally used to attract the public to performances and performers, the posters available through this online assemblage of performing arts posters illustrate the wide range of popular, live entertainment in America from the late nineteenth to the early twentieth century.

The bulk of the posters are color lithographs and woodcuts. Most came to the Library of Congress as copyright deposits. Individual artists are not generally identified on the posters, but many prominent printers of the time produced the posters. Among those well represented in the Performing Arts Posters are:

The approximately 2,100 posters in the online Performing Arts Posters category represent the entire contents of three collections, which are discussed in further detail below:

Magic Poster Collection

Posters in the Magic Poster Collection feature Harry Houdini, Harry Kellar, Howard Thurston and other masters of illusion.

Kellar in his latest mystery (poster)
POS - MAG - .K44, no. 7 (C size)
Alexander, crystal seer sees our life from the cradle to the grave (poster)
POS - MAG - .A44, no. 2 (C size)

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Minstrel Poster Collection

The Minstrel Poster Collection highlights individual minstrels and minstrel companies, who usually performed programs of African-American music, broad comedy, and African-American impersonations. The posters feature potraits as well as depictions of the minstrel performances. While minstrel shows were popular starting in the 1840s, most of the Library of Congress's minstrel posters date from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with the exception of an 1847 poster featuring the New Orleans Ethiopian Serenaders [retrieve online record and image].

Primrose & West's Big Minstrels (poster)
POS - MIN - .P759, no. 6 (C size)
Gorton's Original New Orleans Minstrels (posters)
POS - MIN - .G67, no. 3 (C size)

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Theatrical Poster Collection

The Theatrical Poster Collection has been organized into a series of subsets based on the:

  • genre of variety stage theater
  • production company
  • poster style or format.


Rice and Barton's Big Gaiety Spectacular Extravaganza Co. (poster)
POS - TH - BUR - .R53, no. 4 (C size)
Victoria Loftus British Blondes (poster)
POS - TH - BUR .V53, no. 2 (D size)

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Ballet scene (poster)
POS - TH - DAN, no. 8 (D size)
Woman in dance costume dancing on flower (poster)
POS - TH - DAN, no. 1 (C size)

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The United States Marine Band at the White House (poster)
POS - TH - MUS, no. 8 (C size)
Mr. Wehli's left hand (poster)
POS - TH - MUS, no. 5 (C size)

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The Ameer music by Victor Herbert... (poster)
POS - TH - OPT .A44, no. 2 (D size)
The mikado (poster)
POS - TH - OPT .M54, no. 3 (H size)

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Specialty Acts

The original and only Royal Japanese Troupe direct from Jeddo, Japan (poster)
POS - TH - SPE, no. 82 (D size)
Prof. E.K. Crocker's educated horses, ponies, donkeys & mules (poster)
POS - TH - SPE, no. 77 (D size)
Contortionist in tuxedo jacket, top hat, and tights performing surrounded by other performing contortionists (poster)
POS - TH - SPE, no. 65 (C size)

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Phil Sheridan's New City Sports Company (poster)
POS - TH - VAU .B69, no. 1 (C size)
Prof. E.K. Crocker's educated horses, ponies, donkeys & mules (poster)
POS - TH - VAU .P45, no. 6 (C size)

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Kiralfy Brothers

The productions of the Kiralfy Brothers, Bolossy and Imre, were the epitome of the stage spectaculars. They incorporated dance, pantomime, and special effects, including one of the earliest uses of electricity on the American stage, into their lavish interpretations of fairy tales, Bible stories, and Jules Verne adventures.

Kiralfy Bros' Sieba and the 7 ravens (poster)
POS - TH - KIR, no. 28 (C size)
Imre Kiralfy's Grand naval spectacle (poster)
POS - TH - KIR, no. 44 (E size)

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Portrait Posters

Portrait posters bring to life many contemporary stars of the stage.

The Black Patti, Mme. M. Sissieretta Jones the greatest singer of her race (poster)
POS - TH - POR .J67, no. 1 (C size)
Fritz Emmet (poster)
POS - TH - POR .E55, no. 1 (C size)

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Stock Posters

Stock posters were designed without a particular show in mind. Generic images of stage scenes were used for the pictorial portion of the poster. Information pertaining to a specific performance could be added to the poster as needed.

Woman, seated with lyre, thespian's mask, and cupid (poster)
POS - TH - STO, no. 38 (D size)
Hypnotist directing people to do unusual activities ... (poster)
POS - MAG - STO, no. 5 (C size)

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