The William Appleton collection consists of letters, handwritten manuscripts, "penny plains" and "two-pence coloured" materials, which were small portraits of actors created for the toy theater trade, a once-popular form of home entertainment. The collection encompasses the late 17th century up through the mid-20th century, although the bulk of the material falls between the mid-18th century and the mid-19th century. The oldest item is a letter from actress Elizabeth Barry to a Lady Lisbourn, dated October 25, 1697. The latest item is a letter from playwright George Bernard Shaw to a J. T. Grien, dated November 28, 1930. The collection contains many letters from prominent theatrical figures, primarily of the English stage, including Ira Aldridge, Dion Boucicault, Edward Gordon Craig, David Garrick, Sir Henry Irving, Edmund Kean, William Charles Macready, Bernard Shaw, Sarah Siddons, Dame Ellen Terry, and others. Also included are black and white portraits known as "penny plains," and color portraits known as "two-pence coloured," depicting actors and actresses of the day in their best known roles. These images were intended for home use in puppet theater-type settings, and most date from the early to mid-1800s, though some date as far back as 1799.
Biographical/historical: William Appleton, collector, was born in New York on December 31, 1915. He graduated with a BA from Harvard University in 1938 and continued his education in New York City, receiving his Masters from Columbia University in 1939 and a Ph.D in 1949. He taught at Columbia from the 1940s until the late 1970s and was appointed Professor Emeritus in 1976.
William Appleton is a theater scholar. He has both written and edited works on theater, primarily English theater of the 18th and 19th centuries. His writings include A Cycle of Cathay (1951), Beaumont and Fletcher: a Critical Study (1956), Charles Macklin : An Actor's Life (1960) and Madame Vestris and the London Stage (1974). Works he has edited include The Careless Husband (1966), The Prompter: a Theatrical Paper (1734-1736) (1966) and Letters to Dorothy (1988).
Content: The William Appleton collection consists of letters, handwritten manuscripts, penny-plains and two-pence coloured toy theater materials. The collection encompasses the late 17th century up through the 20th century. The oldest item in the collection is a letter from the actress, Elizabeth Barry to a Lady Lisbourn dated October 25, 1697. The most recent item is a letter from the playwright, George Bernard Shaw to a J.T. Grein dated November 28, 1930. The bulk of the letters fall between the mid-18th century to the mid-19th century.
The collection contains many interesting letters from theatrical personages, primarily of the English stage. Some notables include Ira Aldridge, Mrs. Ann Barry, Dion Boucicault, George Colman, T. P. Cooke, Edward Gordon Craig, Maria Foote, David Garrick, Joseph Grimaldi, Sir Henry Irving, Charles Kean, Edmund Kean, Ellen Kean, Charles Kemble, John Philip Kemble, Charles Macklin, William Charles Macready, Lord North, Sir Arthur Wing Pinero, Jane Pope, Bernard Shaw, Sarah Siddons, Dame Ellen Terry and Madame Vestris, among others.
Also included are black and white and color portraits, known as "penny plains" and "two-pence coloured" showing the actors and actresses of the day in their well-known roles. Most of these images date from the early to mid 1800s though there are some as early as 1799.