19th Century Actors and Theater Photographs

Explore Collection
Popular Actresses
Collage of 19th century popular actresses

The 19th Century Actors and Theater Photographs database consists of over 600 photographs including cartes-de-visite and cabinet card studio portraits of entertainers, actors, and actresses who performed on the American stage in the mid- to late 1800s. Many of these actors and actresses were little known outside of the major theater centers of New York City, Philadelphia, and Boston. Such was the popularity of the theater, though, that even good "utility" actors and actresses could justify having these photographs made. The cartes-de-visite mounted on 2-1/2-by-4-inch card stock, for example, could be produced cheaply and collectors were fond of purchasing photographs of their favorite performers. The card trade flourished as performers realized the publicity value of the collectible photographs. By the 1870s-1880s millions were sold in the United States, when the process reached its greatest popularity.

About the Database

Selection, research and descriptive metadata for the 19th Century Actors and Theater database was completed in part by Kathy Stice and the UW Libraries Special Collections Division staff in 2002. Additional material is being added on an ongoing basis as new theater collections are being processed by the Special Collections staff. The images are scanned from b/w photographic prints in grayscale using Microtek Scanners and saved in .jpg format. Some manipulation of the images are performed using Adobe PhotoShop to present the clearest possible digital image. The scanned images are then linked with descriptive data using the CONTENTdm software suite. The original collections reside in the UW Libraries Special Collections Division.