Reader question: Organizing Broadway playbills

Unclutterer reader Jackie (great name by the way) wrote in to ask:

What does one do with old pictures of actors, and Broadway programs and playbills?

This is a great question and it also encompasses programs and photos from other cultural events such as posters from special museum exhibits, sporting event programs, and photos from themed conventions (e.g., Comic-Con, etc.).

The first question to ask yourself is, “Do I still want to keep these items?” If you decide that you want to part with some or all of these items, then here are a few ways to do that.

  • Friends/family: Pass items along to friends or family members who show an interest. Include a brief description of the item’s history; how you got it and why you kept it.
  • Aficionados: If you belong to a group of theatre-goers or a fan-club, other members of the group may be interested in your items. If you’re not a member of a fan group, you could contact a local club and let them know what items you have to sell or donate. Some businesses might be interested too. For example, a small café near your local theatre might wish to use Broadway programs as part of their décor.
  • Local theatre, historical group, or archives: Photos, pictures, and playbills from a local theatre may be of value to your community archives. Consider contacting these groups to make a donation.
  • Online selling: Using online auctions sites (eBay) or classified ads sites (Craigslist, kijiji, Gumtree, etc.) will allow you to find buyers from outside your local area.
  • Disposal: Paper items whose condition is too poor to sell can be recycled. Photos, posters, and other non-recyclables could be donated to a community group to be dismantled for a craft project or placed directly into the garbage.

For those items you wish to keep, here are some ways to organize and conserve them.

An archival 3-Ring Binder Box with heavy-weight, archival sheet protectors would be ideal to store and organize programs and playbills. You could slip a little acid-free index card in the pocket to record the date you saw the show, with whom you saw it, and a brief review. Labelled tabbed dividers can help further organize your playbills into subcategories. You could subdivide by year or by genre – whatever makes the most sense to you.

Dirt and oils on your fingers can degrade paper and photos, so always handle the items carefully with clean, dry hands. When you’re organizing, avoid areas with food and drinks. If the kitchen or dining table is your only organizational space, cover the table with a clean cotton cloth before you start to protect your collection while you work.

If your materials contain staples, remove them carefully and replace them with archival thread. However, closures such as sealing wax, ribbons, stitches, and unusual metal fasteners may enhance the value so when in doubt, leave these items in place.

Temperature, humidity, and light will affect items in storage. Ensure that you store your collection in a suitable climate. Archivists recommend no higher than 21°C (70°F) and a relative humidity between 30% and 50%.

You may decide to frame some posters or photos that have great meaning to you. We suggest that you use acid-free materials and UV-resistant glass when mounting your items. Hang your work out of direct sunlight to ensure it retains its beauty.

Good luck with your collection Jackie. For more information on conserving these types of documents, check out the Northeast Document Conservation Center website.

4 Comments for “Reader question: Organizing Broadway playbills”

  1. posted by Cindy May on

    Last summer I went through my old play & other theatrical event programs and decided to just keep the covers, so I gently tore them off and glued them into a scrapbook (not worried about properly archiving them). I even included one program cover that neither my husband, nor I, even remember attending, but I figured, what the heck?

  2. posted by kathny on

    Playbill sells specially sized binders on their website. I’ve been collecting mine for several years and have already filled two of the binders. It’s nice to look back and remember the good times with my family.

  3. posted by Minnie Mouse on

    I had a large (40+) quantity of playbills collected over the past several decades. I am not a theatre buff and, unlike a friend of mine, have never felt the need to go back through them, rereading bios, etc. Several years ago, I got a bunch of basic frames from Michael’s, and took off all the covers of the playbills and put them in the frames. I grouped them in 3’s and 4’s and screwed the frames together from the back, and hung them up in a hallway. I now have totally unique artwork that I love looking at every time I walk by. Oh, and it is constantly evolving as I add new pieces, at least 1 per year.

  4. posted by Keith on

    I never know what to do with “papers,” no papers that are clearly important documents that need to be saved, and not junk mail, but everything in between. It accumulated on desks, tables, and even floors in boxes until I “get around to it.”

    Is there a good ongoing maintenance way to keep ahead of it?

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