The Archives & Special Collections is delighted to announce that we are one of just 22 institutions to receive a “Hidden Collections” grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources. CLIR launched the “Hidden Collections” program in 2008, supported by funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation with this purpose in mind:
This program seeks to address this problem by awarding grants for supporting innovative, efficient description of large volumes of material of high value to scholars.
Amherst was awarded funding to hire a full-time archivist for two years to process the massive collection of manuscripts and published materials that document the business activities of Samuel French, Inc. The job description and application details will be announced in February; the start date for the project is June 2014.
For those not familiar with the history of theatrical publishing, Samuel French began publishing plays in New York City in 1854. He soon partnered with Thomas Lacy who had been publishing plays in England since the 1840s. When Lacy retired in 1873, Samuel French bought him out, thus establishing himself as the dominant theatrical publisher in both England and America. The company is still in business today.
Beyond simply publishing plays, Samuel French and his agents actively sought out new properties and new business opportunities. Among the hundreds of cartons of archival materials now at Amherst, we hold thick volumes of correspondence from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries filled with the details of their trans-Atlantic business dealings, as in this example from 1904:
This invaluable collection of theatre history came to Amherst College over the last fifty years. In 1964, M. Abbott Van Nostrand, Class of 1934, was President of Samuel French, Inc. and donated several boxes of materials. From 1964 until his death in 1995, Van Nostrand made annual gifts of additional materials to the Archives. Each year’s donation was different — sometimes it would contain boxes of historical material, sometimes not, but almost every year’s gift included a complete set of the latest published plays along with manuscripts from which those plays were printed.
The donations continued after Van Nostrand’s death, and the most recent gift included nearly 200 cartons of historical material and an astonishing 22 file cabinets filled with author contracts stretching back to the late nineteenth century. Since Samuel French, Inc. is still in operation, use of the legal documents and contracts is currently restricted.
In spite of these restrictions, enormous amounts of material will be made available to students and scholars once we begin digging through the hundreds of cartons filled with printed material, scripts, music, photographs, clippings, and all sorts of ephemera that thoroughly document the activities of the most significant theatrical publisher in history.