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Prepared by Edith Serkownek, September 12, 2005; Updated: March 2020; Additions and Updates: March 2022
Inclusive Dates: 1897-1947
Extent: 2 cubic feet (2 record storage boxes)
Physical Location: 11th floor
Historical Note: This material was collected and compiled by Special Collections to reflect a type of genre publishing popular in the early decades of 20th century.
Many of the joke books, magazines, plays and sketches in this collection draw directly from the popular vaudeville and burlesque theater acts of the day. Reference to vaudeville are frequently used in the title and promotion of these publications. As noted in the Library of Congress' American Memory Project, forms of popular theater such as vaudeville drew "upon themes relevant to everyday life: immigration, ethnicity, gender roles, urban life, industrialization, temperance, women's suffrage, technology and social problems." Books dedicated to the topic of automobiles, "hash house" restaurants and traveling salesmen may be found in this collection.
Racial and ethnic humor are also common subjects in these publications. Humorous, but generally negative theatrical depictions of African-Americans can be traced back to the 19th century development and popularity of minstrel shows in the U.S. Such shows originally featured white performers dressed in blackface portraying stock African-American characters. While the original format of the minstrel show disappeared by the turn-of-the-century, elements of it were transferred to other forms of popular theater and are reflected in several publications in the collection. With million of immigrants arriving on American shores in the late 19th and early 20th century, ethnic humor served as an obvious and extremely popular topic for writers and performers. I. & M. Ottenheimer which published many joke books of this type, often in small 4"x5" formats, sold them through venues such as Woolworth's, "by the carload."
The Joke Books and Humor Publications Collection gives the researcher insight into the styles and topics of humor of the early 20th century and their popular publishing formats.
Scope and Content: This collection consists of joke books, humor magazines, humorous scripts for plays and sketches, and instructions for light amateur theatrics. Materials date from 1897-1947 and are arranged by publisher and series. Series are arranged by the publisher's numeric system. If no numeric system is present, series are arranged alphabetically by author's last name when present, or title.
Folder -- Contents
Banner Play Bureau, Inc., Banner Plays Play Best
Banner Play Bureau, Inc., Playhouse Specialties
Banner Play Bureau, Inc., Vaudeville What-Nots
Dick & Fitzgerald Publishers, Recitations and Dialogues
The Dramatic Publishing Company
Fitzgerald Publishing Corporation
I. & M. Ottenheimer, The Gem Library
I. & M. Ottenheimer, "It Is to Laugh" New Joke Books
I. & M. Ottenheimer [unknown series]
Folder -- Contents
I. & M. Ottenheimer [untitled series]
James J. Coghlan, Coghlan's Jester
James J. Coghlan [no identified series]
Laughs and Chuckles Publishing Co., Laughs and Chuckles
Longmans, Green & Co., Longman's Play Series
Samuel French Ltd., French's Acting Edition
Samuel French, Inc., French's Musical Library
Kusell, Daniel. The Gingham Girl: A Musical Comedy in Three Acts. French's Musical Library. Samuel French, Inc. 1922
Samuel French, French's Standard Library Edition
Samuel French [no identified series]
Shrewesbury Publishing Co., The Shrewesbury Series of Popular Enterainment Books
T. S. Denison & Company, Denison's Comedy Sketches
T. S. Denison & Company, Denison's Musical Comedies and Reviews
T. S. Denison & Company, Minstrel First Parts
T. S. Denison & Company [no identified series]
Walter H. Baker & Co./Walter H. Baker Company
Wm. McNally, McNally's Bulletin