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Billings-Merriam Family Vaudeville Scrapbooks

Creator:
Plunkett, Billy, Mrs.  Search this
Merriam, Eva Billings  Search this
Merriam, Billy  Search this
Christiani, Norman, Mrs.  Search this
Billings, Gay  Search this
Billings, Essa  Search this
Names:
Doutrick's Theatrical Exchange.  Search this
Stubblefield Trio.  Search this
Extent:
2 Cubic feet (6 oversized folders, 1 folder)
Type:
Collection descriptions
Archival materials
Fliers (printed matter)
Business cards
Scrapbooks
Programs
Date:
1897 - 1902
Summary:
The collection documents four scrapbooks containing photographs, programs, flyers, business cards, periodical illustrations, and letterheads of vaudeville and medicine shows from 1897-1902. Also included are two audiotapes containing comments by the donors about the scrapbooks.
Scope and Contents:
The four scrapbooks which make up the Billings Merriam Family Vaudeville collection cover the period from about 1890 to 1913. They were actually kept by the parents and grandparents of Billie Plunkett who contributed them to the Smithsonian in 1982.

The four scrapbooks each contain personal photographs, programs of minor plays and comedies, flyers for specialty acts, business cards, magazine photos, and letterheads advertising acts.

Presumably, as a way of advertising, each performer or act would have printed on letterhead a picture of themselves and occasionally a picture of them in performance, the name of the act, a description of what the act included, and sometimes a listing of references and places where they had performed.

The letterheads and flyers advertised persons who were aerialists, contortionists, comedians, did wire walking, had a dog and pony show, magicians, pantomimists, trick cyclists, dancers, jugglers, singers, impersonators, gun manipulators, hypnotists, mental telepathists, blackface comedians, and living statues.

Several agents and booking agencies used letterheads in the same way. Medicine shows were also advertised on the letterheads some naming the products they were hustling and the diseases that could be cured.

The items have been pasted in scrapbooks a couple of which were old hotel ledgers in which pages have been pasted together. The paper is deteriorating. Very few items have dates or locations.

There are also two audio tapes. One contains comments by two half sisters: Norma Christiani and Billie Plunckett on the scrapbooks in this collection. The other consists of reminiscences by Norma Christiani of her life in the vaudeville shows mentioned above (bad audio quality).
Biographical / Historical:
Gay and Essa Billings, the first generation represented in these scrapbooks, were managers of vaudeville acts. They also sold medicine occasionally which was called "Knox All Remedies". Gay was also a comedian. Essa was known for her "serpentine dance and poses plastique". Their daughters, Eva and Ethel, did singing and dancing soubrettes (i.e. were saucy, coquettish actresses and/or singers in comedies or comic operas).

Billy Merriam, married to Eva, was a trapeze artist and juggler. He also formed acts. Presumably, the collection of letterheads is a result of correspondence in which acts were secured and bookings were made.

From Billie Plunkett, a granddaughter, we learn that the Billings had Gay's Electric Company and Gay's One Horse Circus. Daughter, Ethel, married Fred A. Stock and together they had a medicine show and sold something called "NU Tone".

One of the letter heads of Gay Billings advertised startling novelties funny comedians and songs which opened September 29, 1904 and closed January 27, 1905. Another letter head advertised "The Three B's Esa Billings serpentine dance and poses plastic; Gay Billings picture operator and song illustrator; and Eva Billings song and dance artist and soubret and gave their permanent address as Bellevue, Iowa.

In December 1904, Gay's Electric Company presented Essa Billings and Billie Merriam. In January 26, 1912, Gay Billings presented Clark's Dog and Pony Circus. At an undated time, it was the Billings Trio Novelty Sketch Artists with Gay All Round Comedian; Ethel Singing and Dancing Soubrette and Essa versatile Performer.

In 1906 there is a newspaper write up of Gay's Players and Billy and Eva Meriam. In a small article it was said that the act was good, the customers got their money's worth, that it was a clever team on the vaudeville circuit and described Eva as being a ring contortionist and Billy as an acrobat and trapeze artist.

The Merriams were known as the "Flying Merriams" and also the "Merriam Merry Makers" with 7 people in the company. Another flyer advertised that Billy Merriam was the owner of the show and Gay Billings the Manager. Included was Gay, Essa and Ethel as singers, dancers and sketch artists; Billie and Emma as trapeze artists, jugglers and contortionist. Two reels of moving pictures were also presented.

Another flyer (undated) speaks of "Merriams Tent Show" with 12 people in the act. Another flyer referred to himself as "Juvenile Adonis of the flying rings and trapeze and marvelous upside down act...Walk the ceiling head down, without the protection of a net." Another flyer said that Billy and Eva Merriam had spent two years with the Ringling Brothers, and had worked 10 years in Iowa.

Evidently moving pictures were often shown at these shows, usually with two reels. The companies had their own electric light plant and picture machine.

One letter head read: "The Merriams: Billy Eva Zoe Novelty Aerial Artists: and continued: "Not Best, But Two of the Good Ones." The act was a comedy acrobatic and contortion act on a vaudeville program which alos included motion pictures. Generally the titles of the motion pictures were given but no other information was. One time Billy fell and injured himself when chairs and tables collapsed. Another time in Phoenix, the threatre burned and they lost their trunks and new rigging. Once in Seattle there was fire but not loss of their belongings. In Iowa the State prohibited fight films to be shown. "The general public does not believe in instilling in the minds of the youth the instincts of pugilism", a newspaper article stated.

Eva and Billy Merriam had their own vaudeville show which eventually turned into a medicine show. Eva dressed as an Indian Princess and called herself Princess Iola (which was her middle name). During the winter months they played in halls and threatres and in the summer they used a large platform stage with a "runway" on outdoor lots. Billy and his daughter, Billie, did aerial numbers and Billy did juggling acts, escape acts, black face numbers and song and dance. The show included hired acts. Lots of Princess Iola's remedies was sold. Then Eva tried selling cosmetics and the show's name was changed to "Vanity Fair Company". The product was packaged in their hotel rooms.
Provenance:
This collection was donated by Mrs. Billie Plunkett and Mrs. Norman Christiani to Richard W. Flint, Division of Performing Arts (now the Division of Culture and the Arts) in August, 1982.
Restrictions:
Collection is open for research.
Rights:
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.
Topic:
Entertainment  Search this
Vaudeville  Search this
Genre/Form:
Fliers (printed matter)
Business cards
Scrapbooks -- 1890-1930
Programs
Citation:
Billings-Merriam Family Vaudeville Scrapbooks, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.
Identifier:
NMAH.AC.0079
See more items in:
Billings-Merriam Family Vaudeville Scrapbooks
Archival Repository:
Archives Center, National Museum of American History
EDAN-URL:
ead_collection:sova-nmah-ac-0079
Additional Online Media:

Gordon Hendricks Motion Picture History Papers

Creator:
Hendricks, Gordon  Search this
Names:
Dickson, William Kennedy Laurie  Search this
Edison, Thomas A. (Thomas Alva), 1847-1931  Search this
Extent:
27 Cubic feet (55 boxes)
Type:
Collection descriptions
Archival materials
Correspondence
Clippings
Field notes
Notes
Flip books
Professional papers
Date:
1895-1970
Summary:
Contains Gordon Hendricks's collection of clippings, correspondence, and research notes, and other professional papers related to his books and articles on motion picture history. Includes files on Edison, William Kennedy Laurie Dickson, and other pioneers in motion picture inventions.
Scope and Contents note:
This large collection contains correspondence, notes, and copies of documents from many repositories, which were used as research materials for Hendricks's publications in this field, as well as black-and-white photographs. Copies of photographs come from the Edison National Historic Site archives, Eastman House, the Smithsonian, and other museums. Gordon Hendricks stored his research material in grey binders, orange manuscript boxes, clay-colored folders, and black binders, hence the grey, orange, clay and black series. It is not certain whether this arrangement represented an identification or coding system related to separate projects or whether it simply reflects the chronology of his work through a succession of filing and boxing systems.

Hendricks's arrangement has been retained generally, and the series arrangement of the collection reflects Hendricks's original groupings. Series 1 consists of Lantern slides, Series 2 of material found in grey binders, Series 3 of material found in orange boxes, Series 4 of material in clay-colored folders, Series 5 of material in black binders and Series 6 is the miscellaneous series. [These groupings have been identified, as David Burgevin conducted an inventory while the collection was in its original containers.]

These papers contain much correspondence and other materials relating to Hendricks's books in the field of motion picture history, such as copies of manuscripts, and galley proofs. Photographs: Graphic materials included in the collection, such as photographs, frequently are not original but are copies of items from repositories in which Hendricks did research. However, there are a few noteworthy original items, such as examples of motion picture flip books (one partly intact, plus loose fragments from this flip book and others).
Biographical/Historical note:
Hendricks was an art historian who wrote works on painters such as Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Eakins, as well as on early motion picture history, including analyses of inventors of apparatus and technology; in his book THE EDISON MOTION PICTURE MYTH he showed how Edison's assistant, W. K. L. Dickson, and other inventors actually were responsible for the development of cinematic technology for which Edison unfairly took credit. Hendricks apparently was born in 1917 and died in 1980.
Related Materials:
Some materials from this collection, primarily photographs of apparatus, are in the National Museum of American HIstory Photographic History collection.

129 black-and-white photographs, many copy prints used as illustrations in Gordon Hendricks books, and other images of early motion picture apparatus are in the Gordon Hendricks Collection in the Photographic History Division. The Collection also includes 240 glass plate negatives, which appear to have been taken in Europe, and a binder of contact prints of the negatives.
Provenance:
Collection donated by Gordon Hendricks, through Guido Castelli, February 13, 1990.
Rights:
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.
Topic:
Motion pictures -- History -- 1890-1930  Search this
Motion picture devices -- 1890-1930  Search this
Genre/Form:
Correspondence -- 1930-1950
Clippings
Field notes
Notes
Flip books
Professional papers
Citation:
The Gordon Hendricks Motion Picture History Papers, 1895-1970, National Museum of American History.
Identifier:
NMAH.AC.0369
See more items in:
Gordon Hendricks Motion Picture History Papers
Archival Repository:
Archives Center, National Museum of American History
EDAN-URL:
ead_collection:sova-nmah-ac-0369
Additional Online Media:

Sam DeVincent Collection of Illustrated American Sheet Music, Series 1: Transportation

Creator:
DeVincent, Sam, 1918-1997  Search this
Extent:
32 Boxes
Type:
Archival materials
Collection descriptions
Date:
circa 1800-1980
Summary:
Sam DeVincent loved music and art and began collecting sheet music with lithographs at an early age.

Series 1: Transportation contains circa 3,900 pieces of sheet music documenting the development of and popular attitudes towards transportation technology in the United States.

An overview to the entire DeVincent collection is available here: Sam DeVincent Collection of Illustrated American Sheet Music.
Scope and Contents note:
The Transportation series contains circa 3,900 pieces of sheet music documenting the development of and popular attitudes towards transportation technology in the United States. Those modes of transportation--airplanes and automobiles in particular--that developed during the heyday of Tin Pan Alley sheet music publication (1890s-1930s) are especially well represented. Boats and boating and railroads are also large sub-series. Two narrow topics are especially rich in the DeVincent transportation series: the Charles Lindbergh file (circa 200 items) and the Ford automobile file (circa 150 items).

The material dates from the 1800s to the 1980s; the bulk of the material is from the 1890s to the 1930s. The earliest items are in the Boats and Boating sub-series. Most pre-1840 imprints are not dated. Estimates have been made for the dates of many early imprints by checking publisher and address of the publisher in the "Index of Publishers, Engravers and Printers" in volume III of Richard Wolfe's Secular Music in America 1801-1825: A Bibliography and in Oscar Sonneck's A Bibliography of Early Secular American Music. Several sheets that appear to be very old could not be dated by this method.

The Ephemera file, arranged in the same sub-series as the sheet music, is described on the page, following the container list. The transportation ephemera file constitutes one and a half document boxes.

The eight sub-series in the Transportation series are arranged alphabetically and include: 1.1 Aeronautics; 1.2 Automobiles; 1.3 Bicycles; 1.4 Boats and Boating; 1.5 Horses; 1.6 Motorcycles; 1.7 Railroads; 1.8 Urban Transportation. See Container List.
Arrangement note:
Arranged in 9 subseries.

1.1: Aeronautics

1.2: Automobiles

1.3: Bicycles

1.4: Boats and Boating

1.5: Horse-Drawn Vehicles

1.6: Motorcycles

1.7: Railroads

1.8: Urban Transportation

1.9: Ephemera
Materials in Other Organizations:
Sam DeVincent Collection of American Sheet Music, Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana

This collection contains duplicates of materials in the Smithsonian collection, as well as materials acquired by Mr. DeVincent after the donation to the Smithsonian. The phonograph records described above were transferred to the University of Missouri at Kansas City.
Materials in the Archives Center, National Museum of American History:
Donald J. Stubblebine Collection of Musical Theater and Motion Picture Sheet Music and Reference Material, 1843-2010 (AC1211)
Forms Part Of:
Series 1: Transportation forms part of the Sam DeVincent Collection of Illustrated American Sheet Music .

An ongoing, updated list of DeVincent topical series is available via the Smithsonian finding aid portal.
Provenance:
This collection was purchased by the Smithsonian Institution in 1988 from Sam and Nancy Lee DeVincent.
Restrictions:
Collection is open for research.
Rights:
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.
Citation:
The Sam DeVincent Collection of Illustrated American Sheet Music, Archives Center, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution
Identifier:
NMAH.AC.0300.S01
See more items in:
Sam DeVincent Collection of Illustrated American Sheet Music, Series 1: Transportation
Archival Repository:
Archives Center, National Museum of American History
EDAN-URL:
ead_collection:sova-nmah-ac-0300-s01
Additional Online Media:

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