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BL Playbills collection is a research tool to find and view playbills (theatre posters) from some collections of the British Library's theatrical playbills.

It does not contain everything the Library has to offer, but has access to about 80,000 playbills made available by the Library under a Creative Commons license.

These include playbills digitised from over 500 physical volumes of theatrical English, Scottish, and Irish playbills between 1600 and 1902 (mostly 19th century).

Playbill text was created using optical character recognition (OCR) software. This text can be quite rough, but it can be searched to quickly find individual playbills using simple text searches.

The results show a low resolution image of the individual playbill, and the OCR text of the contents.

The search can be filtered to narrow the results.

It is also possible to copy the OCR text, as well as view/download a high resolution copy of the image.

Search for BL playbills

Enter search text above to find playbills that contain that text.

If matches are found, a grid of matching playbills appear.

A second panel appears to refine the results by date, location, organisation, theatre and British Library volume number.

Each result card contains:

  • Button to get a high resolution copy of the image
  • Button to copy OCR text to the clipboard
  • Button to open the collection (not the individual item) in the British Library viewer
  • Image of the playbill
  • Theatre, if known
  • Location of theatre
  • Date range playbill published
  • The volume/shelf mark
  • A short extract of the OCR text of the content
  • Click on the verical dots (more_vert) to see a scrollable view of the whole text
The results can be filtered by:
  • Date range
  • Location
  • Organisation
  • Theatre
  • Volume
BL playbills, front page image for
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