The collection consists of 143 playbooks (133 different titles) printed by various American publishing houses and representing a wide spread of genres, though farces and comedies are the most well represented. The plays function as actors’ scripts and contain notes on costuming, setting, and staging. Over half the plays collected here were published by William V. Spencer in Boston, and contain the additional resource of a production history of each play. Most plays in this collection are undated, but are estimated to have been published between 1840 and 1870. A number of notable playwrights have multiple works included here, including: John Baldwin Buckstone; John Madison Morton; J.R. Planche; Charles Selby; and Tom Taylor. The collection was donated to Brandeis Special Collections by Victor Birch in 2013.
The playbooks here collected originally belonged to a family of Boston actors: Franklin Hardenbergh, Oriana Hardenbergh (née Marshall) and Margaret Marshall. Various plays have handwritten labels and notes, while one,(Box 2 Folder 15) contains a handwritten insert of lines and stage directions written by Frank Hardenbergh.