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Broadsides are single sheets printed on one side that served as public announcements or advertisements from the beginning of printing in America through the early 20th century. They were the popular "broadcasts" of their day, bringing news of current events to the public quickly and often disappearing just as quickly.
The Society holds more than 10,000 broadsides, an unusually large and valuable collection since the temporary use of broadsides made their survival particularly rare. Generally posted or read aloud, broadsides constituted official notices of laws and regulations and provided news of battles, deaths, executions, and other current events.
Highlights include a notice of the Harvard commencement exercises in 1643, announcements of antislavery rallies, recruitment posters for the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, the first official black regiment raised in the North during the Civil War, and broadsides that run the gamut from dying confessions, to poems on natural disasters and topics of the day and official government proclamations.
A large collection of theater broadsides and playbills, chiefly from Boston, gives a glimpse of popular culture and entertainment in the 19th century.
Posters—works of art printed on single sheets—have been cataloged as part of the broadside collection.
The MHS holds copies of many different broadside printings of The Declaration, the single most important printed document in American history, including one of the few surviving copies of the first printing by John Dunlap of Philadelphia from 4-5 July 1776. Dunlap's broadside brought news of Independence throughout the colonies.
All of the Society's broadsides are cataloged in ABIGAIL, the library online catalog.