Monday, September 24, 2012

Allen Show Prints, Beverly, Massachusetts

Posters printed by Allen Show Prints
operated by Irving Willis Allen, Beverly, Massachusetts

I was surprised to see on census records that my Mom's cousin, Erving / Irving Willis Allen (1859 - 1920) was a publisher in Beverly, Massachusetts.  in the 1888 Town Directory he is listed as the publisher of the Beverly Citizen newspaper.  According to the Beverly Historical Society he owned and published the Beverly Citizen from about 1882 to January 1892.  He sold the paper to Charles A. King.  In 1897 he started the Allen Job Print at 58 Railroad Avenue, and by by the 1910 census he is listed as the house printer at "Allen Show Prints" at 91 Rantoul Street in Beverly.  There were no advertisements in the Beverly City Directories.    His second wife is listed as a widow in the 1930 census.

I haven't been able to find much on the Allen Show Print business. The American Antiquarian Society library in Worcester, Massachusetts has a collection of show prints and vaudeville posters, but not much in their collections after 1900.  They specialize in ephemera only from the founding of our country up through the 1800s.  The Allen Show Prints printed posters for vaudeville acts, traveling circuses, plays and other theatrical events.  Most of these apparently did not survive, and so the few I've seen online are extremely rare.  That is the nature of ephemera! 

These two posters above advertised the Murdock Brothers in the 1920s or 30s.  I've seen it for sale at e-Bay online, and it is very collectible as a piece of Black American History.  I've seen references to the "Murdock Brothers Medicine Show" in old newspapers.  A traveling Medicine Show was usually sponsored by a patent medicine company, and between acts they would peddle the bottles of medicine. This eventually developed into a respectable vaudeville act that traveled across the country. 

Most of the vaudeville art I've seen is garish and brightly colored, but it seems to have worked for it's audience.  Before movies this was the most popular form of entertainment in the United States.  These types of posters were probably spread all over buildings and signs, and then ripped down and replaced when the new acts came to town. This makes any surviving show prints very rare. 

If anyone has any information on how to research vaudeville show prints, or information on Erving Willis Allen and his Allen Show Prints business in Beverly, Massachusetts, please leave me a comment at this blog post or contact me at    I would love to find out more about this fascinating business!  No living member of the Allen family has any memory of this cousin or this business. 


Erving / Irving Willis Allen was born 11 March 1859 at Thompson's Island, Essex, Massachusetts and died 6 November 1920 in Beverly, Massachusetts; married first on 30 March 1881 in Beverly to Grace Anna Trefrey, daughter of William Edward Trefrey and Joanna Peirce.  She was born 12 March 1860 in Beverly, and died 9 September 1882 in Beverly.  One child, Archer Irving Allen, born 1882.  He married second on 14 January 1885 in Beverly to Mabel Griffin, daughter of Charles Carroll Griffin and Ora Eliza Dennis.  She was born in September 1861 in Massachusetts.  One child, Heman Kenneth Allen, born 1885. 

I'll start this family tree with my 3x great grandparents, who lived in Essex, Massachusetts:

                                 Joseph Allen (1801-1894) m. Orpha Andrews
                                         I                                                  I
Humphrey Choate Allen (1825 - 1881)   Joseph Gilman Allen (1830-1908) m Sarah Mears
                          I                                                                 I
       Erving Willis Allen                      Joseph Elmer Allen (1870 - 1932) m. Carrie Batchelder
                                                        Stanley Elmer Allen (1904 - 1982) m Gertrude Hitchings
                                                                                      My Mother

Copyright 2012, Heather Wilkinson Rojo

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