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Thomas Conolly papers

Identifier: Midwest-MS-Conolly

Scope and Content of the Collection

Mainly British autographs, autographed letters and two autograph books, plus a collection of bookplates, some newspaper clippings, letters received by Conolly relating to his collecting activities and other miscellaneous correspondence, likely retained for the signatures. There are a few pictures and photographs, including three tiny stereo photos taken by Arctic explorer Frederick Cook in 1908. Also, material relating to the Auditorium Theater and the Chicago Civic Opera, and letters from Business Manager Herbert M. Johnson while talent scouting in Europe. Also, three advertising booklets for Laura Conolly’s beauty products, and a small amount of miscellaneous memorabilia, including 1895 advertising and review of hypnotist Professor Arthur (Howton), the “Boy Phenomenon.”


  • Creation: 1800-1944



Materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

The Thomas Conolly papers are open for research in the Special Collections Reading Room; 1 box at a time (Priority III).

Ownership and Literary Rights

The Thomas Conolly papers are the physical property of the Newberry Library. Copyright may belong to the authors or their legal heirs or assigns. For permission to publish or reproduce any materials from this collection, contact the Roger and Julie Baskes Department of Special Collections at

Biography of Thomas Conolly

Chicago decorative plasterer.

Born in England in 1856, Thomas Conolly emigrated to Chicago in 1889, where he immediately began work as a decorative plasterer on the new Auditorium building, a job he held for fifty-two years. His hobby as a collector of autographs and countless rare books developed into a life-long passion, and grew to include broadsides, opera and theater playbills and programs, rare manuscripts and memorabilia, pictures and photographs of stage stars and other famous people, and all sorts of unusual and/or valuable miscellany.

Conolly married Laura Houghton, an expert in cosmetics. She opened a little beauty shop in the Auditorium building, selling a face-cream of her own recipe, which became a favorite with the operatic and theatrical professions. The profits from this modest business allowed Conolly to increase his avid collecting of books and whatever else appealed to him, nearly half of which related to the theater, both English and American. A small fireproof bungalow on Exchange Avenue in Chicago and a cottage on Oglesby Avenue, served as repositories for his vast collection.

Thomas Conolly died in 1945.


1.3 Linear Feet (3 boxes)


Material collected by Thomas Conolly, decorative plasterer and handyman for fifty-two years at the Auditorium Building in Chicago, which consists mainly of autographs and autographed historical letters. Also, bookplates, clippings, miscellaneous memorabilia, a few items relating to the Chicago Civic Opera Company and the Auditorium Theater, several photographs and pictures, and a group of personal letters to Conolly.


Papers are organized in the following series:

Series 1: Autographs, 1820-1911
Boxes 1-2
Series 2: Bookplates, Clippings, Memorabilia and Miscellaneous, 1885-1944
Box 2
Series 3: Correspondence, 1800-1943
Box 3

Collection Stack Location

1 12 6

Other Finding Aids

Newberry Library Bulletin, no. 4 (July 1946), p. 3-10.


Gift of Thomas Conolly, 1945.

Processed by

Virginia H. Smith, 2006.

Inventory of the Thomas Conolly papers, 1800-1944
Virginia H. Smith
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the The Newberry Library - Modern Manuscripts and Archives Repository

60 West Walton Street
Chicago Illinois 60610 United States