The following comes from an 1890 news article in the San Francisco Morning Call:
Behind the Scenes
The property-room is a theatrical sepulcher. Buried in dust and stage debris are mementos of histrionic grandeur. A warrior’s helmet is crowded by a three-legged stool; the figure of a proud god, whose presence shed luster on the perspective of a “bleached alley,” is degraded by the oppression of a big old candlestick that hangs across his breast; the soft-toned mandolin, (the fellow in the orchestra was making the music) whose notes as they wafted into life under the gentle touch of the fair player, wooed back her recreant lover, hangs on a wall, a veritable “fake.”
It never had any strings, nor had its companion, the crazy-looking violin. With dented sides and lonesome looks vessels of golden hue are piled in one corner beside a lot of rag carpet.
Here is a stack of muskets not one which was fired in a century, if appearances go for anything. There is an ink-well that never was blackened by writing-fluid, and a pen used to sign death-warrants and marriage-certificates that had its point blunted in inditing signatures that never showed on paper.
There are huge letters and pretentiously sealed packages with never a line in them.
All about, in shabby disillusion, is seen the mechanical mimicry of the objects in real life.
The propertyman is an artist in his way and in these days of stage realism as essential to the success of a play as the author himself. Gone are the times when a table and a few chairs were all he had to “set” in a scene. This age demands that he be a skilled mechanic, able to manipulate the stage substitute for wood and minerals, papier mache, so that his talent will produce anything from a strawberry to an armored knight or the skull used in the grave-digger’s scene in “Hamlet.”
As a result his worth to the stage has been elevated, and his salary climbs up into high-priced figures.
Originally published in The Morning Call, San Francisco, December 25, 1890, pg 19.