The following comes from a book written in 1916 by Arthur Edwin Krows, called “Play production in America.” It’s short, but provides a rare example from this time period on how props were acquired, rather than built.
Confessedly, it is not a simple matter to provide pertinent items for a stage scene, either those adapted to actual use in the action, or those merely for atmosphere. Consequently, most producers are found covertly making collections of articles they are likely to need. Belasco has an amazing amount of such things stored away. It is said, too, that every time he goes out of town to open a new production, a certain ” second-hand” man will ship a carload of “antiques” on ahead, open a store in the town, and contrive to have the distinguished manager informed of the opportunity for bargains.
When they wanted furniture in the old days, they frequently manufactured the unused, purely decorative pieces of papier-mache, when they didn’t paint them on the scenery; but all that is gone by now. Fannie Brice once told me how in the early days of her career, she used to borrow the window curtain of her hotel room to help dress the set. The efficient property man maintains a list of sources where he may procure any and all of the manifold portable objects in any scene. In Winthrop Ames’s production of “Children of Earth,” in New York, chairs were gathered from old houses in New Jersey and Connecticut, and from old curiosity shops, the pewter from an old New England farmhouse through a dealer, a saw, saw-buck, and some rainbarrels from Mr. Ames’s farm in Massachusetts, and so on through a long list of objects quite as imposing as that of art miscellany in “The High Road.”