The following is taken from an article which first appeared in The Daily Evening Telegraph in 1871:
The Property Man is one of the first grand essentials of the theatre. The success of every piece, no matter how slight, depends in a great measure on him. Everything on the stage, except the scenery, are properties. The word is oftenest applied to small articles used by the performers, but these are a part only of the great mass of such material. Furniture of every sort are properties. These large pieces are termed “stage props” in opposition to “hand props.” The best “stage props”â€”parlor sets, etc.â€”are sometimes very handsome and are used very carefully. In modern society pieces it is quite the custom now to hire furniture of a dealer for the run of the piece. Property men in the country (as theatrical stands outside of the larger towns are termed) are often sorely perplexed in this respect. They have in such cases nearly always to hire, and it often happens that furniture men are a narrow-minded set of heathens, for whom the drama has noÂ Ã¦sthetic attractions whatever. The strangest things have been done under these circumstances. The curtain must go upâ€”so much is sure; and that great results can be accomplished under the stress of a “must” more important affairs than things theatrical have proved.
We heard of a sharp fellow once who, being with a travelling company, struck a town whose shopkeepers were all of the very strictest sort. He had to have a sofa and some other furniture for a piece to be played, and he could neither hire, borrow, buy, nor steal it. They would rather chop it up, the owners said, than have it go inside of a theatre. Our man, not discouraged however, set his wits to work. He got another person to purchase the required goods, and to have them sent with the bill to a hotel, where they should be paid for on delivery. The car driver was in the trick, and the furniture was swiftly driven to the theatre. It was only required in the first piece, and by 9 o’clock it was back in the owner’s store (not a whit worse than an hour and a half before, except that a few profane stage-players had touched it), with the message that it did not exactly suit the intended purchaser. This clever trick was played in Poughkeepsie, and the daring wretch who devised it yet lives to boast of his exploit.
Originally published in The Daily Evening Telegraph, Philadelphia, May 12, 1871, pg 5.