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MS Thr 636

Gear, J. W. (John William), 1806-1866. John William Gear and Joseph Gear drawings and prints, 1817-1865: Guide.

Houghton Library, Harvard Library, Harvard University


Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138 USA

© President and Fellows of Harvard College

Descriptive Summary

Location: Harvard Depository
Call No.: MS Thr 636
Repository: Houghton Library, Harvard Library, Harvard University
Creator: Gear, J. W. (John William), 1806-1866.
Title: John William Gear and Joseph Gear drawings and prints,
Date(s): 1817-1865.
Quantity: 1 collection (3 linear feet (6 boxes)
Language of materials: Collection materials are in English.
Abstract: Theatrically related drawings, lithographs and engravings, by English-born, American artist, John William Gear. Some also possibly by his father, artist Joseph Gear.

Immediate Source of Acquisition:

No accession number. Purchase from Richard B. Holman, Holman's Print Shop, 5A Park Street, Boston; received: 1940.
No accession number. Gift of Marion Hannah Winter; received: 1940 December 13.
No accession number. Gift of Herbert G. Porter, 20 Arlington Street, Malden, Massachusetts; received: 1944 January 20.
No accession number. Gift of Emmons Douglass, c/o American Hardware Mutual Insurance, 15 Deerfield Street, Boston, Massachusetts 02215; received: 1968 October 28.


Drawings appear to have been handed down from Isaac Moorhouse (executor to J. W. Gear) to his daughter (Mrs. Fick) who discovered these drawings in her home. It was ca. 1933 when the drawings came into the possession of Richard B. Holman of Holman's Print Shop. See series VI. below for additional information.

Processing Information:

Processed by: Bonnie B. Salt

Conditions Governing Access:

There are no restrictions on physical access to this material.
This collection is not housed at the Houghton Library but is shelved offsite at the Harvard Depository. Retrieval requires advance notice. Readers should check with Houghton Public Services staff to determine what material is offsite and retrieval policies and times.

Preferred Citation for Publication:

John William Gear and Joseph Gear Drawings and Prints, 1817-1865 (MS Thr 636). Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard University.

Biographical / Historical

John William Gear (1806-1866) was an English-born portraitist, miniaturist, watercolor painter, and lithographer, who specialized in theatrical portraits. His greatest work was the publishing of a set of impressions of theater audiences, Portraits of the Public being Heads of Audiences, .... This work was to be published a few at a time in pamphlet form, but only number one ever appeared. He exhibited in London, 1821-1852, and came to Boston ca. 1852 and set-up a business for cleaning and restoring paintings. Although he exhibited his work at the Boston Athenaeum in 1855, he sank into poverty and in 1866 he committed suicide at his father's grave (Joseph Gear) in Mount Auburn Cemetery.
Joseph Gear (1768-1853) was a marine painter, engraver, caricaturist, and a musician. He immigrated to the United States in 1824?, later moved to Boston, and exhibited at the Boston Athenaeum, 1829-1837. He was said to be a "double bassist employed at Drury Lane Theatre, London, and Tremont St. Theatre, Boston, Mass." John William Gear was his son.


Arranged into the following series:

Scope and Contents

Primarily theatrically-related drawings in watercolor, graphite, and ink, but also includes lithographs and engravings. Most images are by John William Gear, but some are possibly by his father, Joseph Gear. Materials have not been identified as to which Gear was the creator of which items, and it is likely that most of the images were created while John William Gear was still in England. The great majority of images are portraits of theatrical audience members (especially miniature heads), but there also are portraits of actors and actresses, landscapes, and stage scenes. There is a large group of portraits of the actor Edmund Kean, and portraits sketched at many London theaters including Drury Lane Theatre and Covent Garden Theatre. The collection also contains a few letters to the Gears, and provenance correspondence, lists, and notes.
Some items have autograph manuscript notes on the mats by Richard B. Holman, the rare print dealer in Boston who eventually came into possession of this collection and sold it to Harvard.


This collection is shelved offsite at the Harvard Depository. See access restrictions below for additional information.

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