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Ford’s Theatre Ticket Voucher

July 5, 2021

Memorabilia from Ford’s Theatre, dating from the night of Lincoln’s assassination is, and always has been, a hot collectible. The demand always exceeded the supply, to such an extent that facsimiles and reproductions have been produced from 1865 onwards. A reference book has been written and privately published on the different variations of Ford’s Theatre playbills. It is out-of-print and difficult to obtain. In contrast, no scholarly works have been written on other Ford’s Theatre memorabilia. Collectors are therefore left “to their own devices” and must speculate as to the age, origin and purpose of assorted artifacts that appear in the market. We picture above just such an item. It is a ticket voucher dated April 14, 1865, signed in type by Ford’s Theatre Treasurer H. Clay Ford, allocating two reserved seats for that night’s performance for Mr. H. Fergusson. It is dated on the front and dated again on the back, using a rubber stamp. The paper, ink, style, and rubber stamp all appear to be of the period; however, it is the only example that has surfaced and we know nothing of its origin. If Mr. Fergusson purchased two reserved seats, why didn’t they simply give him two tickets? Why was a voucher even necessary? So, it creates more questions than it answers.

Original tickets, as pictured above, were not dated, but rather had the day of the week printed (in this case, Friday). This seems to make sense economically, since a supply could be printed for the days that performances were given and did not become obsolete after each performance. Neither do they give the name of the play. In this sense, they are generic tickets. Some of these tickets have a dated rubber stamp on the front or the back, matching the one seen on the voucher. The elongated, narrow tickets that exist all indicate the purchase of a “Reserved Chair” and there is a spot on the left side of the ticket where the location of the reserved seat can be filled in. None of the extant “narrow” tickets (dated or not) are so-inscribed, indicating they were not used. In fact, the undated tickets may have been surplus, stock tickets still on-hand after the theater was shut down. One would think that tickets that were actually used were dated, inscribed with the location of the reserved seat, then torn in half. The playgoer would have retained the inscribed stub. We cannot recall seeing any examples of the detached, inscribed stub, by itself or pasted into a scrapbook.

Larger tickets for Ford’s Theatre also exist (see above). These come in different colors and seem to have been season passes. This brings into question whether all seats in the theater were sold on a reserved basis. The existence of pasteboard “place holders” marked “Reserved” and “Taken” used on the night of the assassination, seems to indicate that not all seats were reserved. In the case of the voucher shown in the beginning of this article, it could be that Mr. Fergusson asked for reserved seats and was assigned seats 18 & 19. A theater employee then placed a “Reserved” placard on the seats which would be removed once the ticket-holder arrived, or after the conclusion of the first act, should he be a “no-show”. We assume the “Taken” placards were available to seat holders (reserved or not) who momentarily left their seats, perhaps for a quick visit to the next -door Greenback Saloon (operated, coincidentally, by James Ferguson who witnessed the assassination from a box seat and later was called on to testify).

Interestingly, we cannot locate any dated Ford’s Theatre tickets for any performances prior to the April 14, 1865 showing of “Our American Cousin”. If found, they could shed light on the protocols and practices of theater management. No one seems to have saved playbills, either, though some surely exist. In the meantime, we must sort through the scraps of evidence as best we can.