The Broadside Collection in the Rare Book Division of the Library of Congress consists of approximately 40,000 items dating from 1527 to the present but predominantly featuring 18th- and 19th-century Americana. Most of the 18th-century items were preserved because of the foresight of Ebenezer Hazard and Peter Force. Hazard was a historian and collector of papers relating to the European settlements in North America. Force, a historian and collector, published American Archives, a compilation of early American documents from 1774-76. Force acquired parts of Hazard's collection to add to his library. The Library of Congress purchased the Peter Force Library in 1867, establishing its first major collections of 18th-century American newspapers, incunabula, early American imprints, manuscripts, and rare maps and atlases. Complementing the Continental Congress and Constitutional Convention Broadside Collections are at least 2,000 additional items dating from 1774 to 1789 that include proceedings and proclamations of state and local governmental bodies, public notices, petitions, and polemic essays, as well as proceedings of various British offices relating to America.
This online collection, one of the earliest in American Memory, was first released in 1995 with bitonal images scanned from microfilm. The Library of Congress upgraded this collection in 2005 by providing access to full color scans of the original, for at least one copy of each broadside. In some cases, duplicate copies bearing manuscript annotations exist in the collection. The Library scanned these distinctive copies and is making them accessible as part of the collection upgrade.
A broadside, or broadsheet, is a large sheet of paper, usually printed only on one side. This format is often used for rapid distribution of time-dated ephemeral information and is intended to be read and shared or thrown away. Especially popular in the 18th-century, the broadside format was used for a variety of purposes, including official notices, proclamations, petitions, playbills, news extras, and advertisements. Broadsides were posted in town halls and coffee houses, read in churches and public meetings, and often reprinted or excerpted in local newspapers.