Collection on Prohibition, 1927-1934 (bulk 1932-1933)

Extent: 1 box
This collection primarily consists of speakeasy cards and bootleggers’ price lists from New York City during the Prohibition era (1920-1933), a time in which the sale, manufacture, and distribution of alcohol was illegal in the United States under the 18th Amendment.

Historical Note
Prohibition began with the passage of the 18th Amendment in 1920, which prohibited the production, transportation, and sale of alcohol in the United States. Defiant of temperance, some entrepreneurial Americans—typically those affiliated with organized crime networks—continued the underground manufacture and distribution of alcohol, a practice known as bootlegging. Bootleggers supplied illegal bars, commonly referred to as speakeasies, with alcohol for sale and consumption. Due to the secrecy surrounding these illegal establishments, membership cards and guest passes were distributed to patrons to serve as identification to the speakeasy’s security guard. New York’s vibrant nightlife flourished during the Prohibition era, and was largely centered in Midtown Manhattan between 40th and 60th Streets. Some sources report that by 1930 an estimated 32,000 illegal nightclubs operated in New York City.

Scope and Content
The primary formats represented in this collection are two-dimensional membership cards and booklets advertising the alcohol for sale, and were printed and distributed between approximately 1927 and 1934. The materials utilize a variety of marketing tactics, such as using engaging graphics on the membership cards, and advertising delivery service or promotional items, such as collapsible drinking glasses, in the bootleggers’ price lists. Some cards and price lists also feature event cocktail recipes, speakeasy promotions, and invitations for select guests to attend exclusive parties.

Series I: Speakeasy Cards, ca. 1920-1934
Series II: Bootleggers’ Price Lists, ca. 1920-1933

Click here to view the complete finding aid for the Collection on Prohibition.

Related Collections
Collection on Clubs, Societies, and Associations
Collection on Dining and Hospitality
Collection on the Women’s Organization for National Prohibition Reform

The Museum is grateful for the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities; this collection was reprocessed as part of the NEH project Illuminating New York City History through Material Culture: A Proposal to Process, Catalog, Digitize, and Rehouse the Ephemera Collections of the Museum of the City of New York. Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this finding aid do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.