B. J. Simmons & Co. Costume Design Records
Scope and Contents
The bulk of the B. J. Simmons & Co. Costume Design Records consists of costume designs for theatre and film, supplemented by research materials and business records. The collection is arranged in four series: I. Costume Design Portfolios, 1878-1969 (454 boxes, 34 flat file drawers), II. Production Portfolios, ca. 1880-1959 (227 portfolios), III. Geographic Portfolios, ca. 1890-1960 (52 boxes, 1 flat file drawer), and IV. Business Records, 1920-1969, nd (51 boxes). Within each series, materials are arranged alphabetically by title or subject.
The Costume Design Portfolios contain 34,000 costume designs and related materials produced or collected by the firm between 1878 and 1969 (bulk 1910-1960). Over 1,100 theatrical productions and 116 films are represented, divided into five subseries and arranged therein by job number. In Simmons' oeuvre, major works of Shakespeare and Shaw are found alongside Gilbert and Sullivan operettas; performances by John Gielgud (Hamlet, 1944) and Laurence Olivier (as Romeo, 1935) are intermingled with short-run plays and numerous Ivor Novello musicals. Renderings for Oscar Asche's blockbuster production of the musical Chu Chin Chow (1916) are included, as are the original designs for Peter Pan (1904) and Ben-Hur (1902). Revues, grand opera, British films (Olivier's Henry V, Things to Come), and even ice shows are also featured. Among the many designers whose work is present, Percy Anderson, Attilio Comelli, and Sers are particularly well represented.
An index of costume designers is included in this finding aid, along with a general index that includes correspondents and a selection of authors (playwrights, screenwriters, etc.), directors, managers, and producers. Most of the information in the folder list and indexes is also available as a database in the Reading Room.
The Production Portfolios comprise 227 folio scrapbooks of souvenir programs, clipped reviews and articles from entertainment periodicals, and photographs showing illustrations of stage and film costumes, often with accompanying textual descriptions or reviews. Over 8,000 productions between 1880 and 1959 are represented; most are in London or Paris, but some New York shows are included. Although many of the productions were dressed by Simmons, other stagings are also represented, allowing researchers to compare several presentations of the same play. The scrapbooks were compiled alphabetically by title of play or film, and each production is listed in the index of production portfolios in this finding aid.
When published sources were not sufficiently detailed (or did not exist) to meet the requirements of a particular theatrical production or commission, designers conducted research at libraries and museums. Over time, Simmons compiled a vast visual archive of tracings, clippings, photographs, postcards, and other ephemeral materials. The Geographic Costume Portfolios contain more than 10,000 items arranged in meticulous order by country (from Abyssinia to Yugoslavia) and time period. England and France are especially well represented, with numerous files for military uniforms and the vestments of monarchs.
After the initial production and sale of costumes, Simmons often leased their garments to amateur dramatic societies and subsequent professional productions. The records for this part of their enterprise are found in the Business Records series, as are other documents concerning the management of a costume house. Possibly some of Simmons' business records were lost, for what remains is neither extensive nor comprehensive for a business as prolific and long-lived as was Simmons. Between 1941 and 1964, it is difficult to distinguish B. J. Simmons' records from those of Charles H. Fox. Most of the post-1964 business records pertain to Fox's rentals of costumes made by Simmons.
The Ransom Center Library holds the B. J. Simmons Costume Research Library, a collection of over 150 books on the history of costume, notable artists and historical figures, and national costume traditions. Researchers may also wish to consult the Edward Carrick archive in the Film Collection.
Other costume designs for Simmons productions are held at the Tobin Theatre Collection at the Marion Koogler McNay Art Museum, and at the University of Hull (see "The Beauty Stone": Costume Designs by Percy Anderson for the 1898 D'Oyly Carte Production of Sullivan's Opera at the Savoy Theatre, exhibition catalog, University of Hull Art Collection, 1988).
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(Last modified: 15 March 2007 )
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