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B. J. Simmons & Co. Costume Design Records

Series Descriptions

Series I. Costume Design Portfolios, 1878-1969 (454 boxes, 34 flat file drawers)

This series is divided into five subseries: A. Theatre Productions, B. Film Productions, C. Other Projects, D. Work by Other Costumiers, and E. Unidentified and Miscellaneous. Within each subseries, materials are arranged by alphabetically by job number (see note on arrangement at the end of these series descriptions).

Throughout Series I, it is difficult to attribute individual renderings to a particular designer because most items are not signed, and because many of Simmons' renderings are studio copies of original designs. As such, the costumiers' copies are a good source for production histories but not as reliable for research requiring original designs drawn by the designer of record. With the exception of some early twentieth century tracings copied from designs by Simmons' competitor Charles Alias, copies are rare before 1910 but become increasingly prevalent after 1930.

Subseries A. Theatre Productions, 1878-1964 (384 boxes, 18.5 flat file drawers)

This subseries consists of preliminary sketches and final renderings; costume plots giving a list of all the characters and their costumes; and tracings, patterns, stencils, photographs, theater programs, research materials, and a very small amount of correspondence for over 1,100 theatre productions encompassing almost every genre that graced the London stage between the 1870s and 1960s: plays, comic operas, musical comedies, operas, pantomimes, pageants, revues, Christmas entertainments, ice shows, and the ballet. Designs for provincial tryouts and amateur stagings are occasionally present. The following designers are credited for theatre productions: Percy Anderson, Léon Bakst, Cecil Beaton, Gladys E. Calthrop, Attilio Comelli, Frederick Dawson, Elizabeth Haffenden, Aubrey Hammond, George W. Harris, Tom Heslewood, Anthony Holland, René Hubert, Percy Macquoid, Oliver Messel, F. C. Milner, Motley, Herbert Norris, Charles Ricketts, Hugo Rumbold, Howell Russell, Irene Segalla, Sers, Paul Shelving, Ernst Stern, Dolly Tree, Georges Wakhevitch, Wilhelm, and Doris Zinkeisen.

The designs are drawn on board or paper, and most are annotated with a sketch number and the performers' names and measurements. Many items are further embellished with fabric swatches and notes about decorations, foot- and head-gear, hairstyles, jewelry, and accessories. Costume plots record the names of performers, the parts they played, and the costumes and accessories required; the cast lists found here are often more complete than those presented in other sources. Research materials typically consist of photographs, historical prints, and drawings of historical figures copied from other sources. There are many stagings by Tom Arnold, Oscar Asche, Dion G. Boucicault, Arthur Collins, the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, John Gielgud, Matheson Lang, J. A. E. Malone, Ivor Novello, Laurence Olivier, Louis N. Parker, and Herbert Beerbohm Tree. Works by Shakespeare, Gilbert and Sullivan, and Oscar Hammerstein are prevalent.

Subseries B. Film Productions, 1923-1962 (55 boxes, 15 flat file drawers)

Included here are costume designs, dress plots, and related materials including production stills for 116 films, among them Ben Hur (1959), A Canterbury Tale (1944), Christopher Columbus (1949), The Dictator (1935), Henry V (1944), I, Claudius (1937), Ivanhoe (1952), Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933), Saraband for Dead Lovers (1948), The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934), The Tales of Hoffman (1951), The Thief of Baghdad (1940), Things To Come (1936), and The Young Mr. Pitt (1942). Costume designers John Armstrong, Gordon Conway, Roger Furse, Elizabeth Haffenden, and Joe Strassner are well-represented, as are directors Alexander Korda, Laurence Olivier, William Cameron Menzies, Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger, and Victor Saville, and four studios: Rank Film Organization, London Film Productions, Gainsborough, and Gaumont.

Subseries C. Other Projects, 1931-1967 (1.5 boxes, 0.25 flat file drawer)

Collected here are designs and related materials for corporate clients and other nontheatrical commissions such as a carnival and a fancy dress ball.

Subseries D. Work by Other Costumiers, 1895-1945 (1.5 boxes)

Some of these costume design portfolios pertain to productions dressed by two of Simmons' competitors, L. & H. Nathan and Alias; others are generic, mass-produced designs published by G. Ricordi of Milan.

Subseries E. Unidentified and Miscellaneous, 1893-1969, nd (10 boxes, 0.25 flat file drawer)

Most of this subseries comprises single sketches and small groups of sketches for unidentified productions, arranged by sketch number or actor when known. Also included are several sets of miscellaneous costume designs that may have been set aside as source material.

Series II. Production Portfolios, ca. 1880-1959 (227 portfolios)

Compiled from about 1880 to 1959, the production portfolios provide visual documentation of stage productions dating as far back as 1738, as well as films and radio broadcasts. The portfolios consist primarily of published materials such as clippings, prints, and programs, supplemented by a very small amount of original material such as sketches, renderings, costume plots, fabric swatches, patterns, correspondence, photographs, and notes. The periodicals Plays and Players, Playgoer, The Play-Pictorial, Sketch, and Theatre World are frequently referenced (see Series IV, Subseries D. for Simmons/Fox's partial index to play titles in these publications). All productions are listed in the index of production portfolios by production name, venue (if identifiable), and year (if known). When designs by identifiable costume designers are present, the designers are referenced in the index of costume designers.

Series III. Geographic Portfolios, ca. 1890-ca. 1960 (52 boxes, 1 flat file drawer)

The geographic portfolios contain clippings, drawings, etchings, and other source material, arranged alphabetically by country and gathered between about 1890 and 1960. For countries with more extensive documentation, the materials are divided into categories such as Military and Royalty. Coverage of the British military is exhaustive, and this segment was heavily reworked during processing to correct filing errors. Costume renderings are sometimes present. Dates in the folder list refer to the subject matter, not the date of publication.

Series IV. Business Records, 1920-1969, nd (51 boxes)

This series is divided into four subseries: A. Costume Plots, B. Correspondence, C. Costume Sales and Rentals, and D. Financial and Miscellaneous.

Subseries A. Costume Plots, 1920-1966, nd (5.5 boxes)

The highlight of this subseries is Simmons' encyclopedic master catalog of costume plots. Originally housed in lockable post binders, the master catalog contains detailed, neatly typed descriptions of the costumes required for hundreds of stage works. The master catalog is supplemented by two "Dramatic Books" of one- or two-page costume estimates prepared for specific clients.

Subseries B. Correspondence, 1937-1969, nd (13 boxes)

Subseries B. is further subdivided into two subseries: B1. Correspondence with Clients, and B2. Legal and Administrative Correspondence.

The bulk of Subseries B1. Correspondence with Clients, 1937-1969, nd, consists of correspondence pertaining to the hire of costumes by amateur operatic societies and grammar schools. Arranged alphabetically by client, the files typically include measurements, costume inventories, and records of delivery. For some clients, financial records such as cost estimates and statements of account are also present. Completing this subseries are files for six of Simmons/Fox's larger commissions.

The bulk of Subseries B2. Legal and Administrative Correspondence, 1940-1961, pertains to leases and insurance for Simmons' offices, and other administrative matters.

Subseries C. Costume Sales and Rentals, 1927-1964, nd (25.5 boxes)

Included here are detailed cost analyses for a variety of theatrical and nontheatrical commissions. Each costume sketch is itemized on a separate sheet of paper, with notes about the price of fabric and trimmings. Other materials record the day to day activities at Simmons via daybooks and journals. As with Subseries B, work for amateur societies and schools is prevalent.

Subseries D. Financial and Miscellaneous, 1933-1969, nd (7 boxes)

Simmons and Fox's interactions with vendors are recorded here via cash dockets, credit notes, and receipts illustrating how Simmons/Fox obtained the raw materials of costume-making and managed its accounts with various suppliers. The records are organized by document type, not vendor. Payroll records and insurance receipts are also present, as are two rare clippings about the history of Simmons and Fox and an album of photographs of the Fox premises, ca. 1920s.

Note on Arrangement of Series I. Costume Design Portfolios (Original Inventory Only)

The Simmons archive was conveyed to the Ransom Center by the rare book and manuscript dealer Motley Books, which assigned "job numbers" to each portfolio in Series I. During cataloging, identical productions were consolidated, and jobs containing more than one production were split into separate jobs where possible. After cataloging, the job numbers were reassigned to reflect the new order of the collection.

When a single job number contains more than one production, the different productions are listed in chronological order in the folder list. Box and folder numbers are given for the first production only; additional productions are filed with the first production, as indicated by "incl." in the folder list.

Due to the extensive amount of oversize costume designs and plots, it was frequently necessary to separate these materials in order to provide properly sized housing. Materials relating to a single portfolio are thus now stored in standard document boxes, and often in oversize boxes ("OS Box" in folder list) and/or large folders stored in map cases ("Flat Files" in folder list).

B. J. Simmons & Co. Costume Design Records Finding Aid
Title Page Organizational
Scope and
Index to Lists Index of
Costume Designers
Index of
Production Portfolios
General Index

(Last modified: 15 March 2007 )

Reference queries to: performingarts@hrc.utexas.edu

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