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B. J. Simmons & Co.:

An Inventory of Its Costume Design Records at the Harry Ransom Center

Creator: B. J. Simmons & Co.
Title: B. J. Simmons & Co. Costume Design Records
Dates: 1830-1969 (bulk 1900-1960)
Extent: 226 document boxes, 331 oversize boxes, 227 portfolios, 35 flat file drawers (400.84 linear feet)
Abstract: The B. J. Simmons & Co. Costume Design Records consists of costume designs for theatre and film, supplemented by research materials and business records. Simmons' costumes were known for their correctness of period, sophisticated design, and high quality.
Call Number: Performing Arts Collection PA-00008
Language: English, French
Note: The Ransom Center gratefully acknowledges the assistance of the National Endowment for the Humanities, which provided funds for the preservation and cataloging of this collection.
Access: Open for research. Researchers must create an online Research Account and agree to the Materials Use Policy before using archival materials.
Use Policies: Ransom Center collections may contain material with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations. Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in the collections without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications (e.g., a cause of action under common law for invasion of privacy may arise if facts concerning an individual's private life are published that would be deemed highly offensive to a reasonable person) for which the Ransom Center and The University of Texas at Austin assume no responsibility.
Restrictions on Use: Authorization for publication is given on behalf of the University of Texas as the owner of the collection and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder which must be obtained by the researcher. For more information please see the Ransom Center's Open Access and Use Policies.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation: Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin. B. J. Simmons & Co. Costume Design Records (Performing Arts Collection PA-00008).
Acquisition: Purchases, 1983 (R10110), 1987 (R11240), and 2007 (R16508)
Processed by: Helen Adair and Toni Alfau, 2002-2004

Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Organizational History

The London costumier B. J. Simmons & Co. was founded in 1857 by a Mr. B. J. Simmons and operated by his direct descendants well into the 1930s. Simmons' costumes were known for their correctness of period, sophisticated design, and high quality. Despite two world wars, an economic depression, and profound shifts in entertainment forms and tastes including the introduction of the cinema, Simmons adapted to changes in the theatre and dressed at least 1,200 stage and film productions before ceasing operations in 1964. In their busy Covent Garden workshop, dressmakers turned out immaculately constructed stage apparel, often from renderings by leading costume designers. Successful theater managers repeatedly turned to Simmons for historical costumes, especially Herbert Beerbohm Tree whose magnificent stagings of Shakespeare were often outfitted by Simmons.
While best known as a historical costumier for the London stage, Simmons' output was diverse. The company created costumes for a variety of shows in the West End, the provinces, and overseas, ranging from Victorian pantomime to the "kitchen sink" dramas of the 1960s. In the 1940s Simmons was the principal supplier of new and stock costumes to J. Arthur Rank and London Film Productions. In addition to making new costumes for professional productions, Simmons operated a thriving rental business which allowed operatic and dramatic societies across England to hire beautifully made garments for amateur productions. Like many theatrical costumiers, Simmons maintained a substantial nontheatrical trade. One such commission was an order placed by the Ethiopian army in 1947 for hundreds of officers' hats.
Simmons began as a family-run outfit known variously as B. J. Simmons, J. B. Simmons, John Simmons & Son/Sons, Simmons/Symmons/Simmonds Brothers, G. B. Simmons, and B. & G. Simmons. The force majeure seems to have been John Simmons, whose name appears in The London Stage and in London newspapers until 1922. According to J. P. Wearing, between 1890 and 1899 Simmons provided costumes for at least forty-two theatre productions in London. By the 1930s, the firm was dressing as many as twenty stage productions per year.
World War II marked the beginning of Simmons' association with the perruquier and costumier Charles H. Fox. Since 1878, Fox had been a major supplier of wigs and costumes for private theatricals and fancy dress balls. When Fox secured a contract with the British army in 1940 to supply costumes to the Entertainments National Service Association, Simmons was forced into a financial crisis. The following year, Fox purchased Simmons with funds provided by the theatrical publisher Samuel French, Fox's financial partner since 1891.
B. J. Simmons continued to operate as a separate concern under the new ownership. French's president Cyril Hogg took a special interest in Simmons, running it as a sort of gentleman's hobby, but the company was not profitable and when Hogg died in 1964, Simmons closed its doors. Fox took possession of Simmons' stock costumes (which in 1936 had reportedly numbered 80,000 items) and rented them out for a time. In 1976, Fox purchased French's interest in Simmons, a transaction which allowed the collection to be sold in the early 1980s. Additional designs were purchased in 2007.


Motley Books, "The Simmons Archive." Unpublished dealer's catalog, 1983.
Vigers, Edith M., "Land of Make-Believe: Clothes Reminiscent of Gallants of Old." The Evening News (London), 17 June 1936, p. [2].
Wearing, J. P., The London Stage 1890-1899: A Calendar of Plays and Players. 2 vols. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1976 (and similar volumes for 1900-1909, 1910-1919, 1920-1929, 1930-1939, 1940-1949, 1950-1959).

Scope and Contents

The finding aid for the B. J. Simmons & Co. Costume Design Records is a conflation of the original inventory created in 2002-2004, and of a small addition that was catalogued in 2007.
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, circa 1880-1959 (227 portfolios), III. Geographic Portfolios, circa 1890-1960 (52 boxes, 1 flat file drawer), and IV. Business Records, 1920-1969, undated (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.
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.

Related Material

Researchers may also wish to consult the Edward Carrick archive in the Film Collection. The Donald Wolfit Papers includes a gown worn by Rosalind Iden in As You Like It that was created by B. J. Simmons & Co.
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). There are a number of physical costumes from B. J. Simmons & Co. preserved in the Theatre & Performance Collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Separated Material

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. These books are cataloged online in The University of Texas Library Catalog.

Index Terms


J. Arthur Rankin Film (Firm).
London Film Productions.


Costume design.
Costume designers.


London (England).
Paris (France).

Document Types


Container List