Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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B. J. Simmons & Co. Costume Design Records

Costume design. Click to enlarge.

Gordon Conway, costume designer.
Fancy in The Sign of the Seven Dials, 1931.
B. J. Simmons & Co. Records.

Conservation Work
Costume Research Library
Finding Aid
Web Exhibition

In 1983 and 1987, the Ransom Center acquired the voluminous archive of the British theatrical costumier B. J. Simmons & Co. From its founding in 1857 to its demise in 1964, Simmons created stage costumes for hundreds of theatre productions in London, the provinces, and overseas, ranging from Victorian pantomime to the "kitchen sink" dramas of the 1960s. Simmons also provided costumes for over one hundred films including features directed by Alexander Korda and Laurence Olivier.

In their busy Covent Garden workshop, dressmakers at B. J. Simmons turned out immaculately constructed stage apparel, often from renderings by leading costume designers. Such was the firm's reputation for historical accuracy that managers repeatedly turned to Simmons for period costumes, especially Herbert Beerbohm Tree whose magnificent stagings of Shakespeare were often dressed by Simmons. 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.

For decades, staff at Simmons preserved tens of thousands of original costume designs and costumier's copies of the originals, along with an extensive research library. Assembled with great care, these materials form a unique visual record of British drama from the 1880s to the 1960s. The Simmons archive also provides new evidence about the nature of costume design in the nineteenth century, for Simmons' records indicate that costume design was integrated with other elements of theatrical production earlier than previously thought.

The Ransom Center is deeply indebted to the National Endowment for the Humanities for funding the preservation, arrangement, description, and selected digitization of the Simmons collection, 2002-2004.


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