Anonymous Photographer. Unidentified Performer. 1908. Image and original data provided by the University of Florida Digital Collections.

Anonymous Photographer. Unidentified Performer. 1908. Image and original data provided by the University of Florida Digital Collections.

The Department of Special Collections, George A. Smathers Libraries at the University of Florida has contributed 5,000 images from the Ringling Theatre Collection to the Artstor Digital Library.* The selection in Artstor offers comprehensive imagery from the rich resource that traces the history of stagecraft in Europe and America from Shakespearean prints through to the 20th century.

Highlights from this contribution include a signed postcard of the famed stage and film actress Kitty Mason, offering a glimpse into this forgotten world, as does the photograph of actress Vera Little in full costume. English performer Harriet Vernon is the epitome of Victorian era glamour in a souvenir photograph from the late nineteenth century.

An 1867 postcard advertising a performance by the “champion bareback rider of the world” James Robinson “and his son Clarence” at Chicago’s Zoological Garden and Coliseum encourages audience members to “secure your seats in time!”

The Ringling Theatre Collection features productions and personalities, including posters and heralds, souvenir photographs and prints of iconic performers, numerous stage and publicity stills of 20th century plays and films, and hundreds of photographs of the legendary and now forgotten stars of minstrel, vaudeville and burlesque—idols of a bygone era.

In the 1990s, the Ringling Theatre Collection was purchased by the University of Florida (UF), from the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Florida. It is one of several housed in the Belknap Collection for the Performing Arts at the George A. Smathers Libraries. Founded in 1958 by Sarah Yancy Belknap, a New York Librarian and an avid patron of the arts, the Belknap Collection is an eclectic mixture of primary research material, much of it ephemera from 19th and 20th Century Europe and America. The George A. Smathers Libraries is a consortium of six libraries in the UF system.

The Ringling Theatre Collection is being released as part of a thematic launch on American college museums that includes selections from: the Ackland Art Museum (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill); the Bowdoin College Museum of Art; the Davis Museum and Cultural Center (Wellesley College); the Davison Art Center (Wesleyan University); the Tufts University Art Gallery; the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Art Collection; and the Williams College Museum of Art.

View the collection in the Artstor Digital Library, or learn more at the Ringling Theatre Collection (University of Florida) page.

*Image totals may vary from country to country, reflecting Artstor’s obligation to address the specifics of international copyright.