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The Museum will be closed December 9 for a private event.

Into the Archives: Silent Western Film Lobby Cards

Dwight Cleveland, historical preservationist, recently donated thousands of rare silent Western film lobby cards from the late 1800s to the 1920s to The Dickinson Research Center (DRC) which provides access to the Museum’s archival and library collections from Wild West to Modern West, offering context and diverse perspectives to the region’s evolving history and cultures.

Mr. Cleveland said, “Having these originals available for scholarly research will allow us to better understand the conflicts experienced then and now, under new scrutiny, and the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum is the best possible place for these conversations to evolve.”

“In this era of streaming services, DVDs, and blu-rays, we tend to think that film is permanent, but that is far from true,” said Samantha Schafer, Archivist II at the National Cowboy Museum. “By digitally preserving these lobby cards, we’re giving them permanence so that even when the physical object eventually degrades, we’ll still have the digital record of it.”

Lobby cards are some of the earliest marketing materials for films, acting as a cross between film trailer and print advertisement to entice viewers into theaters. Many of these images are representative of the stars, stories and art of the silent film era that are no longer available for viewing. The Library of Congress estimates that 75% of films from the silent era have been lost, with only their lobby cards remaining as proof that these films ever existed.

The DRC has recently partnered with Dartmouth College and its Dartmouth’s Media Ecology Project in the digitization and preservation of these priceless windows into the history of silent Western films. The project is set to be completed at the end of 2022 and will become a part of Dartmouth’s Early Cinema Compendium, which will feature 15 collections of rare archival and scholarly resources. The compendium will also include more than 7,000 frame samples from early and mostly lost U.S. films, plus access to more than 2,500 archival films across the genres of early cinema.

The Dickinson Research Center

You can learn more about the DRC and even search our archives to explore the West’s history, diversity and soon, Western lobby cards.

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