Unique collection of silent movie artefacts donated to cinema museum

The only evidence left of lost films from the golden era of silent movies can be seen for the first time after a unique collection was donated to one of the UK’s foremost cinema museums.

The collection, which gives an incredible insight into the British and European film industry in this period, was a bequest to the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum at the University of Exeter by artist and photographer Townly Cooke.

The Townly Cooke Collection, made up of around 1,000 artefacts, has never been exhibited before and this is the first time it has been fully accessible to the public.

Movie images donated to museum
An image from the film Comin’ Thro The Rye (Bill Douglas Cinema Museum/PA)

The collection is unique because of the size and focus on specific film-makers within the silent era.

The collection includes stills from three films on the British Film Institute’s “Most Wanted” list of these lost movies – The Amazing Quest Of Mr Ernest Bliss (1920), Mademoiselle From Armentieres (1927), and Tiptoes (1927).

Dr Phil Wickham, curator of the Bill Douglas Cinema Museum, said: “In many cases the images and ephemera in the collection are the only visual evidence of films that are now lost.

Movie images donated to museum
An image from the film Victory (Bill Douglas Cinema Museum/PA)

“The Townly Cooke Collection is a wonderful addition to our holdings at the museum and a great opportunity for scholars and the public alike to discover more about this fascinating period of film history through these beautiful artefacts.

“The collection is a testimony to Townly’s abilities as a collector and his ambition to share his collection with others after his death.

“We are very grateful for his generosity and to his family and estate and his friend Amran Vance in enabling the acquisition.”

Movie images donated to museum
A still from the film Der Todesstern (The Death Star) (Bill Douglas Cinema Museum/PA)

Margaret Harris, Cooke’s cousin and executor, said: “He would have been very pleased to see the collection bringing knowledge and pleasure to others.”

The collection is predominantly made up of stills from films of the 1910s and 1920s, and the bulk of these are from films made in Britain.

Cooke was especially interested in the work of Cecil Hepworth, the leading British producer of the period and the stars who worked in his productions, notably Alma Taylor and the glamour couple of the era – Henry Edwards and Chrissie White.

Movie images donated to museum
An image from the film Mademoiselle From Armentieres (Bill Douglas Cinema Museum/PA)

The collection features a large number of large-form advertising cards for Hepworth’s productions, which include a number of production images from each film.

There are also rare very early copies of the Picturegoer magazine and “pressbooks” for journalists for films including 1925’s The Rat, starring Ivor Novello.

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