Cataloguing the George R. Sims Collection by Matthew Schofield
In October I was working on a two-week project to catalogue the George R. Sims Collection at the John Rylands University of Manchester Special Collections and it’s now on the online catalogue.
George Robert Sims (1847-1922) was a household name in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. He was a prolific writer of popular dramatic works and credited with being the first person to have four plays running simultaneously in the West End. He was also a prolific author of novels and poetry and produced several volumes of memoirs. Interestingly, however, Sims was also a journalist, social campaigner and philanthropist and wrote at length over a great many years regarding the plight of the poor and was involved with several charities and is remembered for his poem ‘It’s Christmas Day in the Workhouse’.
This collection is interesting because it contains a significant number of typescript volumes of his plays, which were not published and also actor’s and musician’s parts for the plays with annotations, which together demonstrate the content of ephemeral popular drama of the 1880s/1890s and also give something of the sense of how they were performed. Also of interest are manuscripts of several of Sims’s published novels and what appears to be an unpublished manuscript for a book on vagrancy in the 1890s, the only manuscript representation of Sims’s campaigning journalism within the collection.
This collection also reveals the extent of Sims’s celebrity status as playwright, author, journalist and bon vivant. There are 4 volumes of scrapbooks, one of which is solely dedicated to published cartoon images of Sims and others containing letters, published articles and printed ephemera relating to the critical reception of his plays and also his social engagements, hobbies and home life. There is interesting posthumous material dating from the 1920s relating to the attempts of Sims’s widow to sell the rights to his works to silent film producers.
The image of Sims above is testament to his celebrity status at the time. It is an envelope (one of a number found within the collection) which rather than having Sims’s name and address, only has a hand-drawn likeness of Sims. The two birds represent the location of his home, being opposite “The Ducks Villa”. What also comes across in the collection is Sims’s eccentricity, with several articles, printed postcards and photographic images of his dogs, who appear to have accompanied him to performances of his works and in particular a printed invitation to the ‘christening’ of his dog, Barney Barnato, named after a prominent Jewish diamond magnate.
John Rylands University Library