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COLLECTION Identifier: MS Thr 571

W. Clarkson (Firm) costume designs


Costume designs for various productions by various artists working for W. Clarkson (Firm), with scrapbooks belonging to Willy Clarkson.


  • Creation: 1883-1926 and undated

Language of Materials

Collection materials are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is not housed at the Houghton Library but is shelved offsite at the Harvard Depository. Retrieval requires advance notice. Readers should check with Houghton Public Services staff to determine what material is offsite and retrieval policies and times.


2.5 linear feet (10 boxes)

Drawings for costumes in ink, watercolor, and other media on board, most with one or more variations of the W. Clarkson stamp on recto or verso. Some drawings are signed by known artists working for W. Clarkson such as Robert L. Bööcke, Attilio Comelli, and R. E. Ellett, but many are unidentified except by numbers assigned at acquisition. Artists, titles of items or productions, dates, and acquisition numbers are provided where known. Most drawings are of single costumed figures, some with additional sketches. Some drawings carry manuscript annotations that may aid in identification; these have been noted where legible.

Scrapbooks contain sketches, paintings, and sayings signed by acquaintances of Clarkson.

Biographical / Historical

William Berry Clarkson was born in 1861 into a family of perruquiers (wig-makers) and by the age of twelve was working in the business. Clarkson became best known as a wig-maker (already famous by the 1890s as London's theatrical wigmaker) but expanded his business into make-up and costumes. Clarkson's eminence was evident in his clientele: in the 1890s he supplied wardrobes for entertainments for Queen Victoria at Windsor and Balmoral; Edward VII appointed him “Royal Perruquier and Costumier.” For half a century he provided the wigs and costumes for most of the West End theaters. At the peak of his career in the 1920s he may have had 50,000 costumes on hand and employed a staff of close to a hundred; he knew everyone on the London stage. By the late 1920s Clarkson had competition in wig-making; with the rise of the cinema and decline of the music hall, Clarkson’s business deteriorated. He died in 1934.


Arranged in boxes and scrapbooks as found in July-September 2010 and February 2013.

Physical Location

Harvard Depository

Immediate Source of Acquisition

2009MT-85r. Source information given with items where known.

Processing Information

Processed by: Monique Duhaime, Melanie Wisner, and Bonnie B. Salt

W. Clarkson (Firm). W. Clarkson (Firm) costume designs and scrapbooks, 1883-1926: Guide.
Houghton Library, Harvard College Library
Description rules
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Houghton Library Repository

Houghton Library is Harvard College's principal repository for rare books and manuscripts, archives, and more. Houghton Library's collections represent the scope of human experience from ancient Egypt to twenty-first century Cambridge. With strengths primarily in North American and European history, literature, and culture, collections range in media from printed books and handwritten manuscripts to maps, drawings and paintings, prints, posters, photographs, film and audio recordings, and digital media, as well as costumes, theater props, and a wide range of other objects. Houghton Library has historically focused on collecting the written record of European and Eurocentric North American culture, yet it holds a large and diverse number of primary sources valuable for research on the languages, culture and history of indigenous peoples of the Americas, Africa, Asia and Oceania.

Houghton Library’s Reading Room is free and open to all who wish to use the library’s collections.

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