Brander Matthews Dramatic Library and Museum


Appointed to the Columbia College faculty in 1892, Matthews began collecting theater-related memorabilia in 1911, convinced that the only way to learn about drama was through first-hand acquaintance with artifacts, images, and texts of the theatrical past. Matthews then donated his own collection of theatrical memorabilia to the University to support the burgeoning study of world-wide theater history. He commissioned stage models representing historical periods, collected the scripts and theatrical designs of his contemporaries, gathered more than 30,000 images of actors and entertainers, and purchased masks and puppets from dealers and performers all over the world.

Thanks to a generous endowment, additions to the collection were made for decades after Matthews died in 1929. The Dramatic Museum was housed in Low Library at Columbia until it was closed in 1971; since then the collection has been located in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

Dramatic Museum Realia have been photographed and these images are presented in a digital exhibition from 2010. The exhibition features images and descriptions of over 500 puppets, masks, historical theater models and stage designs. Gathered for documentary and pedagogical purposes, the objects range in date from the 18th well into the 20th centuries, and are from countries all around the globe.