Film Academy Museum, Library Gifted Priceless Collection of Early Cinema Artifacts

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Renzo Piano Building Workshop/Academy Museum Foundation/Image from Cristiano Zaccaria

Magic lanterns, magic lantern glass slides, prints, praxinoscopes, figurines, paintings, peepshows and shadow puppets dating as far back as China’s Ming Dynasty are among 9,000 objects from the Richard Balzer Collection — widely regarded as the world’s foremost collection of pre-cinematic optical toys and devices — that have been gifted to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Museum of Motion Pictures and Margaret Herrick Library, the Academy announced Tuesday.

"The Balzer Collection provides the Academy Museum an unparalleled resource for telling the full story of the development of motion pictures," the museum said in a statement.

"The magic of the movies began with a sense of wonder at seeing still images come to life,” noted Jessica Niebel, exhibitions curator. "No one was more dedicated than the late Richard Balzer to the marvelous history of pre-cinema. No one did more to preserve these riches and make them available to the public. We are honored to steward the Richard Balzer Collection and present these extraordinary objects to the public."

Matt Severson, director of the Herrick Library, added, "This extraordinary collection of pre-cinematic material, so carefully collected and preserved by Richard Balzer, will be studied and appreciated for generations to come at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures and the Margaret Herrick Library. Patricia S. Bellinger and the late Richard Balzer have my utmost gratitude for what they are gifting to the Academy, film scholarship, and movie lovers everywhere."

Balzer, who died in 2017, was a film buff who collected pre-cinematic devices for more than 40 years. His widow Patricia S. Bellinger, a business leader and philanthropist who currently serves as the chief of staff and strategic advisor to the president of Harvard University and joined the Academy Museum's Board of Trustees earlier this year, donated his collection to the Academy Museum.

"Gifting this collection to the Academy is a once-in-a-generation opportunity," Bellinger said. "My husband Dick's passion for collecting pre-cinematic objects was profound, but it was his passion for teaching, storytelling, and wonderment that brought him and the collection to life. With these objects permanently in the Academy Museum and Margaret Herrick Library collections, Dick's dedication to sharing pre-cinema’s legacy and historical memory with the public will live on in perpetuity."

Objects from the collection will comprise one of the Academy Museum's inaugural exhibitions, The Path to Cinema: Highlights from the Richard Balzer Collection, which will explore the long history of visual entertainment which led to the invention of cinema.