Mary Pickford’s movies survive because she owned them, and donated them to the Library of Congress in 1946.

Seventy percent of America’s silent films are lost and most of the remaining ones are in great shape, according to a study conducted by the Library of Congress. Only about 3,300 of the 11,000 films made before “talkies” are left. Of those, 17 percent are incomplete, and some, like the only missing Greta Garbo feature, The Divine Woman, are down to a single remaining reel. What happened?



Librarian of Congress James H. Billington explains in the study’s foreword that, with the rise of sound, silent movies were seen as having little commercial value. As myopic as it comes across from a 21st-century vantage point, silent films were lost to “chemical decay, fire, lack of commercial value, cost of storage,” and most film producers were content with unsentimentally moving on toward the Next Big Thing. From the study, here’s the breakdown of what we lost, and what we have left:

With a more complete view of what we’re missing, we might be able to better prevent losing more. Anticipating that, the Library has also released a searchable database filled with every silent feature still around.

Via Pop Sci