The texts below are freely-available digitised printed catalogues and electronic databases that enable researchers to identify films from the silent era.
Publisher: American Film Institute, 1997 onwards
The American Film Institute Catalog of Feature Films began in the late 1960s, with printed volumes covering 1893-1970 (excluding the 1950s) published up to 1997, when printing stopped and the online version began (which now incorporates the 1950s). For the silent period the online catalogue is free to all, covering 25,000 titles. The 1921-1930 period has feature films only. For 1893-1910 every kind of film, fiction and non-fiction is covered. 1911-1920 follows the 1920s in concentrating on feature films, so there are no short films despite their high level of production at this time. You can search across all manner of fields, including very thorough genre and subject terms.
London: Paul’s Animatograph Works, 
Source: Bibliothèque numérique du cinéma
This 1903 catalogue covers the films and equipment sold by one of the leading British film producers of the early cinema period. It describes the company, it offices and services, then covers equipment (the Animatograph projector, arc lamps, lenses, limelight jets, perforators, cameras etc.) and films, described and illustrated with frame stills. They include dramas, the recruiting series Army Life, music hall acts, trick films, comedies, actuality subjects, Boer War films and ‘sensational films’. The volume is available as a 17MB word-searchable PDF.
Publisher: University of Amsterdam, 2006 onwards
Cinema Context is a Dutch site created by Karel Dibbets and the University of Amsterdam. Describing itself as “an encylopedia of film culture”, the site documents film distribution and exhibition in the Netherlands in 1896. It does so through four data collections, on films, cinemas, people and companies, derived from painstakingly researched data on nearly all films exhibited in Dutch cinemas before 1960. The research team located film programmes from 1896 onwards in each of the major Dutch cities, entering all film titles, names, dates, cinemas etc, and then ingeniously matched this data to the records of these films on the IMDb.
Publisher: British Film Institute, 2013 onwards
The British Film Institute’s Collections Search, for the first time combines its bibliographic, filmographic and technical databases. It lists over 800,000 films and TV programmes on its database it holds, as well as those titles for which it has secondary references only, such as journal references (which are provided to all on its database for the first time). The BFI also offers a general browsing version which links to some (but not all) of its database content and includes extra information, stills etc.: http://explore.bfi.org.uk. The older version of the BFI’s filmographic database can still be found online at http://old.bfi.org.uk/filmtvinfo/ftvdb).
Publisher: Deutsche Filminstitut – DIF e.V. in co-operation with CineGraph – Hamburgisches Centrum für Filmforschung e.V, 2005 onwards
Filmportal documents some 73,500 German fiction films from 1895 to the present day, and is effectively the German national filmography. 7,000 of those records go into great detail, with synopses, reviews, posters and other illustrative material, photographs etc, but even the most basic records list title, cast, credits, and release information, taken from primary sources. There are also 165,000 names, 3,000 of which come with detailed biographies, and names and titles are extensively hyperlinked, making Filmportal eminently, indeed compulsively, browsable. It is also bi-lingual – the site’s primary language is German, of course, but all introductory and explanatory material is also available in English, with further English content promised for the future.
Publisher: La Cineteca del Friuli, 2010 onwards
The Giornate database lists every films featured at the Pordenone silent film festival (Giornate del Cinema Muto) festival from 1982. You can search by year, title, director, year of release, production company, country and archive. The information available varies, with no synopses for earlier years, though that’s because such data was not included in the festival catalogue/booklet. More recent records are richer in detail as the catalogue has become an ever more handsome production, with background information in both English and Italian. What every record does provide is title, any alternative titles, year of production, year in which it was shown at the festival, the production company, director (where known), format (i.e. 35m, 16mm etc), the film speed at which it was shown, its duration, and the archive which supplied the copy. You even get the name of the musician who played to the film.
Publisher: Trinity College Dublin, 2003 onwards
The Index documents “all Irish-made cinema and major television productions as well as Irish-themed audio-visual representations produced outside of Ireland.” It covers nearly 40,000 titles, and includes important areas that other national filmographies often ignore, such as newsreels, interest films, and silents. It based on the book publication by Kevin Rockett, The Irish Filmography: Fiction Films 1896-1996 (1996), with additional material chiefly researched by Eugene Finn.
Publisher: Fondation Jérôme Seydoux Pathé
The Fondation Jérôme Seydoux Pathé site documents the rich heritage of the Pathé film company. It includes a filmography which will eventually document the entire Pathé output from 1896 to the present day. The available information comes chiefly from original Pathé catalogues and trade paper reviews, and varies from title to title. Some early records are little more than a title, while late entries have detailed descriptions. The catalogue is arranged by year, and from 1907 the years are broken down further into months. The filmography is in French, but with smatterings of English where English or American trade paper sources are quoted.
Publisher: Birkbeck, University of London, 2005
The London Project was a major study of the film business in London, 1894-1914, organised by the AHRB Centre for British Film and Television Studies. The project database documents nearly 1,000 cinemas and other film venues, and as many film businesses located in London before the First World War. The database allows searching by name of venue or business, address, London borough (as they were pre-1914), by business type (e.g. production, distribution, production, exhibition, venue), and by person (including notes relating to people).
Washington: Library of Congress, 1951
Source: Internet Archive
Rick Prelinger, of the Prelinger Archive, has made the Library of Congress Motion Picture Catalogs available for download from The Internet Archive. Five volumes have been put up, covering 1894 to 1969. This includes all 1,256 pages of the 1912-1939 volume, which is sensational news for anyone interested in the study of silent film. The Library of Congress Catalogs of Copyright Entries list all motion pictures registered for copyright in the USA (i.e. films not just made in the USA but shown in the USA). The entries give title, year, company, length, date of registration, and sometimes some credits. The printed volumes have long been the first port of call for anyone seriously engaged in identifying films from the silent period, but they have been restricted to a handful of research libraries. Suddenly they are available to all. The PDF is a huge size (157MB), but there is a 9MB text file of the word-searchable uncorrected OCR.
The 1894-1912 volume is also available, in DjVu (4.9MB), PDF (12MB), b/w PDF (5.8MB) and TXT (621KB) formats).
New York: Spiro Film Corporation, 1928
Source: Bibliothèque numérique du cinéma
Catalogue of the Spirograph disc-based projector, issued in 1928 after the main Spirograph business had collapsed (in 1924) before proper commercial exploitation could begin. The catalogue lists and describes the 400 discs in the Spirograph collection under such headings as Science, Literature, Government, Physical Activities and Our Government. There are no illustrations. Available in PDF format (40MB).
Portsmouth: Wessex Press, 1912
Source: Wessex Film and Sound Archive
Alfred West (1857-1937) was the man behind ‘Our Navy’ and ‘Our Army’, hugely popular multi-media shows comprising films, photographs, songs and dramas. West was active as a filmmaker from 1897-1912, based at Southsea, Hampshire, UK. His patriotic, militaristic and sentimental shows were popular across Britain and the Empire, and for many who came to see the shows they were their first experience of motion pictures. This text is a catalogue of his entire film output. It is available in PDF format (5.2MB), with a word-searchable transcription (178KB).
London: Charles Urban Trading Company, 1903
Source: Internet Archive