Among the very best resources on the web is the Library of Congress’ American Memory site. The purpose of American memory is to provide “free and open access through the Internet to written and spoken words, sound recordings, still and moving images, prints, maps, and sheet music that document the American experience”. Its Motion Pictures section is a marvellous example of this, offering users access to a wide range of predominantly early cinema subjects, all available for viewing and downloading, in MPEG, QuickTime and RealMedia formats.
Each collection is usefully contextualised and indexed, and there are impeccable cataloguing records. The collections with silent film material (both fiction and non-fiction, but chiefly the latter) are:
- America at Work, America at Leisure: Motion Pictures from 1894-1915
- The American Variety Stage: Vaudeville and Popular Entertainment, 1870-1920
- Before and After the Great Earthquake and Fire: Early Films of San Francisco, 1897-1916
- “I Do Solemnly Swear…”: Presidential Inaugurations
- Inside an American Factory: Films of the Westinghouse Works, 1904
- Inventing Entertainment: the Early Motion Pictures and Sound Recordings of the Edison Companies
- The Last Days of a President: Films of McKinley and the Pan-American Exposition, 1901
- The Life of a City: Early Films of New York, 1898-1906
- Origins of American Animation, 1900-1929
- Prosperity and Thrift: The Coolidge Era and the Consumer Economy, 1921-1929
- The Spanish-American War in Motion Pictures
- Theodore Roosevelt: His Life and Times on Film
Needless to say, this is all non-copyright material, one of the consequences of which being that eBay is full of DVDs of early film materials which are simply repackaged downloads from this site.