Guide to Motion Picture Catalogs:
The Rise of Competition
As the Vitascope Company enjoyed its initial success, C. Francis Jenkins, Armat's former partner, sought to protect his commercial interest in the phantascope and to establish his claim to being the projector's sole inventor. Using borrowed Edison films, Jenkins demonstrated moving pictures at the Franklin Institute, and this Philadelphia technical society honored him with a medal for his invention. Jenkins also arranged with the Columbia Phonograph Company to market the phantascope and his films. Columbia was one of Edison's rivals in the phonograph industry. Most of the company's films were "dupes" or duplicate prints that were made from Edison's uncopyrighted films. The Columbia Company sold projectors and films primarily to independent exhibitors associated with neither Raff & Gammon nor the other major companies then entering the field. This business met with modest success. Late in 1896, however, Jenkins sold his share in several phantascope patent applications to Armat, forcing the Columbia Phonograph Company to abandon its motion picture business.
The Vitascope Company faced more serious competition from other sources. The Lumières established a New York agency and began exhibiting films in American vaudeville theaters in mid-1896. Their projection system yielded a better image and their film subjects offered audiences much greater variety. The American Mutoscope Company used its biograph projector for its first commercial film exhibition late in the summer of 1896. With its large-format, 60mm film, the biograph surpassed even the cinematographe in image quality and quickly won public approval. The development of the biograph camera and projector owed much to Edison's former assistant William K. L. Dickson, who had left the Edison laboratory in April 1895. The business also had strong financial backing. Both the Lumière Agency and American Mutoscope Company initially provided exhibition services to vaudeville theaters and other establishments. Because they did not sell their films or projectors, these companies published few catalogs. In order to attract new customers for their services, they generally placed modest ads in trade journals such as the New York Clipper.
By the end of 1896, competition in the motion picture business intensified. Raff & Gammon hoped to control the business through contracts with Armat and through vaguely expressed "understandings" with Edison. However, Charles Webster and Edmund Kuhn formed the International Film Company in October 1896. Webster had been employed by the Vitascope Company and Kuhn had worked for the Edison Company in the manufacture of vitascope projectors. At first they sold dupes of Edison films, but soon they were making their own 35mm subjects and selling them to independent exhibitors. In response to this competition, Edison also began to sell films on the open market and sought to protect his films from unwanted duplication by copyrighting each subject as if it were a single photograph. The Edison Manufacturing Company sold these films domestically, both directly and through sales agents such as Maguire & Baucus and F. M. Prescott. By the end of 1896, the influence of Raff & Gammon's Vitascope Company had waned, but the company continued operating until 1898.
Throughout the period between 1894 and 1908, New York was the center of the motion picture industry. Raff & Gammon, the Lumière Agency, the American Mutoscope Company, Maguire & Baucus, The International Film Company, and many others were all based in the country's entertainment capital. By the end of 1896, three businesses located in two other cities began to challenge this hegemony. In Philadelphia, Sigmund Lubin, an optician, began to manufacture his cineograph projector, to dupe Edison subjects, and to produce and sell his own films. In the Chicago area, Edward Amet manufactured and sold his magniscope projector and 35mm films. William Selig, who had worked as a traveling showman, surreptitiously acquired specifications for the Lumière cinematographe and used them to build a projecting machine. Soon he was running an exhibition service from his Chicago office.
While the first film companies both produced films and provided exhibition services, by early 1897 many firms were concentrating in one area or the other, The Lumière agency withdrew its American exhibition service because of customs difficulties but continued to make films in France into the early 1900s. Edison refrained from providing exhibition services. Having severed formal relations with the Vitascope Company, his company manufactured its own projecting machine, the projectoscope or projecting kinetoscope, and placed it on the market in late February 1897. These Edison projectors were purchased by showmen such as Albert Smith and J. Stuart Blackton, who added a selection of motion pictures to their lyceum entertainments presented for church groups.
Edison was granted a key American patent on his motion picture camera in August 1897. He then sought to establish a monopoly by suing rival producers, their selling agents, and even those independent exhibitors who used non-Edison films. His first suits for patent infringement were directed at The International Film Company and Maguire & Baucus, who had been distributing International and Lumière films. Both companies withdrew from business rather than contest the suits. Likewise, F. M. Prescott, who sold films made by Sigmund Lubin, was sued in 1899 and withdrew. However, when Edison sued the American Mutoscope Company (soon to become the American Mutoscope & Biograph Company) in 1898, the defendant contested the suit, and the case began to work its way through the courts.
12. The cordial reception given to Jenkins encouraged him to donate his
scrapbooks and catalogs (C-002, C-012) to the Franklin Institute. One of
these catalogs was also used as evidence in T Cushing Daniels et al v.
Charles Francis Jenkins, Supreme Court, District of Columbia (27 May
1896), Equity No. 17,416, MdSuFAR.
13. "Dupes" were prints made off a duplicate negative, usually by a company that did not make the original film. Print quality was poorer for dupes than original prints. The making of dupes also involved ethical issues since the "pirates" who made the dupes profited from the work and investment of others, usually commercial rivals.
14. Affidavit of Edward D. Easton, 24 December 1902, in Armat Moving Picture Company v. Edison Manufacturing Company, U.S. Circuit Court, Southern District of New York (Nov. 1902), Equity No. 8303, NjBaFAR.
15. Financing the Lumière motion picture enterprise is examined in Alan Williams, "The Lumière Organization and 'Documentary Realism'," in John Fell, ed., Film before Griffith (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1983), 153-161. Lumière films from this period are listed in the catalog beginning on frame D-021. For the history of early French companies, see Georges Sadoul, Les Pioneers du cinéma (de Méliès a Pathé) 1897-1909 (Paris: DeNoel, 1948); and Jacques Deslandes and Jacques Richard, Histoire comparée du cinéma (Paris: Casterman, 1968).
16. Gordon Hendricks, Beginnings of the Biograph: The Story of the Invention of the Mutoscope and the Biograph and Their Supplying Camera (New York: The Beginnings of American Film, 1964). American Mutoscope Company was owned originally by Henry Marvin, Herman Casler, Elias Koopman as well as Dickson. Dickson, however, quickly sold his shares. Selected images of every Biograph film made between 1896 and 1904 are on frames H-146 through H-556. G. E. Van Guysling, treasurer of the Biograph Company for a brief period in 1907, donated a set of these photo catalogs to the CLCM. The descendants of Henry Marvin, vice-president of the company during much of its existence, recently gave another set to NNMOMA.
17. Dupes of Edison films as well as Webster and Kuhn's original subjects can be found in "International Photographic Films" (E-002).
18. See the catalogs beginning on B-011 and F-002.
19. Important new information on Sigmund Lubin can be found in Joseph P. Eckhardt and Linda Kowall, Peddlar of Dreams: Sigmund Lubin and the Creation of the Motion Picture Industry 1896-1916 (Philadelphia: National Museum of American Jewish History, 1984). The only currently available information on Selig is Kalton C. Lahue, ed., Motion Picture Pioneer: The Selig Polyscope Company (South Brunswick, New Jersey: A.S. Barnes, 1973).
20. Promotional material for the projecting kinetoscope was published by Maguire & Baucus.
21. See the catalogs beginning on B-021 and B-034.
22. Edison's lawyers submitted a number of Prescott catalogs (see F-005, F-028, F-047) as evidence in Thomas Edison v. F. M. Prescott, U.S. Circuit Court, Southern District of New York (9 June 1899), Equity No. 7275 & 7276, NjBaFAR.