Guide to Motion Picture Catalogs:
Early Projection

During 1895 several inventors sought to adapt Edison's moving pictures to the magic lantern. The Latham family in New York City developed their own camera and a primitive projecting machine, the eidoloscope. Early in 1895 they exhibited films that met with some commercial success.[7] The eidoloscope, like the peephole kinetoscope, lacked a mechanism for intermittently stopping each frame of the film in front of the lens. Therefore, the resulting projected image was small, blurred, and shaky. Other projectors, such as the Lumière cinematographe included the crucial intermittent mechanism that was needed to generate a quick succession of momentarily stationary images and thus to create the illusion of movement. The Lumière family, French makers of photographic plates and films, built a motion picture camera, photographed several subjects, and exhibited them publicly. C. Francis Jenkins and Thomas Armat, aspiring young inventors living in Washington, D.C., also built a projector with an intermittent mechanism. They called it the phantascope.[8]

Armat and Jenkins opened a small theater at the Cotton States Exposition in Atlanta, Georgia, during October 1895. There they showed Edison films to a paying audience. Because few people patronized these showings, the inventors lost money and then separated on bad terms. Representing the invention as his own, Armat approached Raff & Gammon, who had been searching for such a machine to rescue their floundering business. After delicate negotiations, Raff & Gammon won Edison's consent to expand their motion picture business. In January 1896 Raff & Gammon formally contracted with Armat to market his phantascope, and Edison agreed to manufacture the machine and to provide films for the new undertaking.

Raff & Gammon renamed the projecting machine "The Edison Vitascope" and formed the Vitascope Company to sell exclusive exhibition rights for specific territories. They published their brochure, "The Vitascope," and directed it to prospective purchasers of these exhibition rights.[9] Raff & Gammon sold territories to several would-be entrepreneurs even before the premiere of the vitascope at Koster and Bial's Music Hall on 23 April 1896. The vitascope was well received, and soon they were promoting it further by printing and circulating a collection of "Press Comments" that quoted laudatory reviews.[10] Raff & Gammon's strategy was to lease projectors and sell films to owners of exhibition rights.[11] Because the number of owners was small, formal bulletins and announcements of new films were deemed unnecessary.

The shift from individualized peephole viewing to projection for a group resulted in a sharp change in exhibition patterns. The owners of exhibition rights offered a complete exhibition service that included a selection of films, a projector, and a projectionist. Their customers were vaudeville theaters such as Keith's in Boston and Philadelphia, Hopkins's in Chicago, and Proctor's in New York; amusement parks such as Coney Island; and legitimate theaters that showed films between acts of plays. In a few instances, films were exhibited in phonograph and kinetoscope parlors such as Talley's in Los Angeles. These exhibition services also showed films in local opera houses or in converted storefront theaters. Such outlets provided cinema's principal venues for the next ten years.

Footnotes

7. The Lathams' early exhibitions are considered in George Pratt, "Firsting the Firsts," in Marshall Deutelbaum, ed., "Image"--On the Art and Evolution of the Film (New York: Dover, 1979), 20-22.
8. Gene G. Kelkes, "A Forgotten First: The Armat-Jenkins Partnership and the Atlanta Projection," Quarterly Review of Cinema Studies 9, no. 1 (Winter 1984): 45-48.
9. This brochure (A-009) is part of the Martin Quigley Collection at DGU. Quigley, who published Motion Picture Herald, printed a facsimile edition of the brochure to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the Vitascope's premiere at Koster and Bial's Music Hall.
10. This circular (A-023) was exhibited in Vitascope Company v. Chicago Talking Machine Company, U.S. Circuit Court, Northern District of Illinois (21 Aug. 1896), Equity No. 24,219, ICFAR. Although the Chicago Talking Machine Co. did not own Vitascope exhibition rights, it used the "Vitascope" trade name when showing films.
11. Armat-Raff & Gammon contract, 10 January 1896, exhibit in Animated Projecting Company v. American Mutoscope Company, U.S. Circuit Court, Southern District of New York (31 Dec. 1898), Equity No. 7130, NjBaFAR.

Previous Page | Table of Contents | Key to Archives | Reel Notes | Next Page

-----