This guide is an introduction to the six-reel microfilm edition of American motion picture catalogs published between 1894 and 1908. The earliest documents were those printed in 1894 by the sales agents for Thomas Edison's kinetoscope. Their appearance coincided with the advent of commercial moving pictures. By the end of 1908, when the Motion Picture Patents Company was formed under Edison's auspices, motion picture catalogs were playing a less prominent role in the industry because trade journals had proliferated and were offering synopses, reviews, and advertisements. The catalogs that were distributed between 1894 and 1908 advertised films, equipment, and related posters, slides, lectures, and phonographs. They ranged from complete multi-page listings of a distributor's stock to one-page synopses of a production company's latest product. After more than three-quarters of a century, a comparatively small number of such catalogs remain. Some are fragmentary or incomplete; most are unique; and all are fragile. In a few cases only photocopies of the originals survive.

The Thomas A. Edison Papers undertook publication of these materials for several reasons. Edison's key role in the early industry, growing scholarly interest in the early years of commercial cinema, and increased use of motion picture catalogs were powerful considerations. A substantial number of the catalogs from this period were those of Edison or Edison-related companies. Many of these important documents, along with catalogs from some competing companies, survive in the archive of the Edison National Historic Site. They are thus a notable, although small, part of Edison's extant papers. However, some motion picture catalogs that were originally published by the Edison Manufacturing Company and by other relevant companies are scattered throughout the United States. Because film catalogs have been increasingly heavily used, with inevitable degeneration of quality and completeness, they pose a special problem for the academic and archival communities. The degeneration of the materials, their ephemeral nature, and their importance for film research combined to make preparation of a microfilm edition an urgent task. Further, the project was expanded to include a much broader range of catalogs because Edison materials alone would have provided an incomplete picture of the industry, and only a small additional effort was required to search for and include catalogs from the entire American industry

After its Brighton conference on early cinema in 1978, the Fédération Internationale des Archives du Film (FIAF) called for the microfilming of catalogs in the holdings of its member archives. In England the British Film Institute (BFI) undertook such a project from its extensive holdings. In the United States the situation was more complicated because documents existed in many different institutions across the country. Only three of these institutions—the Museum of Modern Art, the Library of Congress, and the George Eastman House—were FIAF members. Responding to the call of the FIAF, Charles Musser, film historian and catalog editor for this edition, conceived and initiated the project.

As with the films of this era, many more catalogs were originally issued than now survive. Consequently this microfilm edition includes a significant but not a complete set of catalogs. It includes all known catalogs distributed in the United States by American producers, by European producers through their American offices, and by domestic agents for American and European films. This edition is focused on films that received significant distribution in the United States by either American or European companies. Catalogs by companies without American outlets were not included; but unique British catalogs in American collections were identified for BFI by Charles Musser, microfilmed by University Publications of America, and made available to the BFI for an addendum to its main edition published by World Microfilms.

In a few instances important European catalogs were found that met neither the criteria for selection in this edition nor in that of the BFI. This problem was posed to members of the edition's advisory board. Following their advice, the editors included the Lumière catalogs in this edition. Moreover, a group of 1909 Lubin catalogs was added in order to retain the integrity of a four-volume collection in the Margaret Herrick Library at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. At the same time, the material in Kemp Niver's Biograph Bulletins: 1896-1908 and Eileen Bowser's Biograph Bulletins: 1908-1912 was not included because those catalogs were already available in published form.

This edition presents a portrait of the films and equipment generally available to exhibitors and audiences in the United States. It includes substantial runs of catalogs published by seven of the ten producer/distributors that eventually joined the Motion Picture Patents Company. However, American Vitagraph Company and Kalem Company are represented by only a few catalogs. No materials were found for the Essanay Company, the only member of the Motion Picture Patents Company not represented in this edition. Other significant companies for which materials could not be located include those of Edward H. Amet, located in Waukegan, Illinois, during the late 1890's; Paley and Steiner, producers of Crescent Films, active in New York City in 1904-5; and numerous "independents" that were active in 1907 and 1908. Among the latter were the Crawford Manufacturing Company in St. Louis and the Goodfellow Manufacturing Company in Detroit. Additional information about these companies can be found in American trade publications, particularly The Phonoscope, The New York Clipper, Variety, Views and Film Index, Moving Picture World, Billboard, The New York Dramatic Mirror, and Show World.

The catalogs for this edition were gathered from museums, libraries, federal archives and records centers, historical societies, and private individuals. On-site searches were made at institutions in London, Paris, Philadelphia, Washington, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Rochester, Boston, Chicago, St. Louis, and Columbus (Ohio). Many institutions in other cities were queried by letter. The outstanding cooperation of archivists, curators, and collectors allowed the assembly of original catalogs and photocopies for microfilming.

The efforts of individuals at many different institutions brought this cooperative venture to a successful conclusion. The members of the Advisory Board provided key encouragement and assistance. In addition, John Kuiper, George Pratt, and Jane Baum were especially accommodating in making available documents from the George Eastman House Collection. Samuel Gill of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences went to considerable trouble to escort materials to the East Coast for microfilming. Gladys I. Breuer greatly aided in the identification and filming of materials in the C. Francis Jenkins Collection at the Franklin Institute. Paul Spehr of the Library of Congress, Division of Motion Pictures, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound, made available photocopies of crucial documents. Dorothy Swerdlove of the New York Public Library facilitated filming of original documents in the Billy Rose Theater Collection at Lincoln Center. Barbara McCandless of the Harry Ranson Humanities Center at University of Texas in Austin provided timely assistance so that important material could be included in this edition. Greg Pano and Florence Bartoshesky at the Baker Library at Harvard University, Janice McNeill at the Chicago Historical Society, Burt Logan at the Wyoming Historical and Geological Society (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.), and James Bell and Wendy Shadwell of the New-York Historical Society were also generous in their assistance. William L. Cumiford and Craig Black of the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History made important materials available for filming. Joel Buchwald and Peter W. Bunce of the Federal Archives and Records Centers in Bayonne and Chicago made exceptional efforts that made original documents under their control available for this edition. At the Museum of Modern Art, Clive Philpot, Janice Ekdahl, Charles Silver, and Eileen Bowser collected and, in some cases, restored documents in order to make them available for this edition. Several individuals generously allowed microfilming of catalogs from their private collections: Charles Hummel of the Charles Edison Fund, Donald Malkames, and Anthony Slide, a researcher and historian long associated with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

This project is especially indebted to the staff of the Edison National Historic Site for providing facilities, original materials, and cooperation in the preparation and filming of the edition. Particular acknowledgment is due Roy Weaver, Edward Pershey, Mary Bowling, Leah Burt, and Reed Abel.

The microfilming of documents for this project presented a number of unusual complications for the publisher, University Publications of America. Especially helpful in the publication process were John Moscato, Robert Lester, and Cynthia Hancock. Andrew Raymond and Ann Russell of the Northeast Document Conservation Center also provided special assistance in microfilming original documents from the Museum of Modern Art. Others who assisted the project in various ways include Jon Gartenberg, Carol Nelson, Joan Richardson, Andre Gaudreault, and Susan Schultz.

The financial support for the project was provided by a special grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and by funding from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, National Park Service (Edison National Historic Site), and Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.

Two people whose names do not appear on the title page but whose contributions and dedication have truly made this project possible are the project's administrative assistant, Helen Endick, and its secretary, Grace Kurkowski.