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Edison Breaks with Raff & Gammon

films company sold sales

As a variety of projectors became available, the leading companies’ chief assets were their exclusive ownership of popular subjects. Yet controlling the distribution of standard-gauge films was extremely difficult, perhaps impossible. Edison films from 1894 and 1895 had been sold to a large number of peephole kinetoscope owners. These films could be placed on projecting machines as readily as on kinetoscopes. New films, sold to vitascope exhibitors, were easily resold or traded. Since Edison films were not copyrighted, they could be freely “duped” ( i.e., duplicated, usually by someone other than the original owner). The Columbia Phonograph Company found it expedient to “dupe” such films because Jenkins did not have a working camera. The Lumières, as noted in chapter 4, encountered similar difficulties. By August Maguire & Baucus had acquired a large shipment of Lumière films, including SCENE FROM THE CORONATION OF THE CZAR OF RUSSIA (taken in late May), RUSSIAN STREET SCENE , and PLACE DE LA CONCORDE , which they sold for twenty-five dollars per 52-foot film. Some independent exhibitors acquired a selection of both Edison and Lumière films. For example, the kinematographe with Hopkins’ Trans Oceanic Star Specialty Company, a touring vaudeville show, was showing the Lumières’ SCENE FROM THE CORONATION OF THE CZAR and Edison’s HERALD SQUARE . 6

By October 1896 the Vitascope Company was disintegrating under the pressure of external competition and internal discord. Having made little money from the sale of vitascopes, the Edison Manufacturing Company was dissatisfied with its relationship to Raff & Gammon. Only seventy-three machines had been manufactured, and additional demand was unlikely because other projectors were coming on the market at a lower price and without territorial restriction. Likewise, limiting print sales to vitascope entrepreneurs reduced profits and made little commercial sense. The Edison Manufacturing Company therefore shifted its approach and sold prints to all potential customers, either through Maguire & Baucus or directly from its factory. Over the next eight months, beginning with FEEDING THE DOVES (© 23 October 1896) and several other pictures, films were submitted for copyright to deter if not eliminate unauthorized duplication. James White, hired away from the Vitascope Company, was placed in charge of Edison’s kinetograph department, for which he received one hundred dollars a month plus a 5 percent commission on film sales. 7

White launched an ambitious production schedule. In many instances he shot groups of related films, including several of New York police (MOUNTED POLICE CHARGE and RUNAWAY IN THE PARK —both © 2 November 1896). With the cooperation of the Lackawanna Railroad, which supplied transportation and special cars for filming, White and Heise toured New York and Pennsylvania shooting films. BLACK DIAMOND EXPRESS (© 12 December 1896) was an imitation of Biograph’s popular EMPIRE STATE EXPRESS . Going to the Buffalo area, they improved on the scenes of Niagara Falls that Heise had taken earlier in the year; seven views were subsequently copyrighted, including AMERICAN FALLS FROM INCLINE RAILROAD and RAPIDS ABOVE AMERICAN FALLS (both © 24 December 1896). Exhibitors would make selections from these productions and organize them into sequences. Other films imitated popular subjects made by rival producers. A MORNING BATH (© 31 October 1896) remade Biograph’s A HARD WASH . Both CLARK’S THREAD MILL (© 31 October 1896), which showed workers leaving a factory, and CHARGE OF WEST POINT CADETS (© 27 November 1896) emulated earlier Lumière successes. A group of films taken of Barnum and Bailey’s Circus in New York City (HORSE DANCING COUCHEE COUCHEE and TRICK ELEPHANTS NO . 1—both © 8 May 1897) added to Edison’s substantial repertoire of circus-related subjects.

Thomas Edison, having made substantial profits from the sale of peephole kinetoscopes, was likewise eager to sell projecting machines to the general trade. His company soon had its own projector, known as the projectoscope or projecting kinetoscope, which debuted on 30 November at the Bijou Theater in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, one of the few important cities that had not previously hosted a motion-picture show. The initial morning performance was attended by the mayor, city officials, and the newspaper fraternity, who gave it laudatory front-page reviews. “It is the greatest attraction ever seen in this city, and the crowds will be big all week,” wrote one local paper. Although several projectoscopes were in use by early 1897, the machine did not become generally available until late February. Its $100 price tag was affordable for even modest showmen. J. Stuart Blackton and Albert Smith, for example, bought a projecting kinetoscope and presented a group of moving pictures during their Lyceum entertainments. So did D. W. Robertson, a former musician who was then organizing entertainments for church groups through his Brooklyn and New York Entertainment Bureau. The price of films, however, remained quite high. Although discounts were often available, Edison films sold for thirty cents a foot, a price that changed little during the year. Indeed, Edison Manufacturing Company records reveal that films provided its key source of income: profits from film sales exceeded $24,000 for both the 1896-1897 and 1897-1898 business years, compared to projector profits of approximately $1,500 and $5,000. This reversed the ratio of equipment sales to film sales that had previously existed. 8

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