Motion Pictures 1894-1912

The latest edition to the Bioscope Library is Motion Pictures 1894-1912. This is the Library of Congress catalogue of copyrighted works identified as motion pictures by Howard Lamarr Walls. The catalogue was published in 1953, two years after Motion Pictures 1912-1939 (already entered in the Bioscope Library). The volume was not considered to be a part of the Library of Congress’ Catalog of Copyright Entries, Cumulative Series, although it complemented it, because before 1913 films were not copyrighted in the USA as motion pictures but instead as photographs. Hence Walls had to determine which of the copyright records for photographs 1894-1912 were actually motion pictures, which was ultimately a question of individual knowledge rather than official designation. He found around 6,000 titles. Walls became Curator of the Motion Picture Collection at the Library of Congress, and then at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and his pioneering research was of inestimable value in establishing solid information on the early motion picture in America as a subject of study.

The earliest title is Edison Kinetoscopic Record of A Sneeze, January 7, 1894, which was copyrighted on 9 January 1894. This film, taken by William Kennedy-Laurie Dickson, shows Edison worker Fred Ott sneezing. It was a promotional work rather than a commercial release, being used as illustration in a Harper’s Weekly article. It can be found on the Library of Congress’ excellent American Memory site, from where it has been reproduced for this YouTube clip:

The catalogue is available to download from the Internet Archive, in DjVu (4.9MB), PDF (12MB), b/w PDF (5.8MB) and TXT (621KB) formats).

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