" An Addendum #2 to
E. H. MITCHELL "
NOTE: This added E. H. MITCHELL information was in the Postcard Collector News
January 10, 1959, No. 21 BY: J. R. Burdick of Syracuse, N.Y.,
EARLY DETROIT and MITCHELL Cards
Several times during the past few years collectors have wondered about early
Detroit and early Mitchell cards of the same general design. One pair recently
found seem identical and the owner thought they were from the same plate. That isn't
quite correct, but the two plates certainly were made from two photographs that
were made from the same negative. The similarity is especially noticeable when
the printing in the same projection and coloring. There probably is no
explanation for this that can be conclusively proven, as no records are known
and the principals of both firms at that time are all believed to be dead.
Mr. Livingstone of the Detroit firm is said to have "carried his office in his
pocket," and almost nothing has been written about Mr. Mitchell.
To arbitrarily accuse either side of copying or illegal actions seems unfair
as long as there are other possible explanations, in some letters on file at the
Detroit Public Library, Mr. Livingstone does infer that some of their photos had
been improperly used by others but apparently no action was taken. Quite likely
anything of that nature that may have been accidental and done in the belief that
it was entirely proper at the time.
Mitchell seems to have obtained his early card designs in various ways. The
The Survey for the Pioneer Post Card book discussed that in some manner he acquired
the earlier Albert Kayser designs and that he seems to have purchased the remainder
of the Patriographic cards, reprinting entirely the local San Francisco series of
that group. How he got his other early designs is not known, but unless he had his
own photographer, he must have purchased them from someone who sold photographs.
There is no uncertainty on this point about the Detroit Photograph Co. as they
had been suppliers of photographs for at least ten years prior to 1898 and in that
year the great outdoor photographer, William Henry Jackson, joined the firm
bringing with him his huge stock of negatives.
The first numbered Detroit cards were brought out early in 1900, it would
seem, as the earliest postmark reported in March 9, 1900. Old employees of the firm
state that the number on these first cards wa really the negative number and
appeared on the photographs along with the title. These could very likely be the
negatives that Mr Jackson had brought with him. It happens that the first lot
of these numbered cards to be printed (probably 3 or 4 large sheets with the
cards numbered 1-84) included a goodly number of San Francisco views.
Therein lies the core of the whole matter, because at some time Mitchell
had acquired these same San Francisco views. He could have purchased them from
Detroit Co., but more likely they were obtained from Mr Jackson before he joined
the Company. There is even the possibility that a third party may be involved,
such as a local dealer or photographer who acted as middleman on the deal.
The exact manner or date in immaterial.
One pair of cards recently seen shows the Ferry Building in San Francisco
and is numbered 32 by both firms. This may only be a coincidence but it seems
to show in one case, at least, that the number and title had been reproduced
along with the picture by both firms, perhaps inadvertently by Mitchell. Some
of these designs were used by Mitchell with two back types--the familiar
ribbon and quill and another with PMC in heavy manuscript writing. A few are
It this shows the correct explanation, it may explain why these early
Detroit numbers are so extremely scarce. Whether or not the early Mitchell
corresponding views are similarly scarce is not known. The dual use of the
pictures would be soon discovered, and the Detroit Co. apparently destroyed
these Detroit plates and remaining cards.
It is doubtful that some of the Detroit views ever got into circulation.
The scarcity of group is too marked to be regarded as a slight duplication
of a few pictures. Actually, the major checklist shows that only 12 designs
have been reported in the original printing of this 1-84 group, although
a few more undoubtedly exist. Another seven views are known in reprint form
but all non San Francisco views. It is not likely that more than a third
of these titles will ever be found. Everything indicates that something
queered this group in the eyes of the Company. While many of the numbers
immediately following No. 84 are also scarce, the first of them (85-122)
are a different group, being reprints of an unnumbered series; and the
remaining low numbers (through 522) are mostly known either in the original
printing or as reprinted in the 5000 series at later dates.
This theory would absolve both firms of any intentional wrong doing.
While competition among post card publishers had begun to show, it is
doubtful that Detroit and Mitchell were competitors to any great extent.
They were located far apart and there was room enough for both without
crowding. It was nothing like the local competition of the many publishers
in New York City or the German competition in the greeting card field.
There undoubtedly was some confusion and misunderstanding of laws and
ethics among all the new publishers of the time. It is only charitable
to believe that all thought they were right in what they did.
Detriot had published two of unnumbered cards previous to the ones
in question, and it is believed that Mitchell also had some earlier
publication. Like many others both apparently began making post cards
as soon as possible after postal restrictions were eased by the Act of
May 19, 1898. Just which one was actually first in the field is not
important, as is also the matter which first used these San Francisco
views under discussion. Neither probably planned it that way. This
also applies to some later duplication which seems to have no
connection with the earliest numbers. A view of Rooster Rock on the
Columbia, for instance, appears as Detroit No. 220 and Mitchell
No. 96. Items like that are liable to happen accidentally among all
publishers. There probably is n law broken by such duplication, but
publishers normally prefer to bring out original views and not
appear to be copiers of someone else, even if no copyright law is
broken. Surely, no really big firm would knowingly ba a copy-cat.
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