Motion Picture Catalog Collection

In 1986 the Edison Papers in collaboration with film historian Charles Musser published a six-reel microfilm edition of Motion Picture Catalogs by American Producers and Distributors, 1894–1908. The microfilm was digitized in 2006 by the Rutgers University Libraries and added to RUcore as individual catalogs.  The Guide to the microfilm edition and a finding aid can be found at This collection includes PDFs of the six microfilm reels and of the 531individual catalogs.

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.

As with the films of this era, many more catalogs were originally issued than now survive. Consequently, this 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.

The earliest catalogs 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 documents were originally used to advertise films and film equipment from various producers and providers. Some catalogs reflect outdated attitudes and racist, sexist, and/or offensive stereotypes or references in both text and image. Our efforts to address offensive and harmful language are ongoing. If you encounter language that is offensive or harmful, or have questions please email us at