It’s great to be able to report that the number of Charles Urban catalogues freely available online is growing. Charles Urban – just in case you didn’t know – was an Anglo-American film producer who specialised in non-fiction and educational film in the first twenty or so years of cinema. I manage a website about him, and had a book published on his life and work a few years ago now. And he crops up on this website with some frequency.
The latest catalogue to be available to all is the Charles Urban Trading Company‘s 1906 film catalogue. Formally entitled List of New, High-class and Original Urban Film Subjects, this lists, describes and in some cases illustrates many of the films being sold by the company at that time. The CUTC issued annual catalogues, built up out of monthly supplements that were sent to clients. These would then order films, usually by citing an identification code assigned to every title in the catalogue. Such catalogues are therefore essential tools for knowing not only what was produced, but how it was promoted, sold and understood. For anyone involved in early film research, they are primary sources of the highest value, not least because so many of the films described no longer exist.
The 1906 catalogue runs to 200 pages, and demonstrates how rich and varied was the library of films offered by Urban at a time when his business had started to reach its maturity. Among the subject areas covered include the Russo-Japanese War, Alpine mountaineering, an expedition to British North Borneo, sport, railway construction, pageants, polar exploration, many natural history subjects, fiction films made by Urban and third parties such as Vitagraph, and travels to South America, Canada, Spain, Italy and Switzerland. It was the Swiss films which led to the catalogue being published online on the website of the Cinémathèque Suisse, thanks to Swiss researcher Roland Cosandey, who was particularly interested in the films of the Fête des Vignerons, held in Vevey, Switzerland. The catalogue itself comes from the collection of publisher, author and film historian Stephen Herbert, who had previously made it available on a CD of Urban catalogues (which is no longer available).
You can find the catalogue Cinémathèque Suisse’s site, either included with Cosandey’s article, or as a separate PDF (it’s 49 MB, please note). Unfortunately the catalogue is not word-searchable, which means that you’ll just have to browse through it all, which is no bad thing.
To whet your appetite, here are some images from the catalogue, all of them from films that are now lost, showing how the world looked to Charles Urban in 1906 (some of the films actually date from 1905):
- The 1906 catalogue can be downloaded from the Cinematheque Suisse site (please note the large file size – 49 MB)
- Several Urban catalogues are now available online, though only three of these are for films, the rest for equipment. They are:
We Put the World Before You by Means of The Bioscope and Urban Films (London: The Charles Urban Trading Company, November 1903)
List of New, High-class and Original Urban Film Subjects (London: The Charles Urban Trading Company, August 1906)
Urban Bioscopes and Animated Picture Accessories (London: The Charles Urban Trading Company, August 1907)
Urban Catalogue of Kinematograph Machines and Motion Picture Accessories (London: Charles Urban Trading Company, 1910)
Spirograph Library of Motion Picture Discs (New York: Spiro Film Corporation, 1928)
- There is a full list of extant Urban catalogues on my Charles Urban website
- Images from the 1906 catalogue are included on my Flickr album devoted to Charles Urban
- An earlier post, The World in 1903, has images from the 1903 Charles Urban Trading Company catalogue