We’re here working at Exit 55 Antiques in Fergus Falls, MN, and one of the fun parts of working our required day each month is seeing what other new, interesting things have come in from other dealers since the last time we’ve worked. This time, being the camera fan that I am, I immediately gravitated towards this old movie projector that another dealer was selling for $89.
It’s older than most of the other cameras, movie or otherwise, that I’ve ever owned. This fine example of early film projection technology is a Keystone Moviegraph:
My first assumption was, “oh, like the movie studio!” It could make sense — if you’re making Charlie Chaplin movies, people have to watch them somehow, so why not sell the projectors, too? Edison and Victrola made big bucks being the single source for both the equipment and the media, so why not Keystone Film Company?
Unfortunately, my guess was incorrect. People might have watched Keystone Kops on this projector, but it wasn’t because both parts were made by the same company.
Keystone Manufacturing Company was a toy company based out of Boston, Massachusetts, thousands of miles away from the Keystone movie studios. This projector was designed to occupy the kids for ten to fifteen minutes at a time, each one taking turns cranking the projector at the right speed.
You’ll note that the ad says it includes just an electric cord — “for connecting to any lamp socket your electric bulb will fit”. The interior of the projector is a big open space, to stick a lamp inside.
At least they put vents in it, just in case too much heat built up. But, what could be safer than lettings kids play with an electric lamp, inside a metal box, running flammable nitrate film through a projector by hand? The 1910s were a different time; this tinderbox was probably the safest thing the kids had to play with.
This neat little aspect of the history of movie theatres was also included in some kits, along with tickets and other accoutrements of the theater world. Keystone offered a pin to identify yourself as a licensed Moviegraph projectionist.
In the past — and in some places still today — only properly licensed people are allowed to run movie projectors. Sadly, the several thousand people who carried Moviegraph License No. 79984 were sad to find out their licensing was not transferable to other systems.
As a nerd, of course, I have appreciate the mechanism the camera uses to move the film, a single frame at a time. I’ve taken a number of projectors apart over the years, and all of them have a different and unique way to advance the film. This projector uses the most basic gearing system — the geneva drive:
Originally designed for clockmaking, the early film industry grabbed on to it as a technical solution to stopping the film for the split second that the shutter is open, without having to stop the motor from turning:
Despite the high-tech gearing, this projector is missing something I mentioned earlier: there’s no shutter in it. Watching a movie projected by this Keystone projector would be pretty blurry, despite the momentary gear. Well, what can you expect from a toy?
I did speak a bit too soon: Keystone Manufacturing might not have been the same company as the Keystone movie studio in California, but they did sell film. Although the projector would work with any silent 35mm movie film, Keystone Manufacturing sold their own reels for the projector-owner’s entertainment. Most of their Moviegraph reels were lower-quality duplicates of shorts and small portions of full-length features. So, although they didn’t make movies, they still held on to a large part of the film distribution process as their business model.