Maskelyne and Cooke's

Source: ‘Maskelyne and Cooke’s’, The Era, 18 April 1896, p. 16

Text: The Easter novelty at the “home of mystery” in Piccadilly is an exhibition of Mr R.W. Paul’s latest development of the results of continuous and instantaneous photography, whereby animated pictures from scenes of everyday life are thrown upon a screen. Mr Nevil Maskelyne acts as lecturer, and in a brief introduction recounts the history of the ancient zoetrope, or wheel of life. Similar in principle to the zoetrope was the gyroscope, exhibited sixty years since in a gallery of the Polytechnic. This was a wheel of black silhouette figures revolving before a mirror, giving the appearance of vitality. Half a century afterwards Mr Edison produced his kinetoscope – a band of progressive photographs passing before the eye of the spectator applied to an optical peephole, and creating the effects of life and motion. Mr R.W. Paul’s apparatus shows us a series of pictures of photography come to life – photography taken “in the action.” The first moving scene announced by Mr Nevil Maskelyne is a band practice. The music of the march that one may imagine is being played is given on the pianoforte by Mr F. Cramer. A number of Highland dancers are scarcely quick enough in their movements; but the remark does not apply to the graceful evolutions of a serpentine dancer or to the good-natured boxing of a couple of trained cats. The animated pictures are likely to be very popular. The interest of Mr R.W. Paul’s invention is inexhaustible, for the attraction may be revived again and again by new pictures …

Comments: Robert Paul’s Theatrograph projector first became part of the programme at the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly, London on 19 March 1896, having made its public debut on 20 February 1896 at Finsbury Technical College. The Egyptian Hall was known for its magic shows presented by the company of Maskelyne & Cooke, where magicians David Devant and John Nevil Maskelyne were important early adopters of moving images as a public entertainment. The films named here are the Edison titles Band Drill (1894), Highland Dance (1894), a serpentine dance (there were several Edison films of serpentine dancers) and Boxing Cats (1894). The review goes on to mention the various magic arts that formed the greater part of the programme at the Egyptian Hall.


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2 thoughts on “Maskelyne and Cooke's

  1. Interesting that these are all Edison films. The Finsbury Park show on 20 February also used an Edison film (Trilby) along with a Birt Acres film (Rough Sea at Dover); Edison films were again on the docket at the Egyptian Hall from 19 March and in Paul’s own Theatrograph exhibition at the Olympia from 21 March. So when did Paul begin making his own films? I have not this morning traced this closely, but was it not until late Spring 1896? Paul was definitely a busy man when he returned to film work in early 1896, but is this not a bit more evidence that the early “partnership” films were all really Birt Acres films? With Paul needing some months to acquire filmmaking skills — or to build a camera and hire in another filmmaker in Henry Short. Hmmmm…

  2. The earliest recorded exhibition of Paul’s own films in your Film History chronology is 13 April 1896, a probable Theatrograph show in Birmingham. This is very early, if John Barnes is right in saying he went into production in April.

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