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 was 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 Unnumbered. 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. Detroit 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 be a copy-cat.
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