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  • 1901

My Mutoscope Maid

Poem by John Smith from Buffalo Express (4 February 1901): 4.

As indicated in entries for 1900 and 1902 in this issue, the Mutoscope and Biograph Company had American and British branches (and there were other branches too). These companies released both films (biographs) for projection, and reels of flip cards for viewing in individual peepshow mutoscope machines. The latter soon acquired a reputation for salaciousness, with some reels showing, for example, women undressing or performing other mildly risqué actions. This issue of suggestive mutoscopes became a scandal in some towns where these machines were placed, especially if it was felt that children had access to such views.16 In fact, most of the views were innocuous, but there was certainly a tendency for these moving images to be of young, attractive women, as the poet below suggests. I cannot find any information about this writer, nor do I know if the poem had been previously published in another paper (syndication of content was very common in this era). Thanks to Paul Spehr for finding the poem.

There’s a maiden who’s captured my fancy – I’ve dreamed of her for a week – Though I don’t even know what her name is And I never have heard her speak.

Whenever I go to see her She kisses her hand to me And whirls around on her toe-tips With a grace that is rare to see.

A glimpse of a tiny ankle, A swirl of her silken skirt. Then she kisses her hand and leaves me – I fear me much she’s a flirt.

I wish I could clasp her to me, I wish I could call her mine – I sigh for a touch of her tiny hand Or a kiss from those lips divine.

But, alas! I can only see her – My beautiful fairy queen – For she’s only a moving picture And she lives in a slot machine!

The University Boat-Race, 1901

Cartoon by Charles L. Pott from Punch (27 March 1901): 239.

The Oxford versus Cambridge Boat Race (depicted also in the 1897 section of this issue) has always been of great interest to news reporters and media professionals. From 1895 the race has been filmed every year except 1896 (and during the World Wars the race didn’t take place) by many different companies and individual cameramen.17 In 1899 and 1900 it was filmed by the British Mutoscope and Biograph Company, [End Page 396] and in the centre of this cartoon on the press boat can be seen a huge machine on a tripod with a lens at front, which is probably meant to be a Biograph camera. The word “prospective” suggests that this is Pott’s vision of a future when the famous boat race might become overcrowded with sightseers, sportsmen, media men and many others. Charles L. Pott (1865–?) was a landscape painter and one of the leading British illustrators of his day, his work appearing in magazines including Punch, Cassell’s Saturday Journal and The Sketch.18

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[End Page 397]


16. Dan Streible, “Children at the Mutoscope”, Cinémas 14, no. 1 (Fall 2003): 91–116.

17. See entries in Denis Gifford, The British Film Catalogue: Volume 2: Non-Fiction Film, 1888–1994 (London: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2001).

18. Ryno Greenwall, Artists and Illustrators of the Anglo-Boer War (Vlaeberg: Fernwood Press, 1992), 187.



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