MITCHELL MATTE BOX
Mitchell Camera Corporation, West Hollywood, California Early to mid-1930's
Mitchell matte box, filter holder and sunshade No. 982 for the Mitchell Standard 35mm motion picture camera. This combination mounted on double arms (rods), would have been positioned in front of the camera's lens to shade unwanted light and to facilitate the use of filters that could easily be slid in or out.
George A. Mitchell filed his patent application on February 23, 1934 for its design and was granted Patent No. 1,991,814 on February 19, 1935. As has been the case for many improvements in both still and motion picture cameras, Mitchell was already manufacturing matte boxes and sunshades based on the essence of this design, some eleven years earlier.
Based on operating addresses, the "West Hollywood" maker's tag places this matte box's manufacture between late 1929 when Mitchell moved to 665 North Robertson Boulevard. In October, 1921, Mitchell's address was 6019 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles, as seen on Mitchell Camera Company letterhead dated October 19, 1921. By November 1, 1921, they show a 6025 Santa Monica Boulevard address in advertisements. In 1923, the firm's name changed to Mitchell Camera Corporation. The earliest known tags read "Mitchell Camera Co., Los Angeles" (as seen on Mitchell Standard No. 125), and after incorporation "Mitchell Camera Corp., Los Angeles".
Reference has also been found on the Internet regarding the transition of city names from Los Angeles to West Hollywood, stating that the change on the tags occurred about 1933/1934. There may be some merit to this given that the Los Angeles address continued to be shown in Mitchell catalog illustrations until at least November, 1937. This was well after their move to West Hollywood in August, 1929, suggesting that maybe Mitchell was in no hurry to update their name tags or their advertising to reflect the new location. In 1946, Mitchell moved to Glendale, California and this is the address seen on most surviving equipment.
Having a gold tag with the letters in the Mitchell name vertically aligned and a serial number with no model number, vs. a silver tag with the letters in the Mitchell name following a curvature and having a serial number and model number, may suggest that this matte box was made closer to the early-to-mid 1930's:
However, basing a timeline solely on the alignment of the Mitchell name's letters is not a hard and fast rule, as some earlier gold (or brass) finished "Los Angeles" tags have been seen with Mitchell letters that follow the curvature. And, as seen in the photos above and below, patent numbers were also cited in some instances. Associating a date with the patent number helps in narrowing the timeline for a particular tag:
Maker's tag from a Mitchell motor featured elsewhere on this website
Mitchell matte box No. 982 featured here has a black-enameled finish which has sometimes been attributed to the earlier half of Mitchell's production. Again, this doesn't always apply, as some of Mitchell's earliest cameras are seen with their now familiar satin black "crinkle" finish (or one that's similar); Serial No. 5 in the ASC Museum collection and Serial No. 8 sold to Mary Pickford, both have (or had) this finish. Other than those white-finished Mitchells used for government, military or scientific purposes, this black "crinkle" finish is the one you'll see most often.
And, if the foregoing is beginning to make some sense to you, here are a few instances that will make for some confusion:
Mitchell Standard No. 5 was sold on April 8, 1922, a year before Mitchell became a corporation and was located in Los Angeles. Yet it has a Mitchell Camera Corp. tag with a West Hollywood address. One would think it should have had a Mitchell Camera Company tag with a Los Angeles address. Being among the first cameras to be built, is there a possibility that it had no maker's tag as seen on later production cameras? Maybe later after Mitchell became a corporation, Mitchell No. 5 returned to the factory for repair or adjustment and a then-current Mitchell Camera Corp. tag was applied for service record purposes.
Mitchell Standard No. 125 was sold on October 4, 1928, nearly 4-1/2 years after Mitchell became a corporation. Yet it has the earlier Mitchell Camera Company tag. It should have had a Mitchell Camera Corp. tag with a Los Angeles address. Assuming there is no error in Mitchell's sales records, was Mitchell Camera Corp. still using old Mitchell Camera Company tags all these years later?
Maybe someone can provide a simple explanation for these anomalies, and I'll be reaching out to a few knowledgeable individuals. As I learn more, I'll update this page.
In the meantime, just another iconic piece of motion picture history that's not seen very often.