WILLIAMSON'S STEP-BY-STEP PRINTING MACHINE
Williamson Kinematograph Company, Ltd., 28 Denmark Street, Charring Cross Road, London, England 1910-1925?
This is the primary mechanism for a Williamson Step-by-Step Printing Machine, an early silent-era 35mm film printer used to create positive prints for projection. In 1910, the Step by Step Printing Machine was one of film pioneer James A. Williamson's first endeavors into cinematic apparatus. At the same time, he began the commercial manufacture of motion picture cameras for which he is best known today. Prior to this, Williamson (1855-1933) was involved in the motion picture business as a filmmaker and distributor.
Filming a motion picture in the silent era, a negative was produced initially, just as one might do in a still camera. After the negative was developed, a positive print was needed to correct the image for movie theater projection. To accomplish this, the negative film was run through a printer such as this Williamson, parallel to another roll of film. As the shutter blade revolved, the illumination of each frame transposed the negative image to the second film strip, resulting in a positive image as the two films passed through the gate simultaneously. The printer's synchronized intermittent claw movement, shutter blade and geared drives on both sides of the film gate, insured a rapid and controlled process. The positive film, developed in the same manner as the negative film, was now ready for projection. By 1935, color reversal films such as Kodachrome were introduced in 16mm, eliminating the need for negative/positive printing. By the 1940's, reversal film had found its way into 35mm motion picture production, and printers in this capacity would no longer be required for the majority of film work.
The unit shown here would have been mounted to the front of a rectangular wooden or metal cabinet, containing externally-mounted feed and take-up reels, a light source, and a drive motor and pulley system. Williamson's Step-by-Step Printing Machine is featured in Davidson Boughey's The Film Industry, 1921, with detailed instructions on its operation. The Step by Step Printing Machine was made in two versions: A larger body containing two sets of reels for feed and take-up, and a smaller version having only feed reels and an electric motor mounted externally atop the housing:
Larger model with internal motor, depicted in Davidson Boughey's The Film Industry, 1921
Smaller model with external motor, depicted in Davidson Boughey's The Film Industry, 1921
As seen in the photos, the example shown here features a solid drive pulley, an etched design on the film gate frame and hardware finished in lacquered brass. These features are all suggestive of earlier manufacture, as black enamel and other finishes became more dominate on cine equipment, moving into the 1920's. However, this example appears identical to the 1921 depictions above, which contradicts this premise.
Early professional equipment by Williamson is rarely seen, and when an item does surface, it's usually a motion picture camera. Support apparatus and accessories for their 35mm cameras are almost non-existent today, making them very rare. Other than one incomplete example found on the Internet, this is the only example of a Step by Step Printer I have come across.
Williamson's Paragon Camera depicted in Davidson Boughey's The Film Industry, 1921
Williamson's Topical Cinematograph depicted in Davidson Boughey's The Film Industry, 1921