Bryant & May Matches (lost "first commercial ever made"; 1896)
Bryant & May Matches is the title given to an 1896 film produced by film pioneer and photographer Birt Acres, intended as a commercial for the British match firm Bryant & May. According to some film historians, it is the first known commercial to have been produced.
By 1896, Birt Acres had secured a contract with Stollwerck, a German chocolate manufacturer and coin-operated machines, to make films and equipment for the Kineopticon. Similarly, Bryant & May were contracted to supply matches for Stollwerck's slot machines. According to Professor Martin Loiperdinger, both companies share a connection, in that Bryant & May and the Stollwerck Brothers were both founders and shareholders of the London and Provincial Automatic Machine Company, which in turn was also a shareholder for Deutsche Automaten Gesellschaft Stollwerck & Co. In the same year, Acres was commissioned to produce a film promoting Bryant & May.
According to British film historian John Barnes, one reference to a Bryant & May film by Acres exists as part of a stock list. This may have been from the British Toy and Novelty Company, appearing as no. 11 on its December 1896 list. Meanwhile, German film historian Dr Hauke Lange-Fuchs found that Bryant & May were involved in Birt Acre's Queen's Halls shows during August 1896, as part of a Kineopticon commercial.
The commercial's contents have been disputed; according to an August 1896 issue of Tower Hamlets Independent and East End Local Advertiser, the film consists of a man writing on a blackboard "Bryant and May’s matches are the best", before turning around, striking a match and lighting a pipe. However, Lange-Fuchs claims the Kineopticon advertisement instead displayed "Support Home Industries - Bryant & May's Matches are manufactured only at Fairfield Works - London".
First Commercial Claim
In November 2019, film director, writer and historian Peter Domankiewicz proclaimed Bryant & May Matches to be the first-ever commercial. In his blog post, he researched the dates of when the commercial was produced, comparing it to two other commercials claimed to have been the first, Edison's Admiral Cigarette, and the Lumiere Brothers' Laveuses, which promoted soaps Sunlight Seife and Sunlight Savon. Notably, Admiral Cigarette was filmed in July 1897, a year after Bryant & May Matches.
Meanwhile, Laveuses was screened in New York's Keith’s Union Square Theatre, marking the Lumière Cinématographe's American debut on June 29th, 1896. While the film was indeed made before Bryant & May Matches, Domankiewicz disputes it as the first commercial. He argues that the promotional purpose of the film was not aimed to the American audience for a few reasons. Firstly, most had a very low chance of understanding the foreign titles, nor knew of the brand name. Secondly, the company producing the soaps, Lever Brothers (now Unilever), had only just opened a small New York office and had not yet made products in the US. Finally, the title of the film was changed to Washing Day in Switzerland, with Domankiewicz claiming this shifted the tone of the film towards being an "exotic foreign scene". He also notes that the first screening of Laveuses in France, where the promotional aspect could be targeted towards the audience, was in Lyon on September 20th, 1896, a month after Bryant & May Matches was first shown. Domankiewicz, therefore, concludes by proclaiming Bryant & May Matches as the first commercial based on its release date and how Laveuses was emphasising product placement rather than acting as an explicit commercial.
Ultimately, Bryant & May Matches is now a lost film with no frames or imagery having resurfaced. According to Domankiewicz, unlike Edison and Lumière, corporations which both sought to protect and preserve their films, the same could not be applied to Acres' films. This may have been because of the low perceived value of such films historically, making preservation efforts rare.
- They Thought it was a Marvel, which detailed the history of Acres' connection with Stollwerck and Bryant & May, as well as documenting Dr Hauke Lange-Fuchs' findings. Retrieved 01 May '21
- The Beginnings Of The Cinema In England, 1894-1901: Volume 1, detailing John Barnes' finding of the Bryant & May film reference. Retrieved 01 May '21
- 29th August 1896 issue of Tower Hamlets Independent and East End Local Advertiser, which summarised the commercial. Retrieved 01 May '21
- Peter Domankiewicz's blog post proclaiming Bryant & May Matches as the first commercial. Retrieved 01 May '21