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After 110 years hidden in a tin at the National Media Museum in Bradford, UK, researchers have discovered what are believed to be the world’s oldest color films. Created by cinematic pioneer Edward Raymond Turner, the films date to 1902 and depict the inventor’s children, a girl on a swing, and soldiers marching. Before this find, the oldest color film was believed to be a 1909 film created in Kinemacolor.
The three-color process used in these early films was patented by Edward Turner and Frederick Marshall Lee on March 22, 1899. While H. Isensee of Germany patented an early version of color cinematography in 1897, the Turner/Lee method was the first system to lead to a working model. While Turner was a chemist and photographer, his partner, Lee, was a race horse owner and funded Turner’s experiments.
According to the Who’s Who of Victorian Cinema:
In practice, however, the Lee and Turner system was a failure. It required a projection speed of forty-eight frames per second, combined with precise registration of three separate images from lenses positioned in parallel. The result was an unwatchable blur.
Why is Turner’s name little known to the history of cinema? He died of a heart attack in 1903, which only goes to show that history isn’t only written by the victors but also by those with better health.
It should be noted that Turner’s process did eventually lead to Kinemacolor in 1906, which became the world’s first successful motion picture system in natural colors.
The films are currently on display at the National Media Museum.