The following is a guest post by Claire Cahoon, a rising senior at Ithaca College, who is diving into history this summer at the U.S. Copyright Office, as part of the Library of Congress Junior Fellows Program.
You never know what you’re going to find digging through the archives of Copyright deposits—it could be a little piece of history, a beautifully handwritten letter, or even the beginnings of a popular product. Some of the most fascinating items I’ve found while sorting through these records have been the detailed advertisements, some of which could still be used today, though others are amusingly obsolete.
One that caught my eye was an advertisement design for a “Quickputon Shirt” submitted by George Bradford Tripler in an 1894 copyright registration. The drawings show this “New Open-Front Shirt,” with buttons down the front, allowing for “convenient, comfortable and elegant” men’s formal-wear without pulling the shirt over your head—a new idea in the nineteenth century that is so common today that we hardly give it a second thought.
Stepping back in time, however, shows that this novelty was a hard sell, and Tripler created an elaborate advertisement picturing men knocking over chairs and lamps in their struggle with the “Old Way” of putting on shirts. To add to that, there was also a booklet with four descriptions and illustrations showing how difficult pulling a formal shirt over one’s head could be and promoting the new approach—all written in rhyme. Tripler put a lot of effort into convincing his audience that these front-button shirts were the way of the future, and it seems like he was onto something.
One thing I’ve learned during my time in the Copyright Office is that creativity is everywhere, no matter when, where, or how you’re creating. Deposits like the “Quickputon Shirts” advertisement are all part of the Copyright Office archives that I have been working in, which range from the late nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth. Interesting advertisements like this one are only the beginning of what people submitted as creative works during this time period. These archives have revealed designs for church organ pipes, imitation lizard skin, and everything in between, really showing how broad the copyright umbrella is for protecting works of art, even over a century ago.
This same creativity is obvious in the registrations the Copyright Office receives today. As I’ve had the opportunity to observe the process of modern copyright registrations, I’ve seen submissions that range from books and board games to choreography and carpet squares. I am constantly surprised at how much overlap there is between hundred-year-old files and today’s emails. Authors and designers have been concerned with how to protect their work, properly fill out forms, and tell their story since the beginning of the U.S. Copyright Office.
Even though the works being copyrighted may be a little different (I haven’t seen any advertisements for “Quickputon Shirts” recently), the same spirit of creativity lives in these old faded archives as it does in the online submissions of today. No matter the time period, people have the same questions, concerns, and abundant creativity that make the work of the Copyright Office so important.