The Kemp Niver – Print Collection
Kemp R. Niver was born in Los Angeles, CA, in 1911, and served in the Navy throughout the second World War. Niver also had other occupations, including investigator for the L.A. district attorney’s office, and freelance bodyguard and private investigator.
Despite these roles, Niver is probably best known for his role in the paper print collection of the Library of Congress. These prints were made out of nitrate films, which at the time were the only method through which filmmakers could retain copyright protection.
Howard Halls, a former curator for the film division of the Library of Congress, was put in charge of supervising this print collection in 1943. By the time Walls has left his position in 1953, little progress had been made in the print project.
Niver then met Margaret Herrick, who he then put in charge of the project, which received funding from the Academy Foundation. It was during this time that Niver developed the Renovare process to transfer paper print film to 16mm film. An optical step printer was developed, which featured a variable aperture used to copy each paper print frame by frame. By 1965, over 3,000 titles were processed.
Niver was recognized by the Academy for his efforts, and he was awarded with a 1954 Honorary Academy Award. Niver was not only the president of Renovare Productions, he was also in charge of companies known as Locare and Historical Films.
Many of Niver’s writings include Motion Pictures from the In the Beginning: Program Notes to Accompany One Hundred Early Motion Pictures, The First Twenty Years: A Segment of Film History, and Early Motion Pictures: The Paper Print Collection in the Library of Congress, to name a few.
The Kemp Niver Collection includes prints from the years 1894 through to 1989, and features books on film history and periodicals. There are a plethora of biographical and historical reference books about the founders of cinema and the motion picture industry, with highlights on the time period between 1890 to 1920.
Included in the collection are Arare periodicals, including the first volume of Moving Picture World from 1907, the motion picture industry’s initial trade publication. General files include a transcript for Thomas A. Edison vs. American Mutoscope Company in regards to the Kinetograph 1897 patent; Biograph production records from 1899 to 1912; and photocopies of Edison Films catalogs, among others. The first issue of The American Cinematographer in 1920 is included among the material, as well as a number of framed editions of Biograph Bulletin.
The majority of the periodicals are included in the Library’s core collection, and can be requested.