Collecting Early Naval Postcards: Enrique Muller
Who Was Enrique Muller?
Enrique Muller was born in Germany in 1846 and emigrated in 1865, according to the enumerated U.S. Census records for 1900. He married around 1875, and his family lived in Brooklyn. In mid-1894, he was paid for "Photographs in the Matter of the Speedway and Fort Washington Park." The city was planning the development of the Harlem River Speedway at the time. This is the first mention I can find of Enrique's photographic work.
In 1898, copyright laws were revised. Whether because of these changes or because he recognized the opportunity, Enrique began registering some of his photos.
Many photos in The Story of the Spanish-American War and the Revolt in the Philippines (by W. Nephew King, published in 1898) were attributed to E. Muller. They may have all been taken in 1898, after the conflict was over.
In 1899, Muller photographed the racing yacht Columbia, which was the current entry in the America's Cup race. Some of these photos were published in Scientific American (October 14, 1899). What other coverage he had of the race is uncertain, but Muller provided photos of the racing yachts to Kaiser Wilhelm, who thanked him with a pair of gold cuff buttons. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle (February 6, 1902) had a brief article about the buttons. Enrique is quoted mentioning his father, who had been employed for 25 years in Kiel, Germany.
I mention this because, in a very few years, his grown sons Theodore and Robert joined him in his business. While they sometimes did work under their own names, "Enrique Muller" was a family business. So much so that there is a lot of confusion about which Muller took which photos. Theodore published some photos of the theater industry under his own name; Robert apparently immersed himself completely in naval imagery.
Over a hundred years later, without the glass plates and film negatives, we probably can't figure it out for certain. It doesn't help that many of the published photos attributed to Muller don't show in the Catalog of Copyright Entries, and that those entries present are so brief as to be useless.
Waldron Fawcett was a publisher. He probably wanted to beef up his naval product line by including Muller photos. It's also possible that Fawcett was the reason so many different types of Muller postcards exist. He may have been aggressive about marketing. It's likely most of these images were taken by father Enrique.
Muller's work appeared on color postcards published by:
- The American News Company, Mason Bros. & Co.
- The Jamestown Amusement & Vending Co. (as souvenirs of the Jamestown Exposition in 1907)
- The Valentine-Souvenir Co.
- Valentine & Sons' Publishing Co.
- "Real Photo Post Cards" published by U.S. Souvenir Post Card Co.
Muller's photos also appeared in several self-published works.
Rotograph, a postcard publisher known for buying photo lots (and smaller publishing firms), put out a series of Muller's ship photos. The cards show photo copyright dates from 1898 to 1904, and postmarks tend to be from 1905 to 1907. Some of these cards had the copyright information blacked out. I haven't figured out yet if the photographer's name had been erroneously written on the negative, or if the cards were published later, after any agreement had expired.
Muller's work was published in magazines including Leslie's Weekly, Marine Engineering, and Army & Navy Illustrated. For some of these publications, he was listed as a "staff" or "special" photographer, probably supplementing the income from his own photo operation. These magazine photos have helped me identify and date his postcards—when they were issued in sets or packs, most postcards went straight into collections, rather than getting mailed.
Muller advertised himself as an artist as well as a photographer. This was truthful, at least. Photographers often increased the power of an image by adding or deleting things they didn't want; they still do.
The year 1907 was busy for "Enrique Muller," and I feel confident that son Robert was the reason. Robert E. Muller was 26 years old, with nearly a decade of experience as a photographer. One of the Muller family's most famous photos, of the U.S.S. Connecticut bearing down, was taken that year. The negative says the copyright belongs to Enrique Muller, but "E. Muller, Jr." claimed the photo in later years. The younger Muller was a more aggressive photographer, willing to sit in tiny boats as battleships approached, and climb masts to get wonderful overhead views, and this photo fit his style.
In 1908, Enrique Muller either sold photos or licensed rights to Edward Mitchell, a West Coast postcard publisher. The Mitchells I've identified so far were "life in the navy"-type shipboard photos, and may have been exclusive to him.
By 1910, a partnership was formed. Published photos and cards show "Clarke & Muller" as the copyright holder. This arrangement lasted only into 1911. I haven't found any information on whether Clarke was a photographer or an investor.
Also in 1911, the New York Times Sunday Magazine for August 14 ran an article on "Unusual Snapshots taken at Thrilling Moments." It discusses several such photos, and then mentions Muller: "Characteristic of the pluck and presence of mind required in such [photographic] work is the story of Enrique Muller, the young photographer of Hoboken, who took a picture of the battleship Connecticut during her trial trip off the coast of Maine on Aug. 7, 1907." (And goes on to tell the tale of how the engine on his small launch failed as the battleship approached.)
I can't find a record of Robert (had to be, Enrique would have been 61 years old in 1907) living in Hoboken, but it's possible. Hoboken, if you don't know New Jersey, is just across the river from New York City.
Robert, not only a daredevil but a self-promoting one, had similar tales of near-disaster published in other newspapers and magazines.
Though primarily based in New York City, Muller (probably both Enrique and Robert) travelled to San Francisco more than once. A note in Camera Craft, an SF-based photography magazine, is apparently talking about Enrique:
The "great cruise" was the sailing of the Great White Fleet, which visited San Francisco in 1908. Muller got a lot of photos of ships in their white paint. I'm not sure about the "three years ago" thing with the Kaiser, ten or twelve years would be closer. (Unless this is a second "honor" that I can't find any other reference to.)
The Catalog of Copyright Entries shows registration of photos of the USS California in San Diego Bay, and the San Francisco Naval Training Station from August 1913. These could have been taken by Enrique, they appear to fit his style.
Many more photos were taken and published over the next seven years, but these aren't as confusing—the published works show "E. Muller, Jr." or "Muller." By this point, Robert was publishing his own postcards. He may have taken photos himself, in his capacity as an official photographer for the U.S. Navy, or he may have been buying photos from active-duty sailors.
He published collections of ship photos in at least two small books. (I think I've identified a third. Maybe.)
Norbert Moser, another well-known marine photographer in the New York area, published a number of Robert's photos. These real photo postcards show "(c) E. Muller, Jr. for N. Moser, N.Y." Again, I can't find many with postmarks on them, but Moser didn't begin publishing from New York until about 1914.
In early 1915, Robert E. Muller declared bankruptcy.
In the year 1918, the first World War ended. Many of the ships that filled the Muller portfolio were being scrapped as part of a peace agreement. The navy was downsizing, and probably didn't need as many photographs. Postcard collecting was losing its popularity. It was a tough time, financially, to rely on being a marine photographer.
The Catalog of Copyright Entries continued to show registrations from both Enrique Muller and E. Muller, Jr. (or E. Muller, Jr., Inc.) of New York, into 1919. Many of these are of the troop transports bringing home soldiers from Europe.
I haven't managed to find a date of death (or place) for Enrique Muller. Without that, it's hard to say if he was still photographing ships—anchored, from the side usually—into his seventies. Or perhaps son Theodore was still working the family business?
A very brief note appeared in Bulletin of Photography:
Though a crucial verb is missing, it appears Robert sold his photography business to his brother Theodore and some partners.
Robert moved to California, where he died in 1921.
About the Copyright
All images, magazine and newspaper articles whose images are used in this text are over 100 years old and out of copyright protection.