Chipmunks and Children: The Photography and Life of Ruth Alexander Nichols

Document 1: 21 August 1917, Ruth Alexander to Herman Nichols   |    Document 2: 23 August 1918, Albert Britt to Ruth Alexander
Document 3: 1919 Thomas Clay O’Donnell to Ruth Alexander   |    Document 4: 23 May 1927 Jean M. Whitman to Ruth Nichols
Document 5: 20 June 1931- W. C. Vogt to Ruth Nichols   |    Document 6 & 7 Introduction
Document 6: 14 June 1950, W.H. Zippler to Ruth Nichols     |    Document 7: 20 June 1950, Ruth Nichols to W.H. Zippler
Document 8: 1953 – Better Homes and Gardens Transcript       |     Bibliography

girl with twig
Unknown girl with a twig. Nichols, no date.
Source: Series XIII. Photographs, Box 12. Nichols Family Papers, RG 30/372. O.C.A.

Zippler Letters: Introduction to Documents 6 and 7

The following two letters detail an exchange between Ruth Nichols and W.H. Zippler, an employee of Roche, Williams & Cleary Advertising, one of the advertising companies with whom Nichols worked.[1] 

In the first letter, Zippler wrote Ruth Nichols concerning the rights of a client, possibly the extremely successful Sears, Roebuck and Co., to a photograph they had purchased.[2] Specifically Zippler wished to know whether  the client held exclusive rights to the photo indefinitely. This exclusivity was important to advertising clients since they generally did not wish to have other companies -or even worse, a competitor- use the same photos that they did. Photos could be an important part of branding, and a lack of exclusivity could decrease the effectiveness of advertising. Importantly, this letter shows the kinds of legal questions Ruth Nichols would have had to deal with as an independent photographer. As a businesswoman, she would have had to acquire knowledge about her rights as a photographer, and about the rights and needs of her clients. It was not enough to rely on her talent alone.

cabro print of girl and frog
Cabro print of a girl and a frog (undated).
Source: Series XIII. Photographs, Box 12. Nichols Family Papers, RG 30/372. O.C.A.

This second document is a copy of Nichols’ response to Zippler. She explains that the negative purchase (and any “too similar” negatives) belong to the client for all time, but that her company reserves the right to use other photos from the collection unless the client pays to have the collection closed. After addressing the legal question, she goes on to advocate for her business, saying that she has shot photos specially for this client in the past and offering to sell exclusively for varying lengths of time. This document demonstrates Ruth Nichols’ ability to both advocate for herself and her business while still maintaining positive relationships with her clients. This ability to navigate corporate relationships was as important a part of Nichols’ success as her photographic skills.

[1] Roche, Williams & Cleary (formerly Roche, Williams & Cunnyngham) was employed by companies such as Sears, the Diamond T. Motor Car Company, and the Studebaker Car Company (John McDonough and Karen Egolf. “The Advertising Age Encyclopedia of Advertising.” Google Books, Accessed 15 March 2016. Web link).

     Walter H. Zippler (1920-1976) (“Walter H Zippler (1920 – 1976) – Find A Grave Memorial.” Accessed 27 June 2016. Web link).

[2] John McDonough and Karen Egolf, “The Advertising Age Encyclopedia of Advertising.” Google Books.Accessed 15 March 2016. Web link.