Pages

22 March 2014

Rotophot

How did the culture of film star postcards start? There is probably not just one answer to that question, but the history of the German company Rotophot GmbH, where Heinrich Ross started his career, is exemplary. During the First World War, the internationally orientated Rotophot could only work for the German market and it began publishing ‘Film-Sterne karten’, as part of one of the first major film promotion actions.


Gudrun Hildebrandt. German postcard by Rotophot, no. 1381/82. Sent by mail in 1909.


Ellen Richter. German postcard by Rotophot., no. 1651. Photo: Willinger.


Hedda Vernon. German postcard in the Fim Sterne series by Rotophot, no. 68/5. Photo: Eiko-Film.


Henny Porten. German postcard by Rotophot in the Film Sterne series, no. 114/1. Photo: Messter Film, Berlin.


Fern Andra. German postcard by Rotophot, Berlin, no. 128/3, in the Film Sterne Series. Photo: Fern Andra Atelier.

Mass Production


The origins of the popular Ross Verlag cards go back to the Rotophot artist postcards. The ´Rotophot-Gesellschaft für photographische Industrie´ was located at the Alexandrinenstraße 110 in Berlin.

The company was founded by Hans Kraemer on 8 January 1900 with the purpose of ‘mass production of photographic reproductions’. Kraemer, born in 1870 in Mannheim, came from a family of industrialists. He studied natural sciences, philosophy, history and cultural history in Berlin and Heidelberg.

The possibilities of photography, their distribution and reproduction on books and postcards, tied Kraemer’s attention. He decided to produce Bromsilberpostkarten in large numbers.

The period around 1900 was considered a ´golden era´ for the publication of technically high quality postcards. Celebrities from many fields offered the motives: nobles, opera singers, actors, vaudeville and circus stars. Daring erotic images also corresponded to the public taste. Especially these postcards from Rotophot were liked by the public.

Within a short time, Rotophot became a serious competitor of the NPG, the Neuen Photographischen Gesellschaft (New Photographic Society). The NPG had begun in 1895 with ‘kilometer-Photography’, an industrial-scale production of postcards.

Parallel to the NPG, Rotophot expanded internationally. In 1902 Rotophot closed a contract with Giesen Bros. & Co. in London. Photos of English artists, produced by Rotophot in Berlin, came through Giesen Bros & Co in the UK.


Hella Moja. German postcard in the Film Sterne Series by Rotophot, no. 501/2. Photo: Decla. Publicity still for Das Mädel von nebenan (Otto Rippert, 1917).


Fern Andra. German postcard by Rotophot in the Film-Sterne series, no. 514/4. Photo: Fern Andra Atelier. Publicity still with (in the back) Alfred Abel in Ein Blatt im Sturm... doch das Schicksal hat es verweht (Fern Andra, 1917).


Mia May. German postcard by Rotophot in the Film Sterne series, no. 528/5. Photo:May Film. Publicity still for Fünf Minuten zu spät/Five Minutes Too Late (Uwe Jens Krafft, 1918).


Ressel Orla. German postcard by Rotophot in the Film Sterne series, no. 548/4, 1919-1924. Photo: Decla. Publicity still for Das Glück der Frau Beate/The luck of the Mrs. Beate (Alwin Neuß, Otto Rippert, 1918).


Hedda Vernon. German postcard in the Film Sterne Series by Rotophot, no. 560/2. Photo: Eiko Film. Publicity still for Wo ein Wille, ist ein Weg (Hubert Moest, 1918) with right back Ernst Hofmann.

One of the first major German film promotion actions


In 1904 a subsidiary company was established, the Bromsilber-Bild-Vertriebs-Gesellschaft with offices in Vienna and Budapest. Head of this division was Heinrich Ross, who had recently joined the company.

From 1905 on, all Rotophot cards wore the letters RPH as a logo, with a serial number for re-orders. In 1910, Rotophot founded subsidiaries in Vienna and Budapest. There were also sales offices in Hamburg, Cologne, Nuremberg, Wroclaw, Poznan, Warsaw, Riga, Stockholm, Helsinki, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, London, Paris, Zurich, Milan, Bucharest, Odessa and Buenos Aires.

The start of the First World War in August 1914 meant for the export-oriented Rotophot a serious loss initially. After some difficulty it found a balance again by using new motifs, such as fighters who were now in demand instead of opera stars.

At that time, cinema only existed for 20 years and film was still a relatively new phenomenon. The German military administration tried to distract people from their worries with entertainment films. In 1916, the state gave the young film industry large amounts of money for major projects.

The postcard publishers NPG and Rotophot were involved in this operation. In 1916 Heinrich Ross started the Film Sterne series, which presented postcards with new film scenes and portraits of the previously unknown film actors. The Film Sterne series is thus one of the first major German film promotion actions.


Friedrich Zelnik. German postcard by Rotophot in the Film Sterne series, no. 126/3. Photo: Nicola Perscheid, Berlin.


Paul Hartmann. German postcard in the Film-Sterne series by Rotophot, no. 161/3. Photo: Nicole Perscheid, Berlin.


Bernd Aldor. German postcard in the Film Sterne series by Rotophot., no. 164/2. Photo: Becker & Maass, Berlin.


Bruno Kastner. German postcard by Rotophot in the Film Sterne series, no. 190/1, 1916-1919. Photo: Becker & Maass, Berlin.


Bruno Decarli. German postcard.by Rotophot in the Film-Sterne series, no. 217/1. Photo: Becker & Maass, Berlin.

The first of the fan and autograph postcard series


Occasionally, there had been film postcards published in Europe previously. However, the Film-Sterne series can be regarded as the first of the fan and autograph postcard series that followed in the next decades.

There were three separate series of Rotophot artist postcards: stage star cards, running from no. 1 to 30, film star postcards, running from no. 61-224 (why the series started with no. 61 is unknown), and film and scenes cards, running from no. 500 to about 600. Rotophot also produced film posters, such as for Homunculus (1916), designed by Hans Zoozmann.

The Rotophot Symbol RPH was part of the Film-Sterne logo. Some of the very early film star cards had only ‘film’ on the logo.
Other early Rotophot cards have as part of their logo the drawing of a horse, ‘Ross’ translates as horse.

From 1919 Heinrich Ross marketed the Film-Sterne series by his own publishing company. Each card was now wearing the name Ross Verlag.


Wanda Treumann. German postcard by Rotophot in the Film Sterne series, no. 87/4. Photo: Karl Schenker, Berlin/Messter Film.


Maria Carmi. German postcard in the Film Sterne series by Rotophot, no. 90/5. Photo: Karl Schenker.


Lotte Neumann. German postcard by Rotophot in the Film-sterne series, no. 94/2. Photo: NBFMB / Karl Schenker.


Hella Moja. German postcard in the Film Sterne series by Rotophot, no. 78/6. Photo: Decla / Karl Schenker, Berlin.


Lisa Weise. German postcard by Rotophot in the Film-Sterne series, no. 104/1.

Sources: Mark Goffee (Rosscards.com), Postkarten-Archiv.de (German), Wikipedia (German), and IMDb.

1 comment:

Bunched Undies said...

What a wonderful glimpse into the past. The costumes in the film stills are great.