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|Dates: ||1870 - 1957|
Between 1924 and 1944 the Berlin based publishing house, Ross Verlag, produced an estimated 40 000 real photo and photogravure postcards of actors from Europe and the US but particularly Germany. The company, which grew out of postcard publishers Film-Sterne and Roto-Phot, was established by Heinrich Ross in 1919. It used a design taken from the Film-Sterne cards that would become a standard used by other companies including Photochemie and Iris Verlag. The cards were typically printed on cream stock, more often than not in portrait format with the image taking up four fifths of the card, the lower fifth given to the actor’s name and supplementary information such as film studio logos. In the early series of Ross cards the Film-Sterne logo of a horse was used. Most of the images published were studio portraits though there were also film stills and series dedicated to the stars at home. Ross also published real photo cigarette cards.
The photographs were usually licensed from UFA and major Hollywood studios such as MGM, but Ross may have also gone directly to the photographers. Though it is uncommon for American portraits to bear the photographer’s name, German cards frequently do and some of the most recognized studios in Germany including Alex Binder, Emil Hoppé and Frieda Riess are acknowledged on the postcards.
The history of reproducing photographic portraits of celebrities goes back to cartes de visite and firms like the London Stereoscopic Company. As with the LSC, Ross realized the most enthusiastic buyers of these portraits would be collectors rather than fans of particular stars. Portraits were generally released in sets of four and sold through mail order, encouraging collectors to buy the set rather than individual cards.
When the Nazis came to power in 1933, Ross, who was Jewish, was prohibited from running a company and eventually left Germany in 1939, arriving in the US in 1942. Under Nazi control from 1937, Ross Verlag continued to produce postcards though the quality was lost and more attention was given to overt propaganda images. It is also said that the only actors likely to be promoted through Ross cards at this time met the requirement of being fair-haired with blue eyes.
Ross Verlag began publishing postcards during the era of expressionist silent classics like The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari and Metropolis. Its history follows the trajectory of the rise and decline of Weimar cinema, the transition from silent to sound film and the coming to power of the Nazis. Because the photographic studios only released the images to Ross Verlag they not vintage as museums and historians strictly use the term but they are cheap and accessible for collectors and are authentic photographs, often by recognized masters in the field.
(John Toohey, February 2013)
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