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Ross VerlagBetween 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 (1870 -1957) 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.
Real Photo Postcard Portraits
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.
A website giving a comprehensive history and information regarding Ross Verlag was set up by Mark Goffee and can be found here: www.rosscards.com.
The images in this gallery are studio portraits taken by identified photographers. Information on most of the studios is listed below.
Pál Funk (1894-1974) set up his first studio in Budapest in the early 1920s then several others across Holland and France. Previously he had worked with Hoppé and Reutlinger and as a cinematographer with Michael Curtiz. Later his work would be published in Harper’s Bazaar and Vanity Fair. In 1956 he helped establish the Association of Hungarian Photographers. Funk won several awards during his life including a medal from the Federation Internationale de l’Art Photographique in 1958.
Martin Badekow (1896-1983)
Operating from a studio at Mommsen Strasse 21, Badekow was one of Berlin’s best known fashion and advertising photographers during the 1920s. In recent years his work has undergone re-evaluation and featured in major survey exhibitions of fashion photography.
Becker & Maass
Little is known about this company except that Otto Becker had a studio located at Liepziger Strasse 94 in Berlin during the late 1870s and Maass’ name appears in conjunction on cartes de visite dated in the 1890s. Ross cards credited to Becker & Maass can be dated to the early 1920s but the stretch of time suggests the studio’s name was maintained under different management, possibly within the founders’ families
Alex Binder (1888-1929)
Born in Alexandria, Egypt, Binder’s family immigrated to Germany when he was young. He attended the Lehr und Versuchsanstalt für Photographie (Teaching and Research Institute of Photography) in Munich and opened his first studio in Berlin in 1913. By the 1920s the Binder studio was reputed to be the largest in Europe and is the most commonly credited on Ross cards. After Binder’s death, Ross Verlag continued to publish portraits from the Binder Studio, probably taken by Hubs Floeter. These later cards usually bear the inscription ‘Atelier Binder’.
Mario von Bucovich (also known as Marius von Bucovich) (ca.1890 - ca. 1950)
The facts on von Bucovich’s birth circumstances are hard to pin down: according to some sources he was born in the USA in 1884, to others in Germany in 1894. Either way he was active and prominent in Berlin during the 1920s and 1930s. Alongside his portraits of celebrities and modernist nude studies, he published books of travel and architectural photography including Berlin 1928, Paris (1930) and Manhattan magic: a collection of 85 photographs (1937). The portraits that appear in Ross postcards are also attributed to the Karl Schenker Studio. The nature of the collaboration isn’t certain.
Emil Otto Hoppé (1878-1972)
Perhaps the most recognizable name among the photographers whose portraits were published by Ross Verlag, Hoppé was largely based in London through the 1920s and ‘30s though the studies he made suggest he frequently returned to Germany. He published dozens of books in his lifetime covering his travels through Europe, the US and Australia. At one time he lived at 7 Cromwell Place in London, in a house once occupied by John Everett Millais and later by Francis Bacon.
Established by Polish husband and wife, Adorján von Wlássics (1893 - 1946) and Olga Spolarics (1896 - 1969), the Manassé studio was based in Vienna during the 1920s before relocating to Berlin in the late 1930s. Apart from glamour portraits the studio specialized in highly expressionist erotic photography. A book, Divas and lovers: the erotic art of Studio Manassé, by Monika Faber was published in 1998.
G L Manuel Frères
Henri and Gaston Manuel (1874-1947 and 1880-?) opened their first studio in Paris in 1900, specializing in portraiture. Henri also produced postcards of dancers and actresses from the music halls and casinos and his name is sometimes appended to Reutlinger postcards, indicating there was a collaboration of some form. In 1910 the studio also began supplying images to news agencies credited as ‘l’Agence universelle de reportage Henri Manuel’. Between 1914 and 1940 Henri was an official photographer to the French Government. Most of the studio’s negatives were destroyed during the Second World War.
Frieda Riess (1890 - ca. 1955)
Born in 1890 in Czarnikau (now Carnkov, Poland), between 1918 and 1932 Riess ran one of the best known studios in Berlin, at 14/15 Kurfürstendamm. Her work was published in the Berliner Zeitung Illustrirte and Die Dame. She also worked as a stills photographer for Joe May, Ernst Lubitsch and Fritz Lang. At the height of her success she was recognized as one of the leading expressionist photographers in Germany. A book by Marion Becker and Elisabeth Moortgat Die Riess: Fotografisches Atelier und Salon in Berlin 1918-1932, was published in 2008.
Schneider is mentioned in some sources as opening his first studio at Unter den Linden 62/63 in Berlin around 1910, though in 1908 he had published Die Gestalt des Menschen und Ihre Schönheit: Vorlagen zum Studium des nackten menschlichen Körpers (The Human Form and Beauty: templates to study the naked human body) suggesting he was already well established by that time. During the 1930s his work appeared in Vanity Fair and Berliner Zeitung Illustrirte.
Anton Sahm (1891-1968)
Sahm started out working for the well known Viennese photographers Dora Kallmus (Madame D'Ora) and Carl Pietzner in the 1910s before opening his own studio at Turkenstrasse 6, Munich in 1919. During the 1920s he was prominent in portrait photography. The Sahm studio is still run by his family in Munich today.
John Toohey (February 2013)