The early yearsOfficial_postcard_with_small_imprint_1870

From 1 July 1872 on private issued ppc’s were allowed in Germany. Early cards carried small vignette type illustrations, were usually monochrome printed, by letterpress (line art/halftone etchings, litho process,  sometimes just with rubber stamp imprints.

Since the 1870’s deluxe (fancy) paper manufacturers (“Luxuspapierfabriken”) trade grew a great deal, with most of their production exported worldwide. “deluxe Paper” covers a wide field of paper articles incl. greeting cards. The major printing process for these goods was chromolithography, colourful printed by 12-16 different colour runs, then often embossed, gilded, die-cut etc.

The chromolithographic trade was well-established in Germany with many highly skilled lithographers and pressmen. It is not surprising that this process was soon used for picture postcards and the “Gruss aus / Greetings from” type card design was born and widely used from c. 1894-95 on.

The first company using the chromolithographic process (full colour) for ppc’s is said to be J. Miesler from Berlin. The 1876 established printer/publisher is sometimes mentioned in literature to have invented the coloured “Greetings from” type cards(?).

The Postcard boom

started by about the mid 1890’s in Germany. To meet the demand, established chromolitho printers enlarged their capacities. Faster, modern (flatbed) presses with bigger printing formats, improved prepress equipment and techniques came in use. New firms concentrating on ppc printing were set up by businessmen who had realised the profit potential of the picture postcards, now not only used for correspondence but starting to become an item of interest to collectors.

The big, well-known postcard publisher Ottmar Zieher, MuOttmar_Ziehernich, claimed having published 6000 different cards from Germany and Austria-Hungary by Oct. 1895. For November that year Zieher announced to have complete series of coloured cards with views from America, Belgium, England, France, Holland, Italy, Portugal, Switzerland, Scandinavia, Spain and Turkey  / Orient on offer to collectors. 10 cards for 0,80 Mark and 100 for 5 Mark. Indeed I believe that at that time many of the ppc’s showing views from faraway places printed in Germany were mostly sold to (German) collectors rather than exported. By the way, many O. Zieher cards were printed by E. Pinkau & Co, Leipzig, Saxony.

Some of major Printing Processes used back then:


was the major printing process for “quality” coloured (topographical) cards for a couple of years to come. But it was slow (design/printing forme preparation/many colour runs necessary), delivery times usually 3 months or longer, expensive and the customer had to order at least 3,000 better 5,000 cards to get a reasonable price per card for resale. The so-called “Photo tone” was a cheaper version of the full colour card, using black together with bright/medium/dark grey inks.

Collotype printing process

became a competitor when new flatbed presses and other modern equipment came available by 1896-97. This photographic printing process did not allow original colours (unless hand-coloured) but it showed an authentic, detailed photographic image. Of course images could be reproduced in other colours than b/w. For some time blue (cyan) was popular. No other printing process needed so little time to get  ready for printing. Companies like Stengel & Co. and Roemmler & Jonas, both from Dresden, Saxony, produced many 1000’s of views from various countries in pre-1900 years. But collotype printing was also slow, difficult to handle, so nothing for higher quantities during the early years.

The photographic halftone reproductionHalftone_screen_samples

was not invented but perfected by Georg Meisenbach (Meisenbach, Riffarth & Co.) by the use of the exact glass gravure screens. Now printers were able to reproduce a photographic image in great numbers as a quite quality halftone illustration within short time on a letterpress machine.

Monochrome halftone reproductions were not that popular with postcard buyers, however. Full colour “after nature” (3 and 4 colour) printing wasn’t yet perfected, but the clever people of the postcard printing trade found another way to present “coloured” picture cards to the public.

Combined printing processes

led to the decline of the chromolitho (topo) postcards. Now with quality halftone process at hand, companies like Louis Glaser from Leipzig entered the market with their “Autochrom” process. The image by halftone and the colours added by litho process, usually 3-4 additional colour runs. This resulted in an attractive “coloured photo” type view, although the colouring not always matched with reality. Nevertheless it was now possible to print bigger quantities of “Autochrom” cards within short time and at a reasonable price. A similar process was “Heliochrom” by Emil Pinkau & Co., another of the long-established, huge postcard factories from Leipzig. “Heliochrom” was offered from c. 1901 on. There are many, many other similar process names around, each firm had their little secrets how to prepare the printing forme, colour arrangements etc.

Another major combined processStettin_1904_Roeder

that became popular at the turn of the century was collotype process for printing the image. The colours added/superimposed by lithographic process. As collotype does not produce a visible screen pattern, the (coloured) picture reproduction comes out often much better. To compensate the slow collotype printing speed (seldom more than 400 sheets per day), printing formats became bigger and more collotype presses were installed. Major firms that used this combined process were C.G. Roeder, Leipzig, Knackstedt & Naether, Hamburg, Schaar & Dathe, Trier, Zedler & Vogel, Darmstadt and others.

Note: There were few firms only concentrating on a single process for postcard printing for a longer time. Most German postcard printers had several or even all major (at that time modern) printing processes in use.

Photochrom (Photochromie)

should also be mentioned here. Process first patented by Orell Fuessli (Photoglob), Switzerland in Jan. 1888 for Austria-Hungary. Wezel & Naumann from Leipzig followed the next day with a patent for Germany. Later a third patent was registered for Nenke & Ostermaier, Dresden. The printing was done on litho presses, the preparation of the printing forme (negative of basic forme transferred using collotype methods) complicated and it required 10-18 colour runs. The results (when in the hands of experts) was very “nature’s colouring” like. Photochrom process was used for postcard production from about the turn of the century onwards. Licenses of the Swiss patent were sold to Detroit Publishing Co./Detroit Photochrom Co. in c. 1897 and Photochrom Ltd., England. Nenke & Ostermaier produced many picture postcards for customers in Britain and the US before they started their own publishing line.

“Real Photo” cards

or better “Photographic Printing by the Kilometre/MileNPG_AG” on bromide photo paper was another process widely used for postcard production. I guess the first automatic exposing and developing machine was designed in the USA where German businessman Arthur Schwarz discovered it, bought patents, improved and perfected the technology/bromide photo paper preparation and set up his company Neue Photographische Gesellschaft (NPG) at Berlin in June 1894. It soon became the world’s biggest bromide photo manufacturer, daughter companies and branches were set up in other European countries. The most popular is possibly Rotary Photographic Co., England. NPG stood behind the big postcard publishing company “The Rotograph Co.”, New York together with business partner / collotype printers Knackstedt & Naether from Hamburg. (Additional information on the group of firms, their rise and fall, patents, NPG director Arthur Schwarz etc is found in a detailed article in TPA issue 28)

Note: I have concentrated on printing processes for postcard production used in pre-1914 years. There were of course several other printing processes in use not mentioned here. Gravure and Heliogravure for example. The first became popular after WW1. Plus a couple of other combined processes, some only short-lived, others solely used by few firms only.

This is of course only a very, very short overall view only. Any questions?

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