Postcard Printing Rates – made to order –

From time to time collectors ask me if I would have an idea how many copies of their favourite card were printed once. This is usually difficult to answer, as many views were reprinted of course, with or without change of layout or image.

Others wonder how many copies per view were ordered by publishers back then. This depends a great deal whether the view shows a small, remote place with only few retailers, or is from a well frequented place. Perhaps the card design was the latest novelty and much in demand by buyer? Not to forget the price the printer asked for. Publishers used to shop around for best prices. But the more copies ordered, the better the price = higher profits.



Gruss aus Kaltenbrunn / Tegernsee with actual prices by printer H. Volk, Heilbronn, c. 1898.

Enlarged detail with price info from H. Volk card above


Before 1900 the absolute majority of coloured topo postcards was done by chromolithographic process. For example the today popular “Gruss aus” / “Greetings from” type. A lithographer prepared a picture suitable for printing after a photograph, drawing, print or on description by customer. With or without (floral) artwork. A minimum of 8 colours (print runs) was necessary to create a medium quality, detailed illustration. Often it were even more colours needed. This meant a lot of work, even for a skilled lithographer. Proof prints were necessary and usually shown to customer before printing started.

Therefore the first 1000 cards were always quite expensive. An order for just 1000 cards done by chromolithography made no sense from the financial side, as the retail price would had been much too high. The printing sample card above from H. Volk (establ. 1888), Heilbronn, documents this nicely. The first 1000 cards cost 55 Marks, following 1000’s 25 Marks. Usually orders for this type of quality cards were 3,000 and above.

Now when the coloured design was completed the customer could get the same view also in so-called ‘Phototone’ quality. As many photographs back then had a sepia look, lithographers created a brownish-grey coloured card by using merely 3 colours only. Volk asked for only 17,50 Marks per 1000 cards for this quality. Not to forget the ‘By Moonlight’ postcard quality, popular for some years. Dark blue and grey inks on blueish card: 18 Marks per 1000. So, the same view could be around in three qualities.


‘Autochrome’ process / Collotype combined with litho process

Chromolithography produced fine results when in skilled hands. However, printing was slow, prices high. The perfected halftone process for printed (screened) images made printer think of other production methods. Louis Glaser from Leipzig was the first (1899) to create his “Auto-Chrom” process = image/photo by halftone, machine-coloured by 3-4 litho colours, the colour separations done manually.

Minimum order for this quality – other big ppc printers soon came up with own names for more or less the same quality – was 3,000 cards, but due to competition went down to 2,000 copies. These cost c. 75 - 80 Marks / 2,000 cards. When ordering 5,000 or more the price dropped to c. 25 Marks per 1000 cards. A very popular process for ppc’s.

Saxonia_process_H_Seibt_Meissen_Saxony Saxonia_autochrome_process_caption_cut_off

Kretzschmar & Schatz (Prop. Hermann Seibt), Meissen, Saxony was a big jobber / middleman who ordered from various printers. His promo imprint is found on a card with caption cut off.

Other German postcard printers used (perfected) collotype together with litho colouring. One of biggest was C.G. Roeder, Leipzig, offering various qualities, starting with 1000 cards minimum order. ‘Bromochrom’ for example: 1000 cards 22 Marks; 2,000 for 16 Marks per 1000, up to 6,000 / 11,50 Marks per 1000. Any order above 2,000 copies required 36 diff. cards at the same time = full printing sheet, however. PPC publishers always tried to order full sheets, not only for best prices but also for faster delivery.

Roeder_Leipzig_Bromochrom_sample_with_prices Picture_side_of_Roeder_Bromochrom_process

Famous printers like Stengel & Co., Dresden, required a minimum order of 3,000 copies for their popular ‘Artochrom’ (halftone) process. Knackstedt & Naether, Hamburg, offered their high quality ‘Chromo-Collotype’ process for postcards with a minimum quantity of 3,000 cards. For smaller quantities mono- or duotone collotype process / monochrome halftone was the alternative – To sum it up: Coloured topo postcards of pre-1914 date were usually printed in quantities of 2,000 and most likely above.

Monochrome Collotype process

Postcards printed by collotype process, usually monochrome, became popular by mid / late 1890’s. A number of new printing firms were set up. Led to overcapacity and a first minor “crisis” in ppc printing trade around 1900. Although collotype printing is difficult to handle, especially smaller runs of postcards could be produced relatively shortly. Minimum order usually 500 cards, sometimes even 250 only, but best price when ordering 1,000 cards.

Gruss aus Travemuende (Germany). Early design type with sufficient space left to add a message. Monochrome collotype printing by well known printing company of Schaar & Dathe from Trier (Treves). Captions were imprinted by letterpress process.


On back of above card an imprint describing the quality as “Platin”. 500 cards were available for 13 Marks, 1000 for 18,50 Marks. When several views had to be arranged and some (mostly floral) artwork to be added, Schaar & Dathe asked for additional 3 Marks. The latter mention helps to date this card. These multi-view designs with artwork were popular during the late 1890’s. Occasionally seen also shortly after the turn of the century.

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