It's no secret one of my favorite old Hollywood collectibles are the (usually) 5x7 Fan Photos of the classic movie stars, mostly produced during the 1920s and 30s. These old black and white photos were mass produced yet featured high quality black and white images of the stars on heavy photo stock with facsimile signatures typically emblazoned across them to add a little personalization.
Why do I love 'em? Well, beyond their eye appeal there were enough produced to turn up a few new ones every time I buy a batch, plus they're available in enough quantity today where they can be collected. Further, and I've stressed this before, I have a real appreciation for period items collected by the masses, ie: trading and tobacco cards, paper supplements and product premium offerings, magazines, and these. These fan photos were perhaps the closest the typical fan of the period would get to the stars barring a job at the movie theater and exposure to their posters and lobby cards.
I recently acquired a pretty plain batch of 3.25" X 5.5" postcards sent from various movie studios, 1935-37, explaining to the correspondent that, in similar wording, "owing to a motion picture industry ruling against sending free photographs, it is necessary to make a slight charge for the picture you requested."
Now I don't consider myself so much a collector in recent years (it's all available, always!) but this is why I do collect even if the item is just passing through. Previously I'd known about the charge, usually 10 cents for a 5x7 photo working up to 25 cents to $1.00 for larger portraits (sometimes the prices will be stamped right on back of a photo), but I'd never questioned why there was a charge. I just assumed there was. Tonight I discovered that wasn't always the case.
Thanks to the NewspaperArchive.com I managed to hunt down a February 1929 article by A.P. Staff Writer Wade Werner which traces the beginning of the "industry standard" charge as well as explains why it became necessary. Basically the studios had been sending the requested pics out for free through 1929.
Werner writes that one studio was sending out 1.5 million photos per year and that estimates put the number of total photos sent out by studios and freelance film stars alike at 50 million per year. That's a lot of potential dimes being passed up! Werner also writes about the other side of the situation, stars such as Chaplin who didn't feel it'd be right to charge fans who'd followed him for so many years for a photo. My assumption would be that this contrary viewpoint of some of the stars led to the "standard." Here's the entire article (and keep scrolling to see more of the studio reply cards like the Fred MacMurray shown above).
Discovered in The Morning Herald of Uniontown, PA, February 15, 1929, page 11:
I picked up 10 of the studio reply cards which sent out the price list for various sized photos. Interesting to note that as late as 1937 the fees were the same as those mentioned in Werner's 1929 article. The 10 cards are from 4 different motion picture studios, each bearing basically the same message. The star you wrote would LOVE to send you a free photo, however there's this confounded rule making it necessary for you to pay a dime in advance in order to defray costs. Just to add a little flavor to the post I've also weaved a few fan photos in to show what our 1930's film fan may have received when they sent their dime in to the studios.
- Fan photos and other vintage movie collectibles from the 1910's to 1950's always available for immediate purchase inside the Immortal Ephemera Store.