Collecting Classic stills and portrait shots

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Phillyrich

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Collecting Classic stills and portrait shots

PostMon Feb 25, 2013 9:46 pm

I would like to build a modest collection of classic pre WWII celebrity film stills and portrait shots. I'm not sure where to begin.

Lots of stuff on ebay, but the most interesting pieces are often quite pricey. Twenty years ago I saw this stuff at flea markets for a buck or so a piece--and didn't buy them. Ouch.

I'm not sure if I should be looking for good copies duped from a collection, or the original issues of the studio publicity department? Could I buy Uncle Louie's stuff after he croaked? What happens when collectors die--do their holdings show up online?

Here's a nice one of Jean Arthur that I never saw before. Gives her a "heat" rarely seen in most of her photos. The beauty of 1930's stills is just breathtaking to me. And what moods they create!
jean-arthur-ca-1938-everett.jpg
jean-arthur-ca-1938-everett.jpg (57.63 KiB) Viewed 3597 times
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missdupont

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Re: Collecting Classic stills and portrait shots

PostTue Feb 26, 2013 12:10 am

If you want quality material, buy original every time. Most copies are copies of copies, so that's at least one generation if not two from the original, with obvious loss of quality and detail. Ebay is a good place, because you have access to so much. Many dealers have quality product at low prices, you just have to look carefully and diligently. Sometimes you can find material at paper and postcard shows, or in dealers' rooms at festivals. Material at paper shows will be cheaper than dealers' rooms, because dealers at festivals know that people are more hardcore film buffs.
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missdupont

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Re: Collecting Classic stills and portrait shots

PostTue Feb 26, 2013 12:12 am

I have a nice little collection, which has come mostly from ebay. I have little to spend, but through careful search with keywords along with knowledge of dealers with good prices, I've been able to buy really nice images by top photographers.
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silentfilm

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Re: Collecting Classic stills and portrait shots

PostTue Feb 26, 2013 12:52 pm

If you don't live in California, it is a little more difficult to find original stills at antique dealers or flea markets, but I occasionally find some. They usually don't have a big selection though.

Another trick to help you save money is don't be afraid to get a re-release photo (as long as it was by the same studio), as these were probably printed from the original negative. This applies more to sound films than silents.

If the paper used in the still is really glossy white, and not yellowed or dulled, the photo is definitely a reprint.

If you are buying off of eBay and the listing doesn't say original or vintage -- always ask before bidding. Also, set up automatic searches so that eBay emails you listings that match the subjects that you are looking for. Then watch the auction and as it nears its end decide whether or not you want to bid based on the number of people who have already bid or the current price. Auction Sniper is a great way to snipe in the last few seconds so that nobody else can submit another bid and outbid you.

Check out this old Nitrateville topic too.
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mwalls

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Re: Collecting Classic stills and portrait shots

PostThu Feb 28, 2013 11:36 am

Most of what I collect are US 11 x 14 lobby cards. I do have a modest collection of photos, many of which resemble the lobby cards, but I am not 100% sure what they are. For instance, one I have from Holiday Inn is an 8 x 10 glossy photo of a scene from the movie. It has a white border. At the bottom right border it is numbered the same as the lobby card would be, in this case 42/317. It notes a copyright but grants permission to newspaper and magazines to reproduce, and gives credit information in the middle of the bottom border. Are these what are called Publicity Stills? I know for lobby cards they typically came in sets of 8. Was there any standard number of these photographs for a particular movie?

Thanks,
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missdupont

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Re: Collecting Classic stills and portrait shots

PostThu Feb 28, 2013 3:20 pm

That is not a regular publicity still, sounds more like a mini lobby card. Stills might or might not have still codes (the production code of the feature followed by scene number, might or might not have copyright information, might or might not say for magazine or newspaper reproduction only, and might or might not have credit blocks. There was never any set number of stills for a film, they can sometimes run into the hundreds or even thousands for big titles. Early silents shot few images, and now that it's digital, surprisingly few images are released on studio websites. Starting with the decline of the movie studios in the 1950s, the number of stills shot dropped precipitously, until in the 1970s and 1980s it seemed to drop to a few dozen. Publicity stills were behind the scenes photos, portraits shot during production, special shoots, candids. Scene stills are actually scenes from the movie. Most stills were 8x10s, or sometimes 11x14s. Very early silents shot mostly 5x7s.
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Bob Birchard

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Re: Collecting Classic stills and portrait shots

PostTue Mar 05, 2013 5:32 pm

mwalls wrote:Most of what I collect are US 11 x 14 lobby cards. I do have a modest collection of photos, many of which resemble the lobby cards, but I am not 100% sure what they are. For instance, one I have from Holiday Inn is an 8 x 10 glossy photo of a scene from the movie. It has a white border. At the bottom right border it is numbered the same as the lobby card would be, in this case 42/317. It notes a copyright but grants permission to newspaper and magazines to reproduce, and gives credit information in the middle of the bottom border. Are these what are called Publicity Stills? I know for lobby cards they typically came in sets of 8. Was there any standard number of these photographs for a particular movie?

Thanks,



This would have been a release still designed to go out to theaters through National Screen Service. The 42/317 refers to the 317th film to have accessories distributed by National Screen in 1942. Typically these release still sets would be made up of eight images--though earlier on there may have been as many as 24 to a set. The studio might have hundreds of images, shot, and maybe 100 to 200 or so approved by the Production code authority. I seem to recall that there were something like 125,000 images approved by the Code Authority on 1939 (this would have been for all Hollywood films and publicity portraits.

The approved shots would be assembled into key books--typically one for the west coast, one for New York, and one for each of the studio's film exchanges. These would contain all of the approved images, and were use to order new prints as needed for publications, local theater art, and other uses.

Mary is right that today there are very few released stills on any given film, but there are scads more taken. With digital cameras, there might be as many as 30,000 still images shot for a film today (according to Paramount's still archivist).
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missdupont

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Re: Collecting Classic stills and portrait shots

PostTue Mar 05, 2013 11:47 pm

It depends from studio to studio as to how many stills were shot as well. The 1920s and 1930s saw more stills being shot. The MGM 1925 BEN HUR shot thousands of stills, as the Herrick has over 200 envelopes with 10 stills each in them, meaning there were about 2000 stills shot. The 1950s BEN HUR at the Herrick has more than 100 envelopes, meaning over 1000 images were shot, from production through premiere. Of course, small independents and smaller studios shot less material as well.
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mwalls

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Re: Collecting Classic stills and portrait shots

PostWed Mar 06, 2013 6:23 am

If you want to collect a complete set of these mini-lobby cards and find out how many were released for a particular movie, is there a list somewhere that will tell you?

On the one photo I was referencing earlier, in addition to the 42/317 (which tells me the set is from the 317th movie printed in 1942 --- thanks missdupont and Bob), there is what almost looks like scratch handwriting in the photo section itself in the lower left area. The numbers are "1936-80". Could this be a clue?
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Bob Birchard

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Re: Collecting Classic stills and portrait shots

PostWed Mar 06, 2013 9:20 am

mwalls wrote:If you want to collect a complete set of these mini-lobby cards and find out how many were released for a particular movie, is there a list somewhere that will tell you?

On the one photo I was referencing earlier, in addition to the 42/317 (which tells me the set is from the 317th movie printed in 1942 --- thanks missdupont and Bob), there is what almost looks like scratch handwriting in the photo section itself in the lower left area. The numbers are "1936-80". Could this be a clue?



What you are describing, as I mentioned, are stills released by National Screen Service, an independent creator and distributor of movie "paper," which worked under contract to the studios--not mini-lobby cards, which were primarily a paper category from the late 1910s and early 1920s.

The white numbers you describe were written on the still negative in India Ink by the studio still department, and because they are black on the neg, they print white. That number, 1936-80, is significant. 1936 is the Paramount production number for "Holiday Inn," produced by that studio in 1942. The 80 refers to the 80th still for the film. Typically this would be the 80th still approved for circulation by the Production Code Administration and would only indicate that at least 80 stills were shot and approved for the film--not necessarily the 80th image actually shot. But this does tell you, if you're a completist, that there are at least 79 other stills shot and approved for "Holiday Inn." but, of course, there may be (and likely are on a big picture like this) many more. Different studios used different numbering systems, though they all mostly were related to the films' studio production numbers. Before 1935, Fox used a code based on the director's unit, so you might see a code like R-10-21--which means director Lynn Reynolds' tenth Fox production--21st numbered still--R-10, BTW, is "The Texan" (1920). After 1935 Fox tended to print their new production numbers in the white border margins of their stills. In the 1930s, both Warner Bros. and RKO-Radio used letter codes that referred to the title--but these could become awkward if the title was changed before release. For example, DA is the code for RKO's "Make Way For a Lady" (1936). How does DA relate to "Make Way For a Lady"? It doesn't, but it does refer to the film's working title, which was "Daddy and I." With numbers you don't have such discrepencies. For several years in the 1920s and into the early 1930s Columbia would start fresh each year with C-1, C-2, C-3, etc., so Columbia stills from this period can be confusing.

As for the numbers of materials distributed by National Screen Service, depending on the studio policy and/or the significance of the film:

One sheet posters: 27" x 41" One to four different styles, typically designated with a letter: Style A, Style B, Style C, etc.

Three sheet posters: 41" x 81" One or two styles

Six sheet posters: 81" x 81" One style

twenty-four sheet stands: 108" x 246" One style

22" x 28" Lobby cards (often mistakenly called half sheets by collectors today): One to two different sttles

11" x 14" lobby cards: Eight to a set (except in the case of short subjects, where there were often only four to a set--there would likely only be a single one-sheet and no others posters for shorts).

Insert Cards: 14" x 36" one style (sometimes two)

Window Cards: 14" x 22" one style (in an upright rather than horizontal format)

and sometimes:

Jumbo Window Cards: 22" x 28" (in an upright rather than horizontal format) one style

Midget window cards: 8" x 14" (also upright) one style

Occasionally there were also 40" x 60" posters

8" x 10" photographic stills: in recent years eight to a set, further back as many as twenty-four to a set.

There are other variations, and some oddities. For special pictures like "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" (1923) or "The Phantom of the Opera" (1925) there were 16 lobbies issued--but these sorts of things are exceptions. The only way to know what might have been issued for any given film would be the pictures and/or descriptions in the film's pressbook.

There is almost no way of knowing for certain how many stills were shot for a given film. Sometimes the information was recorded on a film's daily production reports (there were over 550 stills shot for "The Plainsman" (1936) for example, but this number would only indicate images actually shot on the set or on location. Publicity photos and portraits and "art stills" (staged scenes against white backdrops) would add to the overall count, and not all 550 would necessarily be submitted for approval by the Production Code Authority, although one or more prints may have been made of each for internal purposes, cast and crew, special needs, etc.
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BuccaneerBird

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Re: Collecting Classic stills and portrait shots

PostWed May 08, 2013 5:13 pm

Does anyone know if there is a reference source that tells you the production code used by each studio for cataloging these stills? That would be a very helpful resource. I have a number of still photos that I cannot identify and now I found out that the key to unlocking their title is staring me in the face. Wow!
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silentfilm

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Re: Collecting Classic stills and portrait shots

PostWed May 08, 2013 8:32 pm

LAMP's (Learn About Movie Posters) next edition of their movie still code book comes out in June. See the announcement in this Nitrateville post.

If you can't afford to spring for this, I have quite a few silent and early 1930s codes on my Silent Film Still Archive Website, but the book is much more comprehensive.
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Re: Collecting Classic stills and portrait shots

PostThu May 09, 2013 9:09 am

Thank you Silentfilm! I never knew there was a resource like that already made. Exciting and disappointing at the same time...last night I was thinking how great it would be to put together a free resource online for film fans to search for codes. :) Still possible of course.....when you only need a handful of photos identified it isn't worth buying the book, and online searching would be easier too.
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silentfilm

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Re: Collecting Classic stills and portrait shots

PostThu May 09, 2013 11:09 am

Kay Shackelton has another free code list on her Silent Hollywood site.

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