It is not certain how many copies of each film poster design were printed in preparation for distribution across the Reich. After the incorporation of former Austria into the Third Reich, the number of cinemas across "Grossdeutschland" numbered 6673 in 1939 (Walter,ibid, pg.42). We know that the Afifa film laboratory, which duplicated all feature film prints, circulated across the Reich up to 800 feature film prints of a major motion picture, such as a Zarah Leander film. That figure of 800 film prints was rarely done, and during the war far less film stock was available, and the weekly Wochenschau newsreels were given priority. The film ad from DER FILM newspaper below (1939) for a Leander film boasts that due to the film's success that Ufa film studio has "180 film prints" in circulation. Many less popular films had fewer prints in circulation at any one time. So even the biggest box office hits could only appear in about ten percent of cinemas nationally in the same weeks, at best. This allowed posters to be used and re-used as film screenings filtered down the cinema distribution chain from major cities to smaller locales. Posters were re-cycled and used again and again. The lithographic process made re–printing a new run of posters very uneconomical and burdensome.
The 1934 advertising book Handbuch für den Bogenanschlag (Jacques Albachary GmbH, Berlin) states that stone lithography (Steindruck) is recommended only for poster print-runs of under 3,000 copies, and anything larger would require Offset printing. Berlin poster expert and former owner of the "Filmantiquariat" on Pestalozzistraße in Schöneberg, Peter Böhnig, spoke with former Ufa film studio employees over the decades about posters in the 1930s and '40s and they said that the stone litho process wore the stone down and the largest "A0" sized posters were limited to 60-80 copies altogether. The cinemas could not buy but only hire the posters, which had steep penalties if not returned at the end of a movie's run. It was forbidden by wartime paper–shortage regulation for a cinema to display more than one poster of a movie at any time.
RIGHT: August Scherl publishers, Berlin, printed many film posters prior to 1945.(Zimmer & Koch Strasse)
An area of propaganda film production was that of the Reichspropagandaleitung, Hauptamt Film (National Propaganda Leadership Office, Film Central Office) and directly overseen by Dr. Goebbels and the NSDAP Reichsamtleiter Carl Neumann. In the book Der Film in Staat und Partei by Carl Belling (Berlin 1936, Verlag "Der Film") the RPL's output for 1935 was shown in the following chart.
Some 141 films were produced and 148,000 pieces of printed material, film programs, and posters were printed. Even if one allows that only two–thirds of the printed matter was not posters, that would leave about 340 copies per each poster of each of the 141 films. Of course this does not take into account whether some films were more popular or more heavily promoted than others, or whether in fact there were even ten thousand posters printed in the year. But the number of poster copies per film title must have been very few.
These authoritative comments confirm the conventional wisdom that the print-run of a film's poster was extremely limited per design "Muster," and why many of the posters in the Collection here can never be replaced.
The vast majority of the original German film posters held by the Gillespie Collection are lithographic posters from limited print-runs, or "Tiefdruck" 3-colour posters printed from a copper plate. Very few are Offset printed posters. Indeed, some of the posters in this Collection are not known to exist in German archives at all. DIE DEGENHARDTS is one example. Many other posters are very rare - according to poster gallery expert Dieter Hoffmann in Münich, for another example, there are only four known extant original copies of the famous 1943 Ufa MÜNCHHAUSEN poster in Germany, which can also be found in this Collection.
As most posters were returned to the film studios after use, and surviving copies then had to remain intact through the war, the post-war destruction of Nazi propaganda, and the ensuing six decades of major changes across Germany and Europe, it is no wonder that preserved, complete and undamaged original posters from this era are very rare, expensive, and basically "museum pieces" today.