Advertising Educational Foundation
Abstract

Between the turn of the last century and World War I, poster stamps (Reklamemarken, advertising “cinderellas”) emerged as a powerful new advertising medium in Europe, particularly in Germany. Encouraged by the quality and affordability of chromolithography and the popularity of poster art and other increasingly visual forms of advertising, this hybrid of letter seals, advertising cards, and miniaturized posters developed quickly into an advertising medium in its own right with its own characteristic verbal-visual rhetoric. This article describes first the emergence of the German poster stamp in its historical and aesthetic context as both advertising and popular collectible. It then explores the semiotics of individual poster stamps and poster stamp series. Finally, it analyzes ways in which individual stamps and stamp series mapped consumerism upon contemporary social questions such as the “servant question” (the decline in the number of domestic servants), and the ongoing consolidation of a German national identity, particularly through the use of iconic monuments.

Keywords

advertising, cinderellas, collecting, gender, Germany, Imperial Germany, monuments, nationalism, poster stamps

Fig. 1. In this poster stamp advertising “Standart-Bronze” metallic paint, a young boy sits on the floor diligently painting his shoe bronze. In the background is a chair with a dish holding the product; in the foreground is a spilled bottle of the product. The advertising slogan—“Gilding is child’s play with Standart-Bronze” (“Vergolden ist Spielerei mit Standart-Bronze”)—is split between the top and bottom.
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Fig. 1.

In this poster stamp advertising “Standart-Bronze” metallic paint, a young boy sits on the floor diligently painting his shoe bronze. In the background is a chair with a dish holding the product; in the foreground is a spilled bottle of the product. The advertising slogan—“Gilding is child’s play with Standart-Bronze” (“Vergolden ist Spielerei mit Standart-Bronze”)—is split between the top and bottom.1

In the two years leading up to World War I, this image would have been familiar to hundreds of thousands of urban Germans. It was only one of some 50,0002 different advertising poster stamps, or Reklamemarken, produced from the turn of the century through 1914. Like many of these poster stamps, this image was in such wide circulation that it would have been broadly embedded in the public imagination. Emerging at the end of the nineteenth century, poster stamps joined the vast number of other popular advertising forms that appeared in the wake of the industrial boom in Germany after national unification in 1871. Poster stamps joined such venerable forms such as newspaper ads and advertising cards and powerful newer methods, such as advertising posters, enamel signs, and branded materials of all sorts. In sheer volume, however, poster stamps surpassed these other forms and became not only the most widely consumed type of advertising in Germany in the years 1912–1914, but the most popular collectible. A mass medium had been created that communicated and cultivated messages which ranged far beyond consuming.

Typical of the many poster stamps produced around 1914, the example above advertises a familiar household product, metallic paint, with a simple and humorous tableau: a young boy so enamored of the product that he uses it to decorate his own shoe. The image is slightly naïve and simply drawn (the perspective on the chair is slightly “off”), but intimate and engaging. Our viewer perspective is quite close and almost at eye level with the boy, as though we were bending down to observe. The colors are rich, the pools of paint and the border are actually a metallic bronze, and the advertising message is a verbal-visual pun: “Gilding is child’s play with Standart-Bronze” (“Vergolden ist Spielerei mit Standart-Bronze”). And the text indicates the wide availability of the product. Finally, the stamp is approximately the size of a postage stamp, perhaps a little larger, and has a gummed back and perforations on each side, suggestive of its partial character as part of a sheet of stamps.

Clearly, this advertisement has elements in common with other advertising forms of the era, but it also demonstrates aspects that are unique. This article is intended as an exploration of these unique elements and an introduction to the relatively unknown historical advertising form of the poster stamp in the German cultural context. Poster stamps (in German: Reklamemarken; in British English: advertising “cinderellas”) were widely produced in the decade before World War I, throughout the European continent and in North America.3 But German-produced poster stamps outnumber the products of other countries by a wide margin, and the infrastructure for collecting them—clubs, exchanges, periodicals, and catalogs—was significantly more developed. A larger number of artistically ambitious poster stamps were produced in Germany than in other countries. Numerous classically trained artists participated in the medium, and the cultural value of poster stamp collecting was a subject of public debate. Why did this small advertising form resonate so powerfully with the Germans in the decade or so leading up to WWI? What messages did it mediate—and how?

When I began exploring the German poster a number of years ago, my curiosity was first piqued by the compact but powerful verbal-visual rhetoric of individual stamps. Then I became intrigued by the narratives constructed in poster stamp series. It was clear that the messages of this medium were complex and deserved cultural-historical, iconographical, and semiotic analysis. Working with a large, privately owned collection, I created a database through which I attempted to catalog and ascertain the themes and narratives of this little-known medium. I met a handful of poster stamp collectors, read the limited literature available on the topic, andin my doctoral dissertationattempted to fit Reklamemarken into the complex matrix of Wilhelmine German society and its discourses.4 In the intervening years, there has been a growth of interest in the German poster stamp as an important genre of early twentieth-century graphic art, a quirky collectible, and a unique representation of prewar German society.5 Yet there is still much to be discovered about the powerful mediations of the poster stamp in that very formative period of German history. An examination of the origins and context of the medium, its typical configurations, both as individual stamps and stamp series, and its paradoxical role as collectible ephemera can help us better understand these mediations and the way in which the poster stamp employed various social discourses and sought to cultivate culturally specific consuming communities.

“Poster stamps descended upon us suddenly, en masse, like grasshoppers . . . ”6

Fig. 2. In this stamp for the M. Fickel Poster Stamp Printing Company in Nuremberg, a stream of colorful poster stamps descends from a giant disembodied hand in the sky over a bucolic rural landscape. The advertising slogan at the bottom reads: “Demand poster stamps everywhere.” (“Verlangt überall Reklamemarken”).
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Fig. 2.

In this stamp for the M. Fickel Poster Stamp Printing Company in Nuremberg, a stream of colorful poster stamps descends from a giant disembodied hand in the sky over a bucolic rural landscape. The advertising slogan at the bottom reads: “Demand poster stamps everywhere.” (“Verlangt überall Reklamemarken”).7

A century ago, stampsbroadly conceivedwere as ubiquitous as Instagram posts or tweets are today. They were differentiated by function, but there was much overlap: in addition to postage stamps, which were issued by official authorities and had a designated value, there were charity stamps, stamps commemorating exhibitions and other private and public events, lottery stamps, rebate stamps, club-issued stamps, and other forms. All stamps were small in format and had gummed backs so they could be affixed to various surfaces. Most had perforated edges from being issued in sheets. All communicated a message through a combination of text and image. Though by 1913 the term Propagandamarke was often used broadly in German to refer to all non-philatelic stamps, the poster stamp (or Reklamemarke), narrowly defined, was a stamp issued more or less free of cost for the purpose of advertising goods or services.

Poster stamps did not suddenly appear like a biblical plague of grasshoppers. They developed out of a variety of media and economic and social changes. When they emerged after the turn of the century as one of the dominant forms of commercial advertising in Germany, they drew on a rich symbolic repertoire, a developed institutional base, a professionalized group of producers, a history of advertising engagement with other social discourses, and advertising-literate consumers. Among their most important predecessors were letter seals, trademarks, and advertising cardsand finally, of course, advertising posters. These forebears influenced the poster stamp through their form and function and by shaping the discursive space eventually occupied by Reklamemarken.

Letter seals (Siegelmarken, Verschlussmarken) were simple paper seals with gummed backs that replaced the traditional wax seal or paste wafer used on correspondence in nineteenth-century Europe.8 Many of these seals still imitated the traditional heraldic symbols and initials typical of European wax seals dating back a millenium. The introduction of gummed paper seals coincided with the rise of the great mass spectacles of the international trade exhibitions, which, beginning with the Graz Exhibition in 1870, were advertised and commemorated by stamps known as exhibition stamps (Ausstellungsmarken).9

Fig. 3. On the left is a round red wax seal depicting Albert III, Duke of Saxony (1443–1500) on horseback. On the right is a round blue and white embossed seal depicting the German Imperial eagle and bearing the inscription of the Imperial Commissioner for the World Exhibition in Paris in 1900.
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Fig. 3.

On the left is a round red wax seal depicting Albert III, Duke of Saxony (1443–1500) on horseback. On the right is a round blue and white embossed seal depicting the German Imperial eagle and bearing the inscription of the Imperial Commissioner for the World Exhibition in Paris in 1900.10

The iconographic relationship is evident between the 1900 embossed, “official-looking” exhibition stamp commemorating the 1900 Paris world’s fair on the right and the wax seal of Albert III, Duke of Saxony, on the left. Over time, round seals became rectangular stamps,11 and exhibition advertising gave way to the advertising of myriad other events and, eventually, commercial products. Sometimes these stamps were still attached to the center back of an envelope as a seal; increasingly, they were added as informational or decorative elements in a variety of positions on envelopes, as well as on postcards. Like the later poster stamps, these letter seals, exhibition stamps, and commemorative stamps were ubiquitous and inexpensive; they combined text and images; they informed and attracted the public. There was, indeed, a formal shift from exhibition and commemorative stamps to the poster stamp that came immediately after them. This shift, from wax seals with heraldic symbols and aristocratic insignia to ephemeral paper stamps commemorating public and commercial events, signals a symbolic transfer of power and authority from the aristocracy and its elaborate court bureaucracies (visually present in the seal on every official document) to bourgeois institutions and bureaucracies and, ultimately, to commercial products and their producers. Certainly, this power shift was as halting and contested in the various stamps as it was in the society at large. Symbols of aristocratic and imperial power were very much present in commercial poster stamps up to the beginning of WWI. But by 1914, imperial-national iconography was entirely adapted for the commercial aims of poster stamps, such as in this stamp that employs a photograph of Emperor Wilhelm II to sell chocolate.

Fig. 4. This stamp for the F. A. Oehler candy factory goes significantly beyond the use of the Kaiser's photograph to sell its "finest" chocolates. The Imperial profile is flanked by national flags and oak leaves, a traditional symbol of the German Kulturnation, which is also represented in the colors black, red and gold, and the actual brand name of the chocolate is the declaration, in bold red lettering across the top, “It shall be German” or “Let it be German” ("Deutsch soll es sein"). In modern marketing speak: "Make it German!"
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Fig. 4.

This stamp for the F. A. Oehler candy factory goes significantly beyond the use of the Kaiser's photograph to sell its "finest" chocolates. The Imperial profile is flanked by national flags and oak leaves, a traditional symbol of the German Kulturnation, which is also represented in the colors black, red and gold, and the actual brand name of the chocolate is the declaration, in bold red lettering across the top, “It shall be German” or “Let it be German” ("Deutsch soll es sein"). In modern marketing speak: "Make it German!"

Like the transformation of the letter and document seal from wax insignia and heraldic symbols to paper labels with different cultural and commercial messages, the transformation of the function of trademarks with respect to brand identity in the late nineteenth century significantly prefigured the poster stamp. This transformation of the trademark tracks with the radical transformation of the German economy (as well as its politics and society) in the nineteenth century. Industrialization and market capitalism did not take off in the German states until the 1840s and the Germany nation-state was not founded until 1871. Once initiated, however, industrialization, market capitalism, and modernization developed quickly, and after national unification, the German economy expanded rapidly.12 In contrast to developments in the United States, where the dominant liberal ideology prohibited cartels as unfair competition, the German economy in the mid-nineteenth century was highly organized, and wealth was highly concentrated. German “universal banks” were not simply credit institutions, they were allowed to trade on the stock market and be actively represented in the companies they financed.13 In much of the literature about advertising in the late nineteenth century, deep concern is expressed for mutual sustenance over vicious competition because of this concentration and cartelization. Critics of advertising attacked it as detrimental to business (in contrast to cartels), and advocates frequently called for advertising that would involve mutual promotion rather than cutthroat competition. This amounted to a certain neutrality in much mid-century advertising. Advertisers favored the general promotion of the virtues of industry, manufacturing, and consuming over open competition.

By the last decade of the nineteenth century, however, sustaining the general market over one’s own profits was no longer general practice. Instead, producers frantically sought narrowing market niches in a market flooded with new consumer goods. Between 1894 and 1914, more than 200,000 brand-name goods appeared in Germany alone.14 The number of patents skyrocketed and patent-registration policies encouraged widespread development of new technologies and products. But these policies also rigorously examined the distinctions between products. Brand names and trademarks became increasingly important in the production of goods (often preceding product development), and the state took greater responsibility for their protection.

The trademark was certainly not a new phenomenon. For centuries, it had been employed in Europe as a way of conferring distinction on products and services through association with the symbols of medieval heraldry and references to the producers’ long-standing service to the court.15 Some modern trademarks sought to sustain these traditional associations, but in most modern trademarks and brand names, an important symbolic shift took place: the concentration of product-associated meanings in a single, generally abstracted small image came to represent desired associations with the product. These images were intended not merely as designation but as advertising, signaling a shift from symbolic representation of the manufacturer to symbolic representation of the product. By the twentieth century, brand names detached the identity of a given product from that of the producer (increasingly, products were assigned abstract names rather than the last name of the producer). Instead, names crystallized around the product; a fictionalized identity composed primarily of experiential qualities. And these constructed identities were often enormously powerful.

One early example of a previously unknown product introduced under a brand name is Liebig’s Fleisch-Extrakt (meat extract or concentrate), which appeared in the 1860s. Based on the work of the chemist Justus von Liebig in the 1840s but manufactured by an international company,16 this new product, like all mass-produced brand-name goods, required, first, an explanation of its properties and value and, second, recognizable standardization that guaranteed—in the absence of a personal authority (say, a producer or craftsman)—its consistency across space and over time.17 Both of these requirements were brought together in the conceptualization of the product, through an image that was figurative as well as literal. Producers and advertisers quickly realized the most powerful area of association for the broadest number of consumers was the visual icon.18

In the case of Liebig’s Fleisch-Extrakt, the producer still chose to organize the consumer’s associations primarily around the image of the product jar. That signature image appeared on nearly all product packaging, in all newspaper advertisements, and on the “Liebig-Bilder”: small collectible cards which bore, in addition to a representation of the product jar in one corner, a vast range of collectible series imagery. Though the thematic range of the images and the languages in which the texts were rendered were nearly as broad as the global territory occupied by the product manufacturing, each card advertised only the popular meat extract and was anchored by the familiar icon of the product jar. Later, brand-name advertisers moved toward more abstract icons.

Fig. 5. In this Liebig collecting card depicting a scene from Act I, Scene 6 of Carl Maria von Weber’s opera Oberon, the knight Hüon, reclining in the center of the image on a grassy slope, sees an image of his future bride Rezia in a dream, and Rezia, pictured in the center top, gazes down upon the knight, whom she also sees in a vision. Oberon, the king of the elves, who is casting both visions, is pictured on the left riding an airy sleigh pulled by swans. A jar of Liebig’s is displayed on the bottom right.
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Fig. 5.

In this Liebig collecting card depicting a scene from Act I, Scene 6 of Carl Maria von Weber’s opera Oberon, the knight Hüon, reclining in the center of the image on a grassy slope, sees an image of his future bride Rezia in a dream, and Rezia, pictured in the center top, gazes down upon the knight, whom she also sees in a vision. Oberon, the king of the elves, who is casting both visions, is pictured on the left riding an airy sleigh pulled by swans. A jar of Liebig’s is displayed on the bottom right.19

The Liebig-Bilder comprised a new form of advertising in Germany, one primarily organized around the visual image. By its physical detachment from typical advertising contexts (newspapers and magazines), the image illustrated, concretely, the growing detachment of modern brand-name advertisement from the simple information of earlier, text-oriented newspaper advertisements. This detachment was furthered by consumer collecting of Liebig-Bilder, a practice that, by connecting non-sequential images in consumers’ minds, added new associations to the image that ranged far beyond simple product information. Liebig-Bilder collecting prefigured poster stamp collecting.

Finally, the “art poster” (Künstlerplakat—literally: “artist’s poster”), the strongly iconographic advertising poster that emerged in the last decades of the nineteenth century, contributed significantly to the “visual turn” in turn-of-the-century modernity and was an important, direct forerunner of the poster stamp. It evolved somewhat parallel to brand names but was slower in developing a distinctive rhetoric. Well into the 1890s, advertising posters were, for the most part, still organized around linguistic texts. Those that were not tended, like the trademarks, to trot out well-worn symbols of tradition and dynastic power: classical and biblical allusions, symbols of medieval heraldry, and ornamental female figures. The introduction of color to advertising posters in the mid-nineteenth century did not necessarily improve the aesthetic qualities of the posters (although chromolithography had been patented in 1837, it became widespread only after the proliferation of the urban advertising pillars).20 But by the end of the nineteenth century, the advertising poster found its own visual style and distinctly modern voice, and it emerged as one of the most important visual expressions of modernism in the German context. The best art posters were discussed among art critics and collected by connoisseurs. Recognizing the artistic potential of the medium, a new group of artists emerged who specialized in commercial graphic art.21

The formal and “informal” collecting of posters emerged nearly simultaneously with the production of the Künstlerplakat. It was a boon for advertisers, in that collecting gave artistic credibility to their advertisements and reduced plagiarism. But it was also a plague, given that numerous posters were torn down almost as soon as they were put up. Some advertisers dealt with this by perforating the posters before they were mounted so that they would shred when detached. Others, more pragmatically, facilitated smaller reproductions to be distributed by graphic arts dealers. Some even marketed the posters under the table before they appeared in public.22 A number of poster collectors’ organizations quickly emerged; they provided an institutional basis for the growing trend, formalizing to some extent both the distribution and collecting of posters. One of the best known organizations, the Verein für Plakatfreunde, numbered over 1,000 members by 1913.23 The organization published a collectors’ magazine, Das Plakat, which, by showcasing some of the best posters and poster artists, taught the public what Pierre Bourdieu termed the “cultural code” necessary for access to cultural capital in the field of advertising:24 the Künstlerplakat. Also, for the first time, an advertising medium became, itself, a commodity in its own right, selling not just the product it advertised and reproductions of the ad itself but also the visual pleasure associated with consuming. The extent of the visual pleasure associated with early advertising posters may be difficult for twenty-first-century consumers to understand, given our media saturation. Philosopher and cultural theorist Walter Benjamin described well the aesthetic “shock” experienced by many early twentieth-century art poster aficionados in his essay “Exhibitions, Advertising, Grandville:”

Many years ago in a streetcar, I saw a poster that, if the world were as it should be, would have as many admirers, historians, exegians, and copiers as any great work of literature or art. Indeed, it was both at the same time. But as is often the case with very deep, unexpected impressions, the shock was so powerful that it broke through the floor of my consciousness and lay for years irretrievable, in darkness. I knew only that the poster advertised ‘Bullrichsaltz’ . . . 25

But perhaps the most significant development in the visual style of the German product-advertising poster in the early part of the twentieth century was the radical reduction of text and powerful focus on visual elements—in fact, on the central visual element: the product or the symbol of whatever was being advertised. Sachlichkeit, or “materiality,” was a central rhetorical characteristic of the best German commercial art of the period. In general terms it meant, as the term suggests, a focus on the Sache, or the “thing.” Visual ornamentation and linguistic argumentation were removed in order to foreground the essential material in the ad. The most important elements included not just the product being advertised, however, but (characteristic of modern product advertising) the fundamentally desirable experience of consuming that product. Sachlichkeit did not mean absolute reduction to the material and removal of all affect (assuming such a thing were even possible); it meant minimal icons and text, strong graphic impact, and the focused suggestion of the product in use.

The development of a single advertisement in the direction of Sachlichkeit illustrates well not only the production process in advertising but also the rhetorical shift taking place in German advertising in the two decades spanning the turn of the century. That shift emphasized consumption rather than production and consumer rather than producer. It focused on the virtues of consuming, not on the product’s attributes, and on image instead of text. These three stages in the development of a single brochure ad for a business file folder are reproduced in Rudolf Seÿffert’s Werbelehre: Theorie und Praxis der Werbung (1966):

Fig. 6. These three images show different stages of the development of an ad for Sprafke’s business file folder (“Pultordner”). The first shows a narrow profile of a mustached male on the left-hand margin and a small illustration of the folder on the right; the rest of the area is filled with text of varying sizes and formats. The second iteration of the brochure, shows an enlarged profile on the left and significantly reduced text. The final version has enlarged the depicted consumer of the file folder to include a ¾-profile, neck and shoulders. Adding to the powerful graphic are arrows that flow from the figure’s head to converge on a single point; the text has been reduced to one sentence.
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Fig. 6.

These three images show different stages of the development of an ad for Sprafke’s business file folder (“Pultordner”). The first shows a narrow profile of a mustached male on the left-hand margin and a small illustration of the folder on the right; the rest of the area is filled with text of varying sizes and formats. The second iteration of the brochure, shows an enlarged profile on the left and significantly reduced text. The final version has enlarged the depicted consumer of the file folder to include a ¾-profile, neck and shoulders. Adding to the powerful graphic are arrows that flow from the figure’s head to converge on a single point; the text has been reduced to one sentence.26

The Sache, the essential product quality, has replaced the original product name, “Sprafkes Pult-Ordner” (Sprafke is the name of the producer) with the apt “Konzentrator.” The speaker in the text is no longer the fictional consumer of the first two versions, who describes how the product brought order out of chaos in his life. Instead, he is now masked, making the appeal more general and authoritative: “Concentrate your thoughts with the Konzentrator. You’ll triple your productivity without exhausting yourself.” The angle of the figure’s head, in the third version, is also tilted, so that the desirable experience is placed and shared between the figure and the reader.

In fact, Lucian Bernhard’s work, in general, exemplifies a central development in the German Künstlerplakat after the turn of the century: the Sachplakat. Together with such other artists as Julius Klinger, Gipkens, and Scheurich (all associated with the advertising agency Hollerbaum & Schmidt in Berlin), Bernhard produced advertisements unprecedented in their visual impact and characterized by stark, simple, flat graphics and absolutely minimal text.

The Sachplakat was by no means the only style popular in German poster art of the period. In a manner consistent with other fields of cultural production in Germany at the time, there were at least two general schools of poster art, one dominated by Bernhard and the Hollerbaum & Schmidt printers in Berlin, the other characterized by the work of Ludwig Hohlwein and the Vereinigten Druckereien and Kunstanstalten in Munich. Hohlwein, in contrast to Bernhard, often privileged the consumer and atmosphere over the product in his poster art. Regardless of the different stylistic emphases, both schools turned the Künstlerplakat in the direction of Sachlichkeit, paring the advertising message down to a simple, characteristic combination of image and text designed to communicate to the viewer essential information briefly—through a rhetorical structure very much present in the miniaturized poster stamp.

Die Sammelwut: Poster stamp collecting mania, 1910–1914

Fig. 7. These stamps each advertise poster stamp collecting albums and depict different consumer-collectors. On the left, a poster stamp for the Alfred Schlaitz printing factory in Leipzig, shows a woman with a parasol gazing off into the distance with a large poster stamp album on her lap. In the center, a poster stamp for the M. Fickel poster stamp printer in Nuremberg, shows a group of children clustered around a large poster stamp album. On the right, a stamp for the J. C. Konig & Ebhardt printing company in Hannover, shows a cheerful man licking the back of a poster stamp before pasting it into a large album.
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Fig. 7.

These stamps each advertise poster stamp collecting albums and depict different consumer-collectors. On the left, a poster stamp for the Alfred Schlaitz printing factory in Leipzig, shows a woman with a parasol gazing off into the distance with a large poster stamp album on her lap. In the center, a poster stamp for the M. Fickel poster stamp printer in Nuremberg, shows a group of children clustered around a large poster stamp album. On the right, a stamp for the J. C. Konig & Ebhardt printing company in Hannover, shows a cheerful man licking the back of a poster stamp before pasting it into a large album.27

All of the above advertising forms contributed to development of the poster stamp in the German context. The letter seal offered its size, substance, and mobility; the trademark and brand name gave it its primary discursive function; the Liebig trade cards series contributed imagery and the notion of advertising as collectible. And the advertising poster, particularly the Künstlerplakat and, more narrowly, the Sachplakat, brought the concentrated, modern verbal-visual rhetoric.

What, then, was unique about the poster stamp? How did it “mean” in ways different from other advertising media? How did it mediate consuming in a specific way? Why did it become an essential part of advertising campaigns for consumer goods? Why was it so widely collected, traded, interpreted and valued—particularly in Germany?

The unique appeal of the Reklamemarke in Germany lay in its physical properties and visual design; its status as a collectible and the elaborate network of collecting-related organizations, products, and publications that sustained demand; and the characteristic verbal-visual communication enabled by individual stamps and stamp series. Though connected closely to advertising posters, only a small fraction of poster stamps were actually miniaturized posters. As the artist Ludwig Hohlwein observed, not every poster lent itself well to a poster stamp; the smaller format required a different construction—a design for the small scale that was “short, witty, and tingly.”28

Poster stamps were indeed small, only slightly larger than postage stamps. They cost little to produce and nothing—or very little—to obtain.29 These attributes made them universally accessible, at least in urban areas. Their size made them easy to transport, store, and view repeatedly. Their gummed backs were of practical use in fixing larger advertising posters to shop windows or sealing envelopes, thus giving them an immediate functional and decorative surplus value. Many poster stamps reflected contemporary trends in art and design. As noted above, they showed the concentrated, simple, powerful style of the unfolding genre of German commercial graphic art, reflected in the Sachplakat.30 Most poster stamps employ framing devices and tableaus—visual scenes in which persons and objects are arranged for picturesque or dramatic effect. The persons in these tableaus seem completely unaware of the existence of the viewer.31 The stamps suggest wholeness and completeness. Yet nearly all have border perforations, suggesting partiality and the need to collect many.

And collected they were. The collecting mania (Sammelwut) began modestly, with exhibition stamps, before the turn of the century. But it broadened within the first decade of the twentieth century to include Reklamemarken. The infrastructure supporting the collecting of all sorts of stamps included collectors’ catalogs32, clubs, and newspaper advertisements, followed by periodicals and exhibitions beginning around 1912. The collectors’ magazine Der Propagandamarken-Sammler was first issued in 1912 and continued for two more years under the title Weltarchiv.

Fig. 8. On the left, a poster stamp advertising the magazine Der Propaganda-Marken-Sammlershows a nude child in profile blowing a trumpet from which hangs a banner with the name of the magazine. On the right is the title page of Nr. 20/22 of its later iteration, Weltarchiv, displaying a large bee in a triangle with the full title above and publication information below. Image on the right is significantly scaled down.
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Fig. 8.

On the left, a poster stamp advertising the magazine Der Propaganda-Marken-Sammlershows a nude child in profile blowing a trumpet from which hangs a banner with the name of the magazine. On the right is the title page of Nr. 20/22 of its later iteration, Weltarchiv, displaying a large bee in a triangle with the full title above and publication information below. Image on the right is significantly scaled down.33

Numerous poster stamp exhibitions were held in 1912–1913 in Nürnberg, Leipzig, Frankfurt am Main, and Berlin, among other cities.

Fig. 9. On the left is a poster stamp for the first “Propaganda-Marken” exhibit in Munich in 1912 featuring the head of a youth with black hair, animated features and an open mouth. On the right is a stamp advertising the International Poster Stamp Exhibition (Internationale Reklame-Marken Austellung or “IRMA”) in Nuremberg in 1913 featuring two trumpeters in regalia with banners advertising the exhibition suspended from the trumpets.
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Fig. 9.

On the left is a poster stamp for the first “Propaganda-Marken” exhibit in Munich in 1912 featuring the head of a youth with black hair, animated features and an open mouth. On the right is a stamp advertising the International Poster Stamp Exhibition (Internationale Reklame-Marken Austellung or “IRMA”) in Nuremberg in 1913 featuring two trumpeters in regalia with banners advertising the exhibition suspended from the trumpets.34

The vast and famous department store Kaufhaus des Westens mounted an exhibit in 1913, and in 1914, the Leipzig book fair created its own poster stamp collection and gave it its own pavilion.35 A number of companies sponsored contests for best poster stamp designs, as illustrated by this first-prize winner for the champagne brand Müller Extra.

Fig. 10. In this first prize winner for the 1913 Müller Extra champagne poster stamp contest, a male figure in a tuxedo raises his top hat to a woman in a purple gown and upswept hair we see only from the back. In front of the pair are several large bottles and two glasses of champagne. Colorful confetti and streamers float over the foreground and surround the figures.
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Fig. 10.

In this first prize winner for the 1913 Müller Extra champagne poster stamp contest, a male figure in a tuxedo raises his top hat to a woman in a purple gown and upswept hair we see only from the back. In front of the pair are several large bottles and two glasses of champagne. Colorful confetti and streamers float over the foreground and surround the figures.

But the word infrastructure suggests that poster stamp collecting was highly organized and perhaps hierarchical, with authoritative voices deciding what constituted good or bad poster stamps. Although critics and curators did indeed attempt to determine quality and desirability, the vast majority of stamps were traded in open-air bazaars that flourished in schoolyards and other public places where child—and soon, adult—collectors sought to expand their collections. One such gathering point was in the Berlin Zoo, at the area around the vending machine for Stollwerck chocolate (which also issued collectible cards!). Dr. Hans Sachs, a prodigious collector of posters,36 was co-founder and president of the poster-collecting club Verein für Plakatfreunde and editor and publisher of the periodical Das Plakat. He describes the exchange at the zoo as “a swarm of gesticulating, yelling, excited people running here and there.” But as he approached the group, it became clear that the “members and agents, the dealers and buyers, sellers and speculators in this particular exchange” were children under fourteen. Other, similar trading sites were present throughout Berlin; Sachs reports that every larger playground held this activity. The fact that children were “gripped” by this collecting sport (Sammelsport) was also clear to Sachs. He reports that whenever an adult went into a shop to purchase something, a number of girls and boys appeared within minutes, scanning the counter for unclaimed poster stamps.”37 The collecting mania was not, however, just associated with children. Sachs confesses that he has himself “entered the guild of poster stamp collectors.”38 His assertion that only children traded stamps at the zoo exchange is contradicted by other observers in Berlin at the time.39 The prolific German advertising critic of the day, Walter von zur Westen, notes that the participation of adults in the hobby meant that the poster stamp “is not only a trading object for school children, but a quite serious commodity that is hawked in department stores and specialty stores, indeed, even on the streets. In rare cases, these commodities are valued quite highly.”40 In a humorous 1913 article in a Munich newspaper, one critic discusses with deep irony how much this “free” hobby was costing him. The first stamps were free (he took them off the envelopes of old love letters), but then it really began to cost him: a bottle of salad oil, a half pound of tea, and a package of Palmefka shortening. He kept the tea but, being a bachelor (the author explains) he had to hand the others off to his landlady, who made it clear that she doubted his sanity. From all of these purchases he did, however, receive thirty-six stamps, “including six Hohlwein.” But soon he was purchasing stamps, eating a lot of chocolate, going to the theater “more often than necessary,” subscribing to magazines that promised poster stamps, and buying lottery tickets.34 Finally, he admits to becoming friends with certain adults merely because their children collected poster stamps.41

Indeed, all evidence suggests that poster stamp collecting spanned all ages, genders, and the working and middle classes. The consumers portrayed in the stamps are largely middle class, but by no means exclusively (see the discussion of the “servant question,” below); representations of monied, middle-class consumers fed the aspirations of the working class. The absence of a strict cost structure for poster stamps, the fact that most poster stamp albums were free or inexpensive, and the widespread practice of bartering removed the typical cost barriers to a hobby for the working class. In fact, though poster stamp collecting stood alongside postage stamp collecting at this time, it also contrasted with philetelia as a more accessible, less class-specific hobby requiring fewer resources and less education. By the heyday of Reklamemarken, the hobby of collecting was already firmly established in the German upper and middle classes, ranging from the traditional aristocratic acquisition of objets d’art to the middle-class haphazard collecting of Wilhelmine household trinkets or the more regulated filling of postage stamp albums. By the latter half of the nineteenth century, the building of private—and public42—collections was a common way for large segments of society to try to impose order on their rapidly changing economic, political, and social environments. Somehow, collecting gave many a sense of control over an increasingly confusing world of objects. Late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century collectors amassed objects with a zeal paradoxically imitative of, and at the same time in resistance to, industrial mass-production.

By the turn of the century, collecting was a central element of bourgeois childhood, particularly for boys. Through collecting, children were trained in both older and emerging cultural codes as well as in the broader cultural act of codification and classification. For middle-class children, particularly the educated middle class (Bildungsbürgertum), collecting was not simply about bringing order out of chaos. It was about imposing a received, authoritative, educational system on objects. Precisely for this reason, the cultural and educational potential of poster stamp collecting for middle-class children was a matter of debate.43 Opponents, such as the author of the Daheim article quoted above, frequently decried the fad as a plague (Seuche). On the other hand, advocates—though they acknowledged that a certain number of the stamps were inferior in quality—argued that collecting stamps did, in fact, develop aesthetic taste. Adolf Saager offers perhaps the most extensive defense of the educational value of the hobby in his article, “Das Sammeln von Propagandamarken.” He cites three important benefits: (1) the artistic quality of the medium; (2) the way in which it the poster stamp “playfully” integrated modern youth into contemporary life (since “practical, public, and business life” were not at all present in the school curriculum); and (3) that the formation of individual collections cultivated very different individual perspectives. An anonymous author in the periodical Archiv für Buchgewerbe declares simply: “Good poster stamps educate the taste of fans and collectors; bad ones should be seen as simply objects in use.”44

When poster stamp collecting exploded after 1910, publishers produced thousands of poster stamp series designed specifically for collectors.45 They continued to produce sheets of stamps with discrete, disconnected images—beyond the brand name and slogan—such as this series for Standart-Bronze metallic paint, the original context for the stamp of the boy painting his shoe.

Fig. 11. This series of poster stamps for the Standart-Bronze Company shows a variety of images of the product, metallic paint, in use or historical-mythological figures or objects painted with the product: The sequence depicts, in order: a large red product can; a bronze painted charioteer; two children painting a pull toy on top of a gigantic product can; a knight on a white horse approaching a golden castle; the young boy painting his shoe; a knight with a golden breastplate and shield at the door of a castle.
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Fig. 11.

This series of poster stamps for the Standart-Bronze Company shows a variety of images of the product, metallic paint, in use or historical-mythological figures or objects painted with the product: The sequence depicts, in order: a large red product can; a bronze painted charioteer; two children painting a pull toy on top of a gigantic product can; a knight on a white horse approaching a golden castle; the young boy painting his shoe; a knight with a golden breastplate and shield at the door of a castle.

Fig. 12. More poster stamps for the Standart-Bronze Company: A young couple in the mountains lays floral wreaths at a large bronze memorial of Ludwig II of Bavaria; a female domestic servant displaying the effectiveness of the silver metallic paint in renewing a radiator to her well-dressed mistress; two children holding up a large product can while a third child paints a toy elephant gold; a knight in silver armor carrying a golden shield; a woman wearing a deep blue dress painting a vase gold and silver; a petite figure in medieval garb on a white horse carrying a banner advertising the product.
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Fig. 12.

More poster stamps for the Standart-Bronze Company: A young couple in the mountains lays floral wreaths at a large bronze memorial of Ludwig II of Bavaria; a female domestic servant displaying the effectiveness of the silver metallic paint in renewing a radiator to her well-dressed mistress; two children holding up a large product can while a third child paints a toy elephant gold; a knight in silver armor carrying a golden shield; a woman wearing a deep blue dress painting a vase gold and silver; a petite figure in medieval garb on a white horse carrying a banner advertising the product.

By this point, many series produced explicitly for collectors were numbered and/or had a clear narrative arc designed to motivate collectors to purchase the entire series. This example by the artist Änne Koken is numbered, and the short phrases at the top of each stamp form a simple poem describing the wholesome contents of Bahlsen cookies, their hygienic packaging, global sales, and affordability.

Fig. 13. Each stamp in this series for Bahlsen cookies contains a short phrase from a poem extolling the virtues of the product. The phrase is at the top of the stamp along with the series letter (“C”) and the stamp number in the series; the image illustrates the short phrase. The first reads, “Flour . . . ,” and the image shows a red-haired child angel with wings leading a donkey carrying flour sacks. The next reads, “. . . and eggs . . . ,” and the angel is depicted bending over large eggs while two yellow chickens observe from above. The next reads, “milk from the cow,” and the angel is shown milking a cow, while the next is captioned “rich butter” and the angel is shown churning butter. The next reads, “and sugar too,” and the smiling angel is shown holding a large cone of sugar. The next, which reads, “Mix . . . ,” shows the angel stirring the dough in a large bowl, and the next, which reads, “. . . and bake . . . ,” shows the angel inserting a tray of the cookies into a flaming wall oven. The next reads “pack hygienically” and shows the angel packing the cookies in trademarked boxes, while the next, which reads, “ready for transport,” shows the angel carrying a closed product package. The next reads, “to anywhere in the world,” and shows the angel from the back, taking a cookie from an open box of Bahlsen cookies being offered to him by a Black child viewed from the front. The next, with the caption “heavenly food,” shows the angel for the first time actually airborne, dropping a product package to a bare-bottomed infant seated on the ground with hands upraised. The final image reads “for little money” and shows the angel holding a cookie above the open box while seated on a park bench, evidently preparing to feed the cookie to an expectant bird in front of the bench.
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Fig. 13.

Each stamp in this series for Bahlsen cookies contains a short phrase from a poem extolling the virtues of the product. The phrase is at the top of the stamp along with the series letter (“C”) and the stamp number in the series; the image illustrates the short phrase. The first reads, “Flour . . . ,” and the image shows a red-haired child angel with wings leading a donkey carrying flour sacks. The next reads, “. . . and eggs . . . ,” and the angel is depicted bending over large eggs while two yellow chickens observe from above. The next reads, “milk from the cow,” and the angel is shown milking a cow, while the next is captioned “rich butter” and the angel is shown churning butter. The next reads, “and sugar too,” and the smiling angel is shown holding a large cone of sugar. The next, which reads, “Mix . . . ,” shows the angel stirring the dough in a large bowl, and the next, which reads, “. . . and bake . . . ,” shows the angel inserting a tray of the cookies into a flaming wall oven. The next reads “pack hygienically” and shows the angel packing the cookies in trademarked boxes, while the next, which reads, “ready for transport,” shows the angel carrying a closed product package. The next reads, “to anywhere in the world,” and shows the angel from the back, taking a cookie from an open box of Bahlsen cookies being offered to him by a Black child viewed from the front. The next, with the caption “heavenly food,” shows the angel for the first time actually airborne, dropping a product package to a bare-bottomed infant seated on the ground with hands upraised. The final image reads “for little money” and shows the angel holding a cookie above the open box while seated on a park bench, evidently preparing to feed the cookie to an expectant bird in front of the bench.46

A sequenced stamp series could communicate messages beyond those of individual stamps and different from the accumulated messages of a disconnected, non-sequential series (like that for Standart-Bronze). A sequenced series motivated the collector to complete the series, to find out the ending, and to solve the puzzle. In the following two series for Sanella margarine, there are distinct narrative arcs, very different in character. The series From the Life of the Prince Regent illustrates highlights from the life of the recently deceased Prince Luitpold of Bavaria; these events are chronological and have no relationship to the product.

Fig. 14. Each stamp in this series From the Life of the Prince Regent is numbered and designed to depict an event or stage of the Prince Regent’s life, which is also represented in a brief caption. The first, “His first time on sentry duty, 1839,” shows the slender young Prince Regent in uniform at his post in Munich while a well-dressed family looks on. The second, “As the colonel of his regiment, 1854,” shows the Prince Regent in uniform on horseback with a large number of indistinct figures on horseback in the background. The third, “Protects King Wilhelm I from enemy fire with his own body at the battle of Gravelotte,” shows the Prince Regent on horseback saluting King Wilhelm I of Prussia while other officers on horseback look on. The fourth, “Delivers King Ludwig II’s letter recognizing King Wilhelm I of Prussia as Emperor of the German Nation to Wilhelm I in Versailles” shows the Prince Regent in dress uniform handing the now soon to be confirmed German Kaiser the letter of Bavarian support. The fifth, “The Knight’s Festival of St. George,” shows the Prince Regent in medieval regalia in the knights’ parade at the festival, led and followed by men and boys in contemporary uniforms or historical costumes. The sixth, “Spring parade,” shows the Prince Regent on horseback, reviewing the troops. The seventh, “Excursion,” shows an elderly Prince Regent in civilian clothes being driven in a modest open carriage and greeted by children on the streets of Munich. The eighth, “Visit to the Academy,” shows the elderly Prince Regent holding his top hat, conversing with a man in a plaid jacket, presumably an instructor, at the Academy of Fine Arts, while students in white coats work on sculptures in the background. The ninth, “Round table,” shows the Prince Regent in discussion with military officers and, presumably, other high-ranking officials around a round dining table. The tenth, “Sleigh ride in the mountains,” shows the Prince Regent and a companion in a horse-drawn sleigh against a snowy alpine background. The eleventh, “The hunt,” shows the Prince Regent in traditional Bavarian hunting garb against an alpine background; and the twelfth and final stamp, “Distributing candy,” shows the Prince Regent handing out sweets to a large group of children against an alpine background.
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Fig. 14.

Each stamp in this series From the Life of the Prince Regent is numbered and designed to depict an event or stage of the Prince Regent’s life, which is also represented in a brief caption. The first, “His first time on sentry duty, 1839,” shows the slender young Prince Regent in uniform at his post in Munich while a well-dressed family looks on. The second, “As the colonel of his regiment, 1854,” shows the Prince Regent in uniform on horseback with a large number of indistinct figures on horseback in the background. The third, “Protects King Wilhelm I from enemy fire with his own body at the battle of Gravelotte,” shows the Prince Regent on horseback saluting King Wilhelm I of Prussia while other officers on horseback look on. The fourth, “Delivers King Ludwig II’s letter recognizing King Wilhelm I of Prussia as Emperor of the German Nation to Wilhelm I in Versailles” shows the Prince Regent in dress uniform handing the now soon to be confirmed German Kaiser the letter of Bavarian support. The fifth, “The Knight’s Festival of St. George,” shows the Prince Regent in medieval regalia in the knights’ parade at the festival, led and followed by men and boys in contemporary uniforms or historical costumes. The sixth, “Spring parade,” shows the Prince Regent on horseback, reviewing the troops. The seventh, “Excursion,” shows an elderly Prince Regent in civilian clothes being driven in a modest open carriage and greeted by children on the streets of Munich. The eighth, “Visit to the Academy,” shows the elderly Prince Regent holding his top hat, conversing with a man in a plaid jacket, presumably an instructor, at the Academy of Fine Arts, while students in white coats work on sculptures in the background. The ninth, “Round table,” shows the Prince Regent in discussion with military officers and, presumably, other high-ranking officials around a round dining table. The tenth, “Sleigh ride in the mountains,” shows the Prince Regent and a companion in a horse-drawn sleigh against a snowy alpine background. The eleventh, “The hunt,” shows the Prince Regent in traditional Bavarian hunting garb against an alpine background; and the twelfth and final stamp, “Distributing candy,” shows the Prince Regent handing out sweets to a large group of children against an alpine background.47

If From the Life of the Prince Regent evokes an illustrated children’s biography, Ede’s Robbery plays upon the familiar narrative genre of pranks and comeuppance or tricksters’ triumphs.48 There is an unexpected plot twist when hungry Ede breaks into a large locked cabinet or safe, presumably hoping to find money, but instead is rewarded with a large block of Sanella margarine, with which he is entirely happy.

Fig. 15. In this stamp series for Sanella almond milk margarine, each stamp is framed with the title of the series and the product name. In the first, a disgruntled Ede sits at a table set with an empty plate, head in hands, with a candle burning on the right; the caption reads, “Ede is in despair!” The second, “He has a good idea,” shows Ede with thoughtful, pursed lips, tapping his forehead and gazing at the large ring of keys in his right hand. In the third, Ede is shown climbing through a window, key ring in hand: “Now it can begin!” The fourth shows a perspiring Ede, one foot against the door of a large cabinet or safe, attempting to open it with a crowbar; the caption reads, “Ede’s sigh: ‘it’s not easy’.” In the fifth, Ede is on hands and knees, lighting a stick of dynamite to break open the safe: “He thinks: ‘this will make it go faster!’” In the sixth, a dynamite flash obscures the safe and Ede backs away: “it’s done!” Open-mouthed, the amazed Ede views the contents of the safe, in the seventh: a large block of Sanella margarine; the caption reads: “Ede’s surprise!” In the eighth, Ede runs through the moonlit street, the large block of margarine tucked under his arm: “The job paid off pretty well!” The ninth shows a baker, a female servant, and a man in a suit in various states of consternation in front of the empty cabinet while a policeman observes and a dog sniffs the floor; the caption reads: “The place has been robbed!” In the tenth and final stamp Ede licks his lips while digging his knife into the block of Sanella margarine to spread on a large piece of bread. The caption reads: “That’s how we live, that’s how we live, that’s how we live every day!”
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Fig. 15.

In this stamp series for Sanella almond milk margarine, each stamp is framed with the title of the series and the product name. In the first, a disgruntled Ede sits at a table set with an empty plate, head in hands, with a candle burning on the right; the caption reads, “Ede is in despair!” The second, “He has a good idea,” shows Ede with thoughtful, pursed lips, tapping his forehead and gazing at the large ring of keys in his right hand. In the third, Ede is shown climbing through a window, key ring in hand: “Now it can begin!” The fourth shows a perspiring Ede, one foot against the door of a large cabinet or safe, attempting to open it with a crowbar; the caption reads, “Ede’s sigh: ‘it’s not easy’.” In the fifth, Ede is on hands and knees, lighting a stick of dynamite to break open the safe: “He thinks: ‘this will make it go faster!’” In the sixth, a dynamite flash obscures the safe and Ede backs away: “it’s done!” Open-mouthed, the amazed Ede views the contents of the safe, in the seventh: a large block of Sanella margarine; the caption reads: “Ede’s surprise!” In the eighth, Ede runs through the moonlit street, the large block of margarine tucked under his arm: “The job paid off pretty well!” The ninth shows a baker, a female servant, and a man in a suit in various states of consternation in front of the empty cabinet while a policeman observes and a dog sniffs the floor; the caption reads: “The place has been robbed!” In the tenth and final stamp Ede licks his lips while digging his knife into the block of Sanella margarine to spread on a large piece of bread. The caption reads: “That’s how we live, that’s how we live, that’s how we live every day!”

A large proportion of the stamp series produced for collectors (including, very likely, the above examples) were intended for children—or for the adults who approved or disapproved the hobbies of children. Many images in such series feature simple figures and bright colors, as well as familiar stories or juvenile humor. Still other series depict varied geographical sites or famous persons, animals, or plants entirely disconnected from the advertised product. The Sanella series depicting the life of the Prince Regent is an example of this. Such imagery is loosely consistent with the taxonomy of knowledge associated with a public school education. And, yes, it is designed to appeal both to child collectors and the adults responsible for them. Though most collectors considered these stamps inferior to stamps with an integrated design, at least one contemporary critic suggested that the broadly informational content of the “publisher’s stamps” (Verlagsmarken, generic stamps issued by a printer, not commissioned by a specific manufacturer) was why the “sport” of poster stamp collecting was tolerated by the schools.49

In addition to the surplus value of the multiplied meanings of poster stamp sequenced series, such as the Sanella series “Ede’s Robbery,” or those series with supposed “educational” value, poster stamp collecting was no doubt spurred by its size: specifically, its miniaturization. Reklamemarken were smaller than most other published images, smaller indeed than every other mass-produced medium of the time, other than postage stamps. If, as Susan Stewart argued concerning the semiotics of scale in On Longing, the miniature is “a metaphor for the interior space and time of the bourgeois subject,”50 then the collecting and archiving of these miniaturized images makes sense both as an individual psychological desire and as a broader impulse in a society that felt its collective subjectivity was eroding in the wake of massive political, economic, and social shifts. The miniaturized tableau so common in the poster stamp does not directly place the consumer in the world depicted but, rather, constructs a point of view the consumer is invited to share, as we see in these two stamps depicting domestic tableaus that include the product, Aecht Franck chicory, a “coffee admixture”:

Fig. 16. On the left is a stamp advertising Aecht Franck chicory showing a group of women spanning three generations knitting, chatting and sipping coffee in an intimate setting around a small linen-covered table. On the right, also advertising Aecht Franck chicory, a small child eyes a cake on a linen-covered table with a coffee service, chubby hands grasping the edge of the table. The child is viewed from behind, unaware of observation.
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Fig. 16.

On the left is a stamp advertising Aecht Franck chicory showing a group of women spanning three generations knitting, chatting and sipping coffee in an intimate setting around a small linen-covered table. On the right, also advertising Aecht Franck chicory, a small child eyes a cake on a linen-covered table with a coffee service, chubby hands grasping the edge of the table. The child is viewed from behind, unaware of observation.

At the same time—as a miniature, as a tableau, and because of the frame with its outward perforations—the poster stamp is strongly suggestive of what lies outside of itself. It offers, in Stewart’s terms, “the simultaneous particularization and generalization of the moment,” which suggests both individual and shared experience. In addition, miniaturized tableaus imply the dreamlike fantasy that “the world of things can open itself to reveal a secret life—indeed, to reveal a set of actions and hence a narrativity and history outside the given field of perception.”51

Clearly, the physical properties and visual construction of Reklamemarken made them desirable collectibles. But to understand how they were collected and how they mediated messages in collections, it is important to look closely at the albums issued for the hobby. Collecting poster stamps was not simply a matter of accumulating stamps; it was, as with any collecting hobby, a matter of curation, organization, valuation, and, significantly, narration. Poster stamp albums facilitated this process. Just as poster stamps obliquely parallel postage stamps, the poster stamp album evokes comparisons with the postage stamp album. But there were not, in fact, that many similarities. Postage stamp albums of the day were typically preprinted albums (Vordrucksalben) that presented the collector with an authoritative taxonomy of the medium. To this day, postage stamp collectors are familiar with the pale, gray-tone images of missing stamps in the vast matrix contained in the album. Every known postage stamp is prefigured, including the valuable misprints, and the overarching principle of collection is the political nation or territory. The categorization and organization of the stamps is entirely predetermined; the collector’s task is the acquisition of the physical object required to flesh out and illustrate the prewritten narrative. Poster stamp albums, in contrast, were typically blank, except for the designation on the cover.52

Fig. 17. The cover of a generic poster stamp collector’s album which is made of thick textured paper, and the pages, which can be added or subtracted, are bound with string.
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Fig. 17.

The cover of a generic poster stamp collector’s album which is made of thick textured paper, and the pages, which can be added or subtracted, are bound with string.53

A few companies issued short brochures for collecting their stamps only, such as this leaflet for the brand Kaffee Hag’s stamps depicting regional coats-of-arms.

Fig. 18. The cover on the right and an empty page of a collecting brochure on the left issued by the Kaffee Hag company in 1914–1915. The cover illustration is the coat-of-arms for the province of Brandenburg in Prussia. The image on the right shows a page in the brochure to be filled with poster stamps displaying various German regional coats-of-arms.
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Fig. 18.

The cover on the right and an empty page of a collecting brochure on the left issued by the Kaffee Hag company in 1914–1915. The cover illustration is the coat-of-arms for the province of Brandenburg in Prussia. The image on the right shows a page in the brochure to be filled with poster stamps displaying various German regional coats-of-arms.54

But most albums were generic and available for free or very little cost.55

A page from the generic collector’s album shown above (Fig. 17) seems to be organized randomly. It contains product, event, and blank stamps; only a few stamps seem related. It presents a kind of consumerist montage of products and places.

Fig. 19. A page from a generic album displays a variety of poster stamps.
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Fig. 19.

A page from a generic album displays a variety of poster stamps.

On the next page, however, the stamps appear less random. Various categories of organization emerge: similar products, similar (nationalist) imagery, similar size and shape. The first five stamps advertise the same product and brand—Deutsch soll es sein chocolate—and the sixth advertises the same product but a different brand: Drei Glöckchen chocolate. The brief organizational principle and narrative association are that of chocolate; the brand is subordinated to the product. The last row, with the exception of the middle stamp, is organized around images of popular tourist sites; here, the products and brands are irrelevant and subordinate. An additional reading of the entire page shows yet a third matrix of meaning: Most of the stamps celebrate, in one form or another, the German nation , its sites of history and memory, and its emperor.

Fig. 20. Another page from the generic album displays categorized poster stamps.
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Fig. 20.

Another page from the generic album displays categorized poster stamps.

Collectors’ personal organization of their collections sometimes employed a narrative syntax that paralleled advertisers’ intended messages—whether of individual stamps or poster stamp series. But very often they resisted them; instead, collectors created their own meaning clusters by sampling, reshaping, or utterly disregarding the advertising message.

Ultimately, all of the practices associated with collecting poster stamps shaped the meanings awarded to them, not only through the introduction or reinforcement of meanings not limited to the commercial product—such as nationalism and love of chocolate—but also by the creation of additional intention and value through assembling individually designed sequences, that is, personal stories or narratives. This added value worked to some extent against assembling stamps in preferred meaning narratives, that is, paradoxically, against the aims of the producers. Advertisers have a stake in the ephemeral character of advertising. Like the commodities it sells, much consumer advertising is designed (then as now) to be inexpensive and ambiguous, widely appealing and accessible; its messages are designed with a kind of nonspecific weightlessness that excludes as few potential customers as possible. Collecting and trading poster stamps weighed down advertising by—at least temporarily—fixing and attaching new meanings. The more effort and care expended on collections, the more personalized and specific their meanings could be.

Intersections of poster stamp fictions and German social questions

Cultivating the German consumer

Like all consumer advertising, poster stamps were designed for broad appeal. Yet they were culturally located, and German Reklamemarken had German-specific social resonance. From the producer’s point of view, poster stamps, like all commercial advertising ca. 1910, were supposed to inculcate consumerist values and practices and to instill a consumerist identity. But this was not a simple project. Although advertising discourse had saturated at least urban environments by then, it continued, like many manifestations of modernity, to be resisted and negotiated. Put simply, most Germans did not self-identify as “consumers.” Although identities were being actively and dramatically reshaped in German society,56 considered from the citizen-consumer’s point of view, consumer identity was one choice among many. Where producers and consumers met in the middle was in the act of creating and enacting socially resonant fictions via socially agreed on conventions for understanding and representing real experience.57 When it came to Reklamemarken, the fictions the two sides constructed did not just stand alongside other identity choices. They were, instead, often directly mapped onto other recognizable social identities within the culture. These identities included “artisan” in the Standart-Bronze boy example above. “Bourgeois housewife” or “German nationalist” appear in the examples to follow. Consuming fictions often borrowed (using Roland Barthes’ terminology) a syntax that was not their own. In so doing, they aligned positions that were not always inherently compatible. But through these recognizable but imaginative stories, they were able to temporarily suspend, if not resolve, questions and contradictions of modernity. This suspension was made possible by mapping the essentially modernizing consumerist identity onto ambiguous, shifting, or contested social identities currently undergoing their own modernizing transformations, like the “servant question” (Dienstbotenfrage) or the construction and consolidation of a mythical national past.

Poster stamps, women consumers, and the servant question (die Dienstbotenfrage)

By 1910, producers of consumer goods were well aware of the female consumer’s power.

In the middle and upper classes, most day-to-day household purchasing was performed by female domestic servants; where these servants were lacking or were needed for more menial tasks, middle-class housewives did the shopping. In these two, quite literal poster stamp examples, a servant and a bourgeois housewife are depicted in acts of class-appropriate consuming.

Fig. 21. On the left is a stamp advertising Blitzblank household cleaner. A female domestic servant wearing an apron and a cap and carrying a shopping basket taps the shop counter authoritatively while the male shop clerk listens attentively. She declares in a rhyming couplet her preference for Blitzblank, “because that’s the only thing that makes dirt disappear!” The stamp on the right advertising Germania linoleum shows a seated, well-dressed woman on the left gazing at samples of linoleum, while a portly, well-dressed man stands in the background looking on. A large roll of linoleum bearing the company trademark is propped on the right.
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Fig. 21.

On the left is a stamp advertising Blitzblank household cleaner. A female domestic servant wearing an apron and a cap and carrying a shopping basket taps the shop counter authoritatively while the male shop clerk listens attentively. She declares in a rhyming couplet her preference for Blitzblank, “because that’s the only thing that makes dirt disappear!” The stamp on the right advertising Germania linoleum shows a seated, well-dressed woman on the left gazing at samples of linoleum, while a portly, well-dressed man stands in the background looking on. A large roll of linoleum bearing the company trademark is propped on the right.

The Blitzblank cleaner stamp on the left not only illustrates the domestic servant consuming, the text caption provides her—and by extension, the reader—with a rationale and a (rhyming!) script for the purchase. The combination of the maid’s pose, gesture, and position in the powerful left side of the frame, together with the attentive posture of the clerk, works to portray the consumer power of the servant.58 The bourgeois woman depicted in the linoleum stamp on the right selects from different linoleum samples at her class-appropriate leisure. Her position as privileged consumer is reinforced by her seated position, while her evidently wealthy and successful spouse remains standing. The pleasure and value of her consuming are no doubt enhanced by the opportunity to select a product (“Germania” linoleum) rhetorically linked with the popular nationalism of her class.

German poster stamps recognize not only that the female consumer comes from both the servant and the middle classes, but also that she is a social consumer. Her consuming decisions are often made in social groups, groups shaped largely by class as well as gender, but sometimes spanning generations and—in the representations of the poster stamp, interestingly—nations. In their stylized depictions of women’s sharing of product information and product use, poster stamps mapped the mass-mediation of commercial messages onto images of familiar information mediation, thereby merging the virtues of contemporary, mass-produced products with popularly held values concerning class-specific domestic labor and production.

Fig. 22. A stamp advertising Gruschwitz yarn and thread shows two women in profile in bright bonnets and scarves; only the tips of their noses and their gesturing hands are visible; the slogan reads: “one (woman) tells another.” The next is a stamp issued by a consumer’s club, Neue Gesellschaft, promoting its generic butter, and it depicts three large women dressed as servants with shopping baskets talking animatedly. The next, a stamp advertising Koh-i-noor sewing snaps, depicts a ring of girls and women of varying heights and ages snapping the back of the dress of the woman or girl in front of her. The next, advertising Pfaff sewing machines, shows a woman behind a sewing machine surrounded by a crowd of women of different races and ethnicities, presumably from all over the world, looking on.
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Fig. 22.

A stamp advertising Gruschwitz yarn and thread shows two women in profile in bright bonnets and scarves; only the tips of their noses and their gesturing hands are visible; the slogan reads: “one (woman) tells another.” The next is a stamp issued by a consumer’s club, Neue Gesellschaft, promoting its generic butter, and it depicts three large women dressed as servants with shopping baskets talking animatedly. The next, a stamp advertising Koh-i-noor sewing snaps, depicts a ring of girls and women of varying heights and ages snapping the back of the dress of the woman or girl in front of her. The next, advertising Pfaff sewing machines, shows a woman behind a sewing machine surrounded by a crowd of women of different races and ethnicities, presumably from all over the world, looking on.

Central to the fictional construction of the female consuming community in the poster stamp is consuming in a double sense: Nearly all poster stamps depicting female subjects in the act of consuming show, in addition to product consumption—or sometimes in lieu of actual product consumption— the consuming of commercial messages themselves. The four examples above each depict women consuming product information; only two depict actual product use. Similarly, in a particularly witty poster stamp series for Syndetikon products, the woman consumer on the right is shown licking the back of the poster stamp advertisement on the left in preparation for pasting the stamp into—“consuming” it—within her collectors’ album.

Fig. 23. On the left is a stamp advertising the child’s building set (“Bauspiel”) sold by the Syndetikon glue company; it shows a gray medieval gate and tower with a soldier in the gate. The stamp on the right shows a young woman in a bonnet with a bow licking the back of the same Bauspiel stamp; the company slogan for its glue products is at the bottom of the stamp: “Syndetikon: sticks, pastes, bonds everything.”
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Fig. 23.

On the left is a stamp advertising the child’s building set (“Bauspiel”) sold by the Syndetikon glue company; it shows a gray medieval gate and tower with a soldier in the gate. The stamp on the right shows a young woman in a bonnet with a bow licking the back of the same Bauspiel stamp; the company slogan for its glue products is at the bottom of the stamp: “Syndetikon: sticks, pastes, bonds everything.”60

The stamp on the left advertises the Syndetikon children’s building set which, according to the information given at the bottom of the stamp, was awarded a prize at the International Hygiene Exhibition in Dresden in 1911. The stamp on the right advertises Syndetikon glue, which, according to the slogan, can “adhere, glue, and cement anything.” By consuming both the message and, presumably, the products, the woman consumer on the right (and by extrapolation, the reader-viewer-collector) is able to combine (to adhere, glue, and cement) such disparate elements as product excellence, excellence in parenting, consuming—and collecting consumer messages.

In their constructions of consuming women, poster stamp fictions made frequent use of one of the more prominent women’s issues of the time: the servant question (Dienstbotenfrage). At the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century in Germany, one of the more dramatic demographic shifts was the significant decline in the number of female domestic servants. Accelerating urbanization at the end of the nineteenth century brought large numbers of rural women into cities, a full third of whom found employment as servants. But the combination of harsh working conditions for domestic servants and the very real, if problematic, employment option in the form of factory work, as well as decreasing resources in the middle classes for employing servants, resulted in a radical attrition among female servants during the decade or so leading up to the peak of the poster stamp. The number of German households employing servants in the years 1849–1900 sank from 9.5% to 5.9%; by 1913 it had sunk to 5%.61 Although this decline may not seem so large to our eyes today, it signaled not only important changes in the work lives of hundreds of thousands of working class women, but also a radical change in the construction of status in the middle classes. Retaining a household servant was an important component of class self-representation (Repräsentationspflicht) in a highly class-conscious society.62 And the removal of that person meant not only a significant change in the housewife’s duties but a troubling, even traumatic, loss of social status.

The popular, contemporary term Dienstbotenfrage was a broad concept alluding to a number of social questions and concerns connected to this demographic shift. In addition to middle-class housewives’ disgruntlement over the decline in sheer numbers of household servants, it denoted housewives’ complaints about the failings of servants, something articulated frequently in bourgeois women’s periodicals. Numerous voices arose, however, in response to these complaints, voices anxious to articulate (1) the difficulties experienced by Dienstmädchen and (2) the larger tensions inherent in the relationship between servants and their employees. Employment as a domestic servant was (as has been well documented elsewhere) a highly exploitative situation in which servants typically worked over sixteen hours a day and were deprived of privacy and self-determination. In extreme cases, servants were physically harmed by malnutrition or sexual exploitation.63 More subtly, under the bourgeois ideology of separate public and private spheres, the very presence of the Dienstmädchen was disturbing, since she represented paid labor squarely in the middle of the desired domestic idyll.64 This tension often informed the relationship between the servant and the housewife, a relationship described by Karin Walser as a “relationship battle” (Beziehungskampf), or a “silent or openly fought feud.”65

The Dienstbotenfrage, in all of its complexity, had important implications for producers, whose principle task, at this time, was convincing potential consumers that their products would raise quality of life and enhance social status. Advertisers, as well as consumers, needed to come to grips with changing demographics and shifting class identities. They needed to develop fictions (always, of course, with the cooperation of the reader-viewer-consumer) that could explain and overcome the difficulties posed by this situation for bourgeois housewives. At the same time, producers wished to sell their products to the largest number of consumers possible, including the remaining household servants, lower middle class people unable to afford domestic help, and even, to some extent, the working class. One result for all participants—producers, advertisers and consumers—was an elaborate consumerist fiction of cooperation, equivalence and replacement. This fiction managed deftly to develop and exploit both the myth of the household servant’s authority (in matters of household products), while at the same time sustaining the class privilege of the middle-class housewife’s class privilege. This fiction depicted the relationship between servant and housewife as one of subtle equivalence and, ultimately, replacement of the domestic servant by the housewife—a transition enabled by the new substitute household servants, household consumer goods that “did her work for her.”66

The first component of the cooperation fiction—the product authority of the domestic servant—is frequently represented by images of a servant buying or holding the product, such as in the Blitzblank stamp above, or these stamps advertising Glanziol floor polish and Breuer’s parchment paper:

Fig. 24. On the left is a stamp advertising Glanziol metal polish that depicts the upper half of a female domestic servant holding up the product in her right hand and gesturing with her left hand. The stamp on the right, advertising H. Breuer’s parchment paper, shows a female servant holding the product in her left hand while stirring a pot on a stove with her right hand.
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Fig. 24.

On the left is a stamp advertising Glanziol metal polish that depicts the upper half of a female domestic servant holding up the product in her right hand and gesturing with her left hand. The stamp on the right, advertising H. Breuer’s parchment paper, shows a female servant holding the product in her left hand while stirring a pot on a stove with her right hand.67

The servant’s product authority is then reinforced by numerous stamps that show her demonstrating or discussing the product with her employer:

Fig. 25. A smiling female servant extends the product—again, Glanziol metal polish—to a delighted, well-dressed mistress on the right while a slender white dog prances in the lower right-hand corner.
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Fig. 25.

A smiling female servant extends the product—again, Glanziol metal polish—to a delighted, well-dressed mistress on the right while a slender white dog prances in the lower right-hand corner.68

Fig. 26. A stamp which advertises Müller margarine shows a seated female servant facing her mistress, holding up a large block of margarine above her shopping basket, which she is clearly discussing, while the mistress’s small child reaches for the product. The next, advertising Echte Wagner margarine, depicts a female servant standing behind a large block of margarine in a kitchen, left hand raised, as she explains the virtues of the product to her mistress on the left, who examines it through her delicately raised lorgnette. The next advertises Nestle’s condensed milk and shows the mistress on the left holding the product can and the servant on the right pointing to the milk in a pan; they smile broadly as they bend, heads nearly touching, over the product. The next, advertising Seifix Bleach, shows a variety of female servants in a tight grouping, all holding up product packages; the verse under the framed image explains that when the mistress asks what the current best bleach is, they all cry, “only Thompson’s Seifix!”
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Fig. 26.

A stamp which advertises Müller margarine shows a seated female servant facing her mistress, holding up a large block of margarine above her shopping basket, which she is clearly discussing, while the mistress’s small child reaches for the product. The next, advertising Echte Wagner margarine, depicts a female servant standing behind a large block of margarine in a kitchen, left hand raised, as she explains the virtues of the product to her mistress on the left, who examines it through her delicately raised lorgnette. The next advertises Nestle’s condensed milk and shows the mistress on the left holding the product can and the servant on the right pointing to the milk in a pan; they smile broadly as they bend, heads nearly touching, over the product. The next, advertising Seifix Bleach, shows a variety of female servants in a tight grouping, all holding up product packages; the verse under the framed image explains that when the mistress asks what the current best bleach is, they all cry, “only Thompson’s Seifix!”

In each stamp depicting servant and housewife together, the two are shown in a friendly, even confidential, partnership—often in an idealized domestic tableau, such as in the Müller’s margarine or Nestle’s stamp above. Both figures are generally given equal size and weight in the composition of the image, yet the housewife is held visually distinct from the servant by the absence of the class-indexing apron and cap. In contrast to the “relationship battle” that often characterized real relationships between servants and their mistresses, this fiction proclaims harmony between them—an idea that certainly served the interests of producers of consumer goods, but which, given how frequently it was represented, clearly resonated with a wide variety of consumers. The final stamp in the above assortment, which advertises Seifix bleach, maintains this sense of harmony and balance cleverly by having the unseen “mistress” (Gnädige) ask about the best household bleach but letting the servant prove her experience and product savvy by answering: “only Thompson’s Seifix!’.”

In the visual syntax of the poster stamp series, this “balance of power” often goes beyond cooperation to actual equivalence. In this example of two stamps from a series advertising Breuer’s parchment paper, the figures of the servant and housewife are practically identical in what may be called, in cinematic terms, a near “match cut.”

Fig. 27. Both of these stamps advertise Breuer’s parchment paper. The one on the left shows a female servant bending over a steaming pot, stirring with her right hand while holding a roll of the product in her left hand. The one on the right depicts a bourgeois housewife in a nearly identical position, but bending over jars of canned produce; a child facing the housewife holds up a roll of the product in her left hand and a sheet of paper in her right.
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Fig. 27.

Both of these stamps advertise Breuer’s parchment paper. The one on the left shows a female servant bending over a steaming pot, stirring with her right hand while holding a roll of the product in her left hand. The one on the right depicts a bourgeois housewife in a nearly identical position, but bending over jars of canned produce; a child facing the housewife holds up a roll of the product in her left hand and a sheet of paper in her right.

In both images, the position, posture, facial expression—even the facial features of the consuming women—are nearly identical, as is the position of the product. Only the task at hand, slight difference in appearance, and presence of a child (on the right stamp) distinguish one from the other. Similarly, in the following series advertising Seifix bleach, while the texts in stamps 2 and 5 suggest that the women are middle class, the class status of the women, overall, is somewhat ambiguous. All of them wear aprons and only the figure in stamp 4 wears a head covering.

Fig. 28. In this series of 6 stamps for Seifix bleach, each image is elaborately framed and a rhyming couplet is at the bottom of the stamp. Bild 1 shows an older woman holding the product package in one hand with her other hand raised, extolling the virtues of the product to a younger woman carrying a full laundry basket on her back. Bild 2 shows a young woman in a finishing school, as we read from the text, leaning over a large sudsy basin. Bild 3 shows a woman laboring at a washboard in a large steaming wood laundry tub, and in Bild 4, a woman in a headscarf lifts a gleaming white cloth from a laundry tub. In Bild 5, a woman hangs a man’s white shirt from a clothesline, and Bild 6 shows a white swan, the product trademark.
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Fig. 28.

In this series of 6 stamps for Seifix bleach, each image is elaborately framed and a rhyming couplet is at the bottom of the stamp. Bild 1 shows an older woman holding the product package in one hand with her other hand raised, extolling the virtues of the product to a younger woman carrying a full laundry basket on her back. Bild 2 shows a young woman in a finishing school, as we read from the text, leaning over a large sudsy basin. Bild 3 shows a woman laboring at a washboard in a large steaming wood laundry tub, and in Bild 4, a woman in a headscarf lifts a gleaming white cloth from a laundry tub. In Bild 5, a woman hangs a man’s white shirt from a clothesline, and Bild 6 shows a white swan, the product trademark.

The blurring of these consumers’ class identities is sustained by the ambiguity of address. The sixth stamp of the series uses the informal address (“du”). Yet the reader/collector is addressed formally (“Sie”) in the text on the back of each stamp, advertising a collectors’ album for Seifix stamps.

Fig. 29. A view of the back of any stamp from the Seifix bleach series above. The text informs the consumer (addressed in the formal “Sie”) how to obtain a Seifix Reklamemarke collectors’ album by submitting 1 poster stamp (actually: “artist’s stamp”) along with 30 coupons and 20 cents worth of postage stamps to the address below.
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Fig. 29.

A view of the back of any stamp from the Seifix bleach series above. The text informs the consumer (addressed in the formal “Sie”) how to obtain a Seifix Reklamemarke collectors’ album by submitting 1 poster stamp (actually: “artist’s stamp”) along with 30 coupons and 20 cents worth of postage stamps to the address below.

In this way, within the discourse of consuming, the two female types are mixed linguistically until they are virtually indistinguishable.

The final component of the cooperation-equivalence-replacement fiction is the narrative about ease of use. According to this story, the advertised products made housework so easy that housewives could easily take over the work of servants and replace them. In German poster stamps, housework is often reduced to “a child’s task” or even child’s play, or “Zwergarbeit,” work accomplished in secret by helpful gnomes known popularly as “Heinzelmännchen.” The literal depiction of children using products is common, particularly the well-known sentimental image of Dutch children (the Dutch were associated with cleanliness). In this stamp advertising Cirine floor polish, the product’s ease of use is represented both by the Dutch girl as model consumer and the literal slogan “Kinderleichtes Arbeiten” or “work that’s easy enough for children.”

Fig. 30. This stamp advertising Cirine floor polish pictures an exaggeratedly large product bottle on the left and a small Dutch girl on the right wielding a large floor mop.
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Fig. 30.

This stamp advertising Cirine floor polish pictures an exaggeratedly large product bottle on the left and a small Dutch girl on the right wielding a large floor mop.

The stamp emphasizes the power of the product by casting it as gigantic and by miniaturizing the model consumer. Some Reklamemarken even use animals to humorously reinforce their narrative concerning product ease-of-use. In this stamp advertising Kurzil laundry detergent, the slogan describes washing with Kurzil as “pure child’s play.”

Fig. 31. This stamp advertising Kurzil detergent shows a seated smiling monkey holding up a pair of women’s bloomers, its tail wound around the product package. The slogan reads: “Washing with Kurzil is pure child’s play!”
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Fig. 31.

This stamp advertising Kurzil detergent shows a seated smiling monkey holding up a pair of women’s bloomers, its tail wound around the product package. The slogan reads: “Washing with Kurzil is pure child’s play!”

In this stamp advertising Afrana sewing machines, three Heinzelmännchen cheerfully perform household mending by candlelight, at night, with the help of the product.69

Fig. 32. This stamp shows three cheerful Heinzelmännchen with beards and peaked caps; one is sewing a garment on the Afrana sewing machine, a second holds a candle to light the project, and a third watches appreciatively from the left.
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Fig. 32.

This stamp shows three cheerful Heinzelmännchen with beards and peaked caps; one is sewing a garment on the Afrana sewing machine, a second holds a candle to light the project, and a third watches appreciatively from the left.

Heinzelmännchen in Reklamemarken, like children and clever animals, demonstrate expertise in all modern consumer products and the newest household technologies. In mapping consumerist interests onto the social question of the Dienstbotenfrage, poster stamps employed recognizable domestic scenarios to tell stories of product-savvy servants and product-competent bourgeois housewives capable of performing all household duties. Particularly in extended series, the narratives subtly promote equivalence between servants and housewives or even unity across classes facilitated by the products advertised. By presenting the commercial products as helpers that make domestic housework “child’s play” that is quickly dealt with, they fictionally downplay or even erase the labor problem underlying the Dienstbotenfrage and the servant question is–at least temporarily, within the preferred reading of a typical poster stamp series– answered.

Poster stamps, German nationalism, and monumental consuming

Just as poster stamp advertising cultivated a consuming community around the shifting identities of women and the servant question, so it also made use of changing and contested German national identities in shaping the new German consumer. The years 1912–1914, in which producers and publishers churned out the largest number of poster stamps, coincided with the peak of prewar German hypernationalism, the integral nationalism that had been rapidly expanding its influence over the middle and upper classes since unification in 1871. This aggressive, chauvinistic, and imperialist form of nationalism sought to “integrate” those Germans whose regional or class identities still outweighed their allegiance to the German Empire. The goal was a centralized, narrowly defined, exclusionary modern national identity supported by convictions of national, economic, military, and cultural (meaning racial and religious) superiority. The simplistic superlatives of nationalist propaganda aligned neatly with the simple superlatives of some of the less imaginative poster stamp advertising.70 This stamp advertising Dr. W. Schmid’s “Imperial” mantles (for kerosene lamps), smoothly merges consumerist and nationalist messages.

Fig. 33. This stamp advertising Dr. W. Schmid’s Reichs-Glühstrümpfe (“Imperial” incandescent gas mantles) shows a black on dark blue silhouette of the Imperial eagle bearing a banner with the product name; cylindrical product packages replace the eagle’s talons.
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Fig. 33.

This stamp advertising Dr. W. Schmid’s Reichs-Glühstrümpfe (“Imperial” incandescent gas mantles) shows a black on dark blue silhouette of the Imperial eagle bearing a banner with the product name; cylindrical product packages replace the eagle’s talons.

The cylindrical product packages here are integrated as quasi talons into the national icon of the Imperial eagle and the hyperbolic slogan, “Dr. W. Schmid’s Imperial mantles are unsurpassed,” is superimposed upon the national colors: black, red, and white. The preferred reading is clear: the product, like the Reich, is “unsurpassable.” A similar, fairly crass merging of nationalist and consumerist messaging and iconography is evident in the stamps advertising Deutsch soll es sein chocolate, above (Fig. 4). But representations of the nation and intersections between nationalism and consuming took a variety of forms in the poster stamp.

Many poster stamps cheerfully exploited the familiar iconography and mythologies of earlier “progressive” nationalism,71 ranging from mythic figures like the older national icon Germania or Thusnelda (wife of Arminius), who led the Germanic tribes to victory over the Romans in 9 AD, to such cultural heroes as the sixteenth-century poet and Meistersinger Hans Sachs or the composer Ludwig van Beethoven.

Fig. 34. A stamp for the Emil Reiss printing company in Leipzig shows a seated Germania on her throne with various symbols of German unity and achievements. The next, which advertises Deutschmeister cocoa, features a pensive profile of a red-haired Thusnelda wearing a winged helmet. The next two are for the Eduard Beyer ink factory one superimposes the letter “B” on the poet Hans Sachs and the other superimposes the letter “N” on the composer Ludwig van Beethoven.
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Fig. 34.

A stamp for the Emil Reiss printing company in Leipzig shows a seated Germania on her throne with various symbols of German unity and achievements. The next, which advertises Deutschmeister cocoa, features a pensive profile of a red-haired Thusnelda wearing a winged helmet. The next two are for the Eduard Beyer ink factory one superimposes the letter “B” on the poet Hans Sachs and the other superimposes the letter “N” on the composer Ludwig van Beethoven.72

Numerous stamp series pictured various German landmarks, symbols of previously sovereign territories that had now been subsumed into the German Empire, and interspersed them with monuments and buildings symbolic of contemporary Imperial Germany, such as this series advertising Continental rubber shoe heels.

Fig. 35. In these stamps from a series for Continental rubber shoe heels, each detailed black and white drawing is enclosed in a dark blue frame with the product name above and the slogan “enormously durable” below. One shows a drawing of the Niederwald Monument; the next shows the Breslau Town Hall; the next shows the Dresden Church of Our Lady; the next the Stuttgart Town Hall; the next the Monument to the Battle of the Nations (“Völkerschlachtsdenkmal”) in Leipzig; and the last shows the mountain park Wilhelmshöhe with the statue of Hercules and the falls near Kassel.
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Fig. 35.

In these stamps from a series for Continental rubber shoe heels, each detailed black and white drawing is enclosed in a dark blue frame with the product name above and the slogan “enormously durable” below. One shows a drawing of the Niederwald Monument; the next shows the Breslau Town Hall; the next shows the Dresden Church of Our Lady; the next the Stuttgart Town Hall; the next the Monument to the Battle of the Nations (“Völkerschlachtsdenkmal”) in Leipzig; and the last shows the mountain park Wilhelmshöhe with the statue of Hercules and the falls near Kassel.

This wide use of culturally approved symbols no doubt ties back into the poster stamp’s push to be perceived as educational and high culture. Unlike non-serial advertising forms, which had to select a single cultural reference, stamp series required a wide variety of elements to make up their matrices. This meant roaming widely in the cultural past and present. And the various classificatory grids of poster stamp series enabled a wide variety of ways to (borrowing from Benedict Anderson) imagine the German nation—or reimagine the German nation as a consuming nation and Germans as consumers. In Anderson’s analysis of the nation in Imagined Communities, the nation is “imagined” as an “inherently limited and sovereign” community: imagined, because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of the other members; limited, because all nations have “finite, if elastic boundaries, beyond which lie other nations”; sovereign, because the nation was born out of the decline in legitimacy of divinely ordained dynasties; a community, because it is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship. In Anderson’s analysis, language and the printed word play a particularly powerful role in the imagining of this “horizontal comradeship.”73 Though his focus is on the forming of modern nation-states, it is evident that nations, once founded, continue to be imagined and reimagined. New symbolic forms and cultural practices for imagining the nation develop over time. The poster stamp series was actually one such symbolic structure within which the German Empire in the late Wilhelmine era could be imagined as a “horizontal,” “limited,” and “sovereign” community.

To understand how poster stamp series facilitated the imagining of the German nation (and, ultimately, a consumerist German national identity), it’s useful to examine more closely typical configurations of these series. In the discussion of poster stamp series above, there are series with varied but related imagery, but with no clear sequence or narrative (such as Fig. 1112, Standart-Bronze and Fig. 35, Continental), and series with clear sequences and narratives (Fig. 14, “Aus dem Leben des Prinzregenten” and Fig. 15, “Edes Raubzug”). Using linguistic terminology, we can describe the former series, those with no clear sequences or narratives, as “paradigmatic” series, and the latter, those with sequences and narratives, as “syntagmatic.”74 In the latter syntagmatic series, individual stamps represent episodes in a plotted narrative that develops over time and space. But in the paradigmatic series, the relationship between the individual images in the series is one of equality, parataxis, parity—a “horizontal fraternity,” to quote Anderson. In the Continental series, older regional landmarks and newer Imperial buildings and monuments are merged seamlessly in a paratactic syntax of equality. In this sample from a series advertising the laxative Laxin, clearly intended to be comical, the visual and verbal parataxis throughout the series equates all of the nations through their parallel content of short and tall persons, national flags, and of course, polite inquiries concerning constipation. At the same time, however, the frame around each stamp delimits the semiotic territory of that particular nation, while the flag and nation-specific iconography suggest its sovereignty. But more concretely, in the cultural-historical context of 1913, the series places the German Empire in a relationship of similarity and equality.

Fig. 36. In each of these stamps from a series for Laxin laxative, two figures face each other in profile: a tall slender man on the left and a short, portly man on the right. The thin man asks the plump man the delicate question: “Are you constipated?” His advice: “Take Laxin!” Each stamp is dedicated to a different nation; the nation is named in the upper-left corner and the flag is crudely drawn in the upper right. Ethnic and racist stereotypes abound in the illustrations. These selected stamps are dedicated to Russia, Serbia, Switzerland, Denmark, Turkey, Germany, Spain, France, China, England, America, and Austria-Hungary.
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Fig. 36.

In each of these stamps from a series for Laxin laxative, two figures face each other in profile: a tall slender man on the left and a short, portly man on the right. The thin man asks the plump man the delicate question: “Are you constipated?” His advice: “Take Laxin!” Each stamp is dedicated to a different nation; the nation is named in the upper-left corner and the flag is crudely drawn in the upper right. Ethnic and racist stereotypes abound in the illustrations. These selected stamps are dedicated to Russia, Serbia, Switzerland, Denmark, Turkey, Germany, Spain, France, China, England, America, and Austria-Hungary.

Paradigmatic poster stamp series, in which all elements are seemingly equal and interchangeable, are often bracketed by an important narrative, however. In this series advertising Immalin shoe polish (“Trip around the World in 12 Images”), nations are, as in the Laxin series, reduced to racial and ethnic stereotypes, types at once “typical” of their culture and at the same time supranational because of their use of the advertised product.

Fig. 37. In this series advertising Immalin shoe polish, a bourgeois German family embarks on a “Trip around the World in 12 Images” and witnesses the popularity of Immalin in every country. Each image (or “Bild”) fills most of the stamp; a rhyming couplet at the bottom explains the place and underscores the popularity of Immalin there. Here, as in the Laxin series above, several of the images are grotesque ethnic or racist caricatures. Bild 1 shows the German family in travel clothes ready to depart on their trip; a child in the foreground is having his shoes polished by the maid. Bild 2 shows the father having a quick shoe polish at the train station, and Bild 3 shows a Swiss man in an apron polishing a boot against an alpine background. Bild 4 shows a bearded Russian having his boots polished in a snowy square, and Bild 5 shows a Turkish man holding up a freshly polished boot. A sultan whose shoes are simultaneously polished by two servants in Bild 6 symbolizes Algeria and Morocco, and Bild 7, no doubt representing an unnamed, potentially colonized African territory, shows an African wearing pants, shoes, top hat, and monocle having his shoe polished by another African, while yet others dance with spears and shields against the jungle background. Bild 8 depicts an Indian prince having his shoe polished with an elephant in the background, and Bild 9 shows a kneeling male geisha servant polishing the shoes of one of the two geishas flanking him. Bild 10 shows a Mandarin smoking a long pipe while a servant polishes his shoe; Bild 11 shows what is presumably, based on the long headdress, supposed to be an American Indian chief having his shoe polished by—again, based on the few feathers in his headdress—an Indian “brave.” In Bild 12 a tall British man in a top hat reads a newspaper on the street while a bootblack polishes his shoes.
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Fig. 37.

In this series advertising Immalin shoe polish, a bourgeois German family embarks on a “Trip around the World in 12 Images” and witnesses the popularity of Immalin in every country. Each image (or “Bild”) fills most of the stamp; a rhyming couplet at the bottom explains the place and underscores the popularity of Immalin there. Here, as in the Laxin series above, several of the images are grotesque ethnic or racist caricatures. Bild 1 shows the German family in travel clothes ready to depart on their trip; a child in the foreground is having his shoes polished by the maid. Bild 2 shows the father having a quick shoe polish at the train station, and Bild 3 shows a Swiss man in an apron polishing a boot against an alpine background. Bild 4 shows a bearded Russian having his boots polished in a snowy square, and Bild 5 shows a Turkish man holding up a freshly polished boot. A sultan whose shoes are simultaneously polished by two servants in Bild 6 symbolizes Algeria and Morocco, and Bild 7, no doubt representing an unnamed, potentially colonized African territory, shows an African wearing pants, shoes, top hat, and monocle having his shoe polished by another African, while yet others dance with spears and shields against the jungle background. Bild 8 depicts an Indian prince having his shoe polished with an elephant in the background, and Bild 9 shows a kneeling male geisha servant polishing the shoes of one of the two geishas flanking him. Bild 10 shows a Mandarin smoking a long pipe while a servant polishes his shoe; Bild 11 shows what is presumably, based on the long headdress, supposed to be an American Indian chief having his shoe polished by—again, based on the few feathers in his headdress—an Indian “brave.” In Bild 12 a tall British man in a top hat reads a newspaper on the street while a bootblack polishes his shoes.

Typical of this orientalist way of viewing the world, the unmarked viewing subject of the series—or more accurately, the secondary subject, if the primary subject is the actual viewing consumer—is the bourgeois German family depicted in Bild 1 and 2, embarking on a trip around the world and present in the background of nearly all the stamps. The objects of the “consuming gaze,” those persons whose shoes are being polished, are all persons of high social status within their cultures—racist and condescending images and references notwithstanding. Given the paradigmatic structure of the series, the status of the other persons, conferred by both social title and their wise product choice, confers status back on the German consumer (both the consumers depicted and the reader-viewer), confirming their position within the world community of product-savvy consumers. Yet, this paradigmatic series is clearly framed syntagmatically, since it is the German family in the first two stamps that consumes, in a double sense: the family consumes both the product and, visually, the world. In this series, German national identity confers not just affirmative parity with other nations. The syntactical maneuvering of the German family into the subject position—through its places in the series and its consuming, broadly conceived—confers on them a distinct privilege and implicit superiority.

Monument(al) Consuming and the Monument to the Battle of the Nations (das Völkerschlachtdenkmal)

Among the most popular themes for poster stamp series, during this time of ongoing contestation and consolidation of German national identity, were those depicting monuments. As elsewhere in the world, the latter half of the nineteenth century had been characterized by an unprecedented level of monument building. In Germany alone, the roughly 800 “cultural monuments” built between the failed 1848 revolution and the 1880s expressed the progressive nationalism that celebrated the Kulturnation and implicitly expressed desire for a German nation state. After national unification in 1871, these were augmented by numerous additional monuments in the decades leading up to World War I. The latter monuments included literally hundreds of structures celebrating the life and work of the architect of the German nation, Otto von Bismarck, and a wide swath was dedicated to military leaders and events, both historical and mythic, and stylized into “national” monuments, architectural narratives that framed the German Empire as the culmination of a coherent German past, as well as a natural unfolding of history. In this typical poster stamp series for Siegerin (“Victoria”) margarine, nineteenth- and early twentieth-century “national” monuments (the last three stamps) complete a series that includes medieval cathedrals, lighthouses from the northern coast, and medieval fortresses. The parataxis of the individual vignettes creates equivalence between the various architectural structures, geographical regions, and historical epochs. A monument built in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century has the same cultural status as a medieval cathedral. But the syntax of the series places the modern, Imperial monuments at the conclusion of the narrative, as a fitting completion to the German story.

Fig. 38. In this series for Siegerin margarine, each building, landmark, or monument is depicted against a pastel (blue, yellow, or pink) sky and simply labeled. The first shows the St. Michael’s Church in Hamburg, the second the Strasbourg Cathedral, and the third, the Cologne Cathedral. The fourth shows the “Roter Sand” Lighthouse, the fifth, the lighthouse in Swinemünde, and the sixth the lighthouse at Friedrichsort near Kiel. The seventh shows Eltz Castle, the eighth, the Wartburg, and the ninth, Liechtenstein Castle. The tenth shows the Monument to the Battle of the Nations, the eleventh, the Niederwalddenkmal, and the twelth, the Kyffhäuser Monument.
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Fig. 38.

In this series for Siegerin margarine, each building, landmark, or monument is depicted against a pastel (blue, yellow, or pink) sky and simply labeled. The first shows the St. Michael’s Church in Hamburg, the second the Strasbourg Cathedral, and the third, the Cologne Cathedral. The fourth shows the “Roter Sand” Lighthouse, the fifth, the lighthouse in Swinemünde, and the sixth the lighthouse at Friedrichsort near Kiel. The seventh shows Eltz Castle, the eighth, the Wartburg, and the ninth, Liechtenstein Castle. The tenth shows the Monument to the Battle of the Nations, the eleventh, the Niederwalddenkmal, and the twelth, the Kyffhäuser Monument.

In contrast to the triumphalist teleology of this series, however, several paradoxes attached to the building of monuments throughout the latter half of the nineteenth and the early twentieth century exist. Though physically massive and imposing, monuments often represented highly unstable and contested versions of German nationalism. They were designed to express national unity, yet their sheer numbers—and the breadth of territory throughout which they were scattered—attested to the ongoing particularism and factionalism in the society that produced them. Finally, monuments were ostensibly about the consolidation of a national memory, yet they often spoke more about the anxieties and desires for the present and the future than about a coherent, universally accepted narrative concerning the past.75

Their sheer numbers and variety as well as these internal tensions—analogous to the social conflicts underlying the servant question—made the Denkmalkultur (monument culture) of the German Empire particularly ripe for use by such popular discourses as advertising. The fictions of individual and series poster stamps represented and repurposed monuments with a consumerist inflection. Sites of national memory were miniaturized, standardized, and subjected to the classificatory grid of the collectible series, allowing the individual reader-viewer-collector to consume, personalize, and assign various meanings to these icons of national identity and to conceive of their own national and consumerist identity as imaginatively abstracted from these narratives.

The last national monument to be completed before World War I, the Völkerschlachtdenkmal (Monument to the Battle of the Nations), saluted the wars of liberation from Napoleon’s armies a century earlier. It was completed in 1913 and, not surprisingly, figures prominently in poster stamp advertising. As was the case with so many monuments, the Völkerschlachtdenkmal had a long and difficult genesis. Monuments to the Battle of the Nations were proposed within a few years of the actual battle in Leipzig in 1813 but not set into motion until after national unification. In one attempt to get it built, in 1894, the architect Clemens Thieme founded the organization “Deutscher Patriotenbund zur Errichtung eines Völkerschlachtdenkmals bei Leipzig,” an organization that claimed 45,000 members by 1895 yet experienced great difficulty in raising enough money for the monument.76 Supporters employed a variety of strategies, but no one source supplied the necessary funds. With the assistance of a number of reliably national-patriotic organizations,77 the required six million marks was finally raised, and the monument was, at long last, dedicated on October 18, 1913. The Völkerschlachtsdenkmal was quickly integrated into the “national optics”78 as a popular tourist destination, as demonstrated by this contemporary postcard.

Fig. 39. This contemporary postcard is a sepia-toned photograph of the newly-completed Völkerschlachtsdenkmal. It shows the monument against a sky with scattered clouds; tiny human figures can be seen on the stairs at the base of the monument.
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Fig. 39.

This contemporary postcard is a sepia-toned photograph of the newly-completed Völkerschlachtsdenkmal. It shows the monument against a sky with scattered clouds; tiny human figures can be seen on the stairs at the base of the monument.

Scale is one of the most notable characteristics of the Völkerschlachtdenkmal; not only the cost, but the monument itself, was gigantic. At 91 meters high, with corresponding width, it was the largest and most expensive monument in Europe. Massiveness was certainly nothing new in German monument building, but it often masked legitimate insecurities about the stability of the nation the structure represented. Behind the facade of national unity and the oblique representation of the German people stood, as Thomas Nipperdey has written, a certain “unease about the current time, a fear that the present-day German people no longer lived up to the aspirations of the national idea as projected back in the year it originated, 1813.”79

To deal with this anxiety and lack of consensus concerning the nation, architect Bruno Schmitz followed the trend established in the 1890s—a trend seen also in the Bismarck monuments—toward abstraction and mythification. Gone were the baroque ornamentations and statues associated with monuments in the cult of Wilhelm I; instead, these latest monuments were architectonic and fundamentally ahistorical. Though ostensibly celebrating the victory of all Germans over Napoleon in 1813, the main hall within the Völkerschlachtdenkmal presents symbolic figures representative of the supposed eternal virtues of all Germans: bravery, self-sacrifice, firmness of faith, and strength as a people. The problem of the nation, as Nipperdey has astutely observed, is resolved in this monument by a tautology. As in many such abstract monuments, what is supposed to be “characteristically German” is nothing specific; it is simply absolute dedication (Hingabe) to the nation.70, 80 The figures in the crypt honoring the war dead, too, are abstractions, masks without eyes, contributing to the fatalism attached to the idea of the nation expressed here.81 In implicit opposition to Socialism, which comprised a very real threat to the social order of the Empire, the German nation depicted in the Völkerschlachtdenkmal is no longer the German Kulturnation connected by culture and convictions of progressive nationalism but, instead, the nation of “integral nationalism,” bound together by a kind of mythical inwardness and abstract solidarity.

This “preferred reading” of the Völkerschlachtdenkmal certainly seems far from the consumerist messages promulgated by Reklamemarken! Self-sacrifice and likely death were not popular advertising slogans. So how, then, did the poster stamp make use of the monument? Which messages did it borrow and which did it abandon or overwrite with its own consuming fictions? These five examples are typical of the poster stamps employing the Völkerschlachtdenkmal:

Fig. 40. The first stamp shows the Völkerschlachtsdenkmal in an oval frame advertising Unser Ruhm (“Our Fame”) margarine. The next shows the monument in a greenish tinge against a blood-red sky; at the base of the illustration is the brand name Novus and two small illustrations of the product, rubber heels. The next is also advertising rubber heels, but this time for the Frisch company, and a rubber heel stands in the lower foreground with the monument in the midground against a blue sky. The next, advertising Siegerin (“Victoria”) margarine, is familiar from the Siegerin series above, and finally, on the last, advertising Kraft (“power”) coal briquettes places a shirtless male figure with a shovel in a glowing red space within the monument tower, as though he were shoveling coal into a furnace.
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Fig. 40.

The first stamp shows the Völkerschlachtsdenkmal in an oval frame advertising Unser Ruhm (“Our Fame”) margarine. The next shows the monument in a greenish tinge against a blood-red sky; at the base of the illustration is the brand name Novus and two small illustrations of the product, rubber heels. The next is also advertising rubber heels, but this time for the Frisch company, and a rubber heel stands in the lower foreground with the monument in the midground against a blue sky. The next, advertising Siegerin (“Victoria”) margarine, is familiar from the Siegerin series above, and finally, on the last, advertising Kraft (“power”) coal briquettes places a shirtless male figure with a shovel in a glowing red space within the monument tower, as though he were shoveling coal into a furnace.

This representative grouping suggests a number of things about the intersection of nationalism and consumerism in the poster stamp. Each view of the monument is framed in some way by commercial messages, meaning that every view has a kind of commercial sponsor.82 Linguistic messages from the frames include producers’ names and brand names and superscribe, onto the internal areas, the virtues of fame (Ruhm), novelty (Novus), freshness (Frisch), victory (Siegerin), and power (Kraft). The image of the monument, in turn, grounds the product claims in veneration of the abstraction “nation.” In every instance, the monument is viewed from roughly the same, conventionalized perspective directly facing us, or with a slight left angle. The stamps align themselves visually with familiar, mass-produced views, tourist perspectives inviting the reader-viewer to consume both monument and product. Such perspectives subtly subordinate historical events to tourism and consuming. Because in poster stamps we never see the monument—or for that matter, any monument—from an unconventional perspective (from above, say, or from within), we never see the death crypt or any of the allegorical figures. We see only the familiar icon of the tower, an abstract, largely unspecified sign ready for inscription by the product. (Does it signal anything other than “new, large monument,” really?) The product can then be easily inserted into the center of the monument, as in the stamp for Kraft coal briquettes. Or it can be foregrounded to the point where the monument is nearly obscured, as in this rather complicated stamp advertising Schmeisser’s bouillon:

Fig. 41. This stamp advertising Schmeisser’s soup bouillon shows an athletic male figure in the foreground standing on a gigantic product package, poised to throw a product package held in his right hand. In the midground are two rows of athletes doing some kind of coordinated movement and in the background, the Völkerschlachtsdenkmal glows against an orange sky. The caption reads “Leipzig in the year 1913.”
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Fig. 41.

This stamp advertising Schmeisser’s soup bouillon shows an athletic male figure in the foreground standing on a gigantic product package, poised to throw a product package held in his right hand. In the midground are two rows of athletes doing some kind of coordinated movement and in the background, the Völkerschlachtsdenkmal glows against an orange sky. The caption reads “Leipzig in the year 1913.”

Here, as always, the product message frames the icon and orients the viewer-reader to the image. Neoclassical pillars flanking the scene are an additional framing device. One is wrapped in a garland, another very dimly advertises the International Building Exhibit (Internationale Bauausstellung or “IBA”). The title, “Leipzig in the year 1913,” guides the viewer to see the scene as a broader spectacle of events in Leipzig—the dedication of the monument and the building exhibit. The icon of the monument is placed rather obscurely in the background and viewed from the conventional perspective. In the midground, the advertisement borrows the social practices associated with Denkmalkultur by depicting the gymnastic exhibition that took place at the dedication. In the foreground, a single gymnast, mimicking a monument’s statue, poses in the act of tossing an overlarge product package while standing on a gigantic product package as a pedestal. The verbal-visual pun on the brand name “Schmeisser” (schmeissen means to toss or throw) embeds the product firmly in the visual spectacle depicted and in current events. The enlargement—more accurately, giganticization—of the product aligns it with the massiveness and scale of the monument movement.

Superlatives (linguistic or iconic) in advertising were far from new at this time, but they received a new inflection when products depicted in poster stamps themselves became monumental in scale—as shown by the depictions of both product (huge) and consumers (tiny)—and in their references to actual monuments and the social practices of Denkmalkultur. Poster stamps frequently presented model consumers interacting with the monumental product, as in this stamp for a coffee and tea retailer that shows children constructing a tower out of the product packages. Though more naturalistic in scale than most monumental poster stamps, the strong connection to the nationalist project is underscored by the German flag held by the child in the upper left-hand corner.

Fig. 42. In this stamp advertising Zuntz tea and coffee, four children busily construct a tower out of packages of coffee and tea. A girl on the right climbs a chair to put the final package on the top and a boy on the right waves a national flag. A toy horse in the national colors black, red, and white is in the lower right corner.
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Fig. 42.

In this stamp advertising Zuntz tea and coffee, four children busily construct a tower out of packages of coffee and tea. A girl on the right climbs a chair to put the final package on the top and a boy on the right waves a national flag. A toy horse in the national colors black, red, and white is in the lower right corner.83

This margarine stamp returns to giganticization of the product, depicting admiring observers-consumers of both genders and all classes around a tower of product packages:

Fig. 43. This stamp advertising Sanella almond milk margarine shows a tower of gigantic product packages surrounded by a large, colorful crowd of admiring onlookers of every class and occupation. A small spotted dog, whose one paw extends just slightly over the frame, sits in the foreground.
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Fig. 43.

This stamp advertising Sanella almond milk margarine shows a tower of gigantic product packages surrounded by a large, colorful crowd of admiring onlookers of every class and occupation. A small spotted dog, whose one paw extends just slightly over the frame, sits in the foreground.

Collectively, stamps engaging with monument culture implicitly—or, humorously, explicitly— model the desired interaction of the consumer with the product as participation in the creation of a cult object. They should admire it with awe and astonishment. In this stamp advertising rubber heels, the gray heel is perched on a stone base and towers over the tiny figures on the left. One figure stands, arms spread in awe, holding a wreath in his right hand that he is going to place at the base of this “sacred” site.

Fig. 44. In this stamp advertising Peter’s Union rubber heels, a male figure in a black suit and white collar holding a large wreath stands with both arms spread widely before a gigantic gray rubber heel. Other small, barely discernible figures stand to the left.
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Fig. 44.

In this stamp advertising Peter’s Union rubber heels, a male figure in a black suit and white collar holding a large wreath stands with both arms spread widely before a gigantic gray rubber heel. Other small, barely discernible figures stand to the left.

Nearly all of the stamps substituting products for monuments use a significant inflation of scale, a common property of poster stamps. If, as Stewart has argued, monumentalization represents the power of the state, in contrast to miniaturization, which signifies the bourgeois interior, these stamps present a rather startling power shift: the product has subtly replaced the state and its representation in monuments as the object of adulation and respect in the bourgeois interior. “Indignity of scale” is particularly potent in such poster stamps as this one advertising Berson rubber heels:

Fig. 45. This stamp advertising Berson rubber heels is nearly filled with a gigantic rubber heel. A well-dressed woman in a fur-trimmed coat stands gazing at the heel much as one gazes at a shop window. Behind her stands a girl in red and a well-dressed man; a few additional, indistinct figures are in the background. A small dog in the foreground strains at his leash.
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Fig. 45.

This stamp advertising Berson rubber heels is nearly filled with a gigantic rubber heel. A well-dressed woman in a fur-trimmed coat stands gazing at the heel much as one gazes at a shop window. Behind her stands a girl in red and a well-dressed man; a few additional, indistinct figures are in the background. A small dog in the foreground strains at his leash.

It presents to the reader-viewer a ridiculous and entertaining reversal of power, as a mundane household good towers over the wealthy bourgeois consumer depicted. The reversal of scale honors a consumer who cheerfully transfers the gaze once reserved for the state and its symbols (as well as one indicating a unified, coherent identity) to consumer products. And her new outlook is enshrined in the protected, interior space of this miniature collectible.

Conclusion

The crippling four years of World War I and its aftermath severely curtailed poster stamp production and collecting. The materials required for production were soon diverted to the war effort, advertising for consumer goods decreased significantly, and the disposable income and luxury time required for such a hobby disappeared. Reklamemarken produced during WWI were limited to political propaganda and advertisements for charities. After the war, poster stamps were produced in the Weimar Republic but in much smaller numbers than during the German Empire. As advertising and as popular culture, they were overshadowed by the powerful new mass media of radio and large-scale sports spectacles; richly illustrated newspapers and magazines and their advertising proliferated and reached every reader and every market niche. Cigarette cards became the new popular collectible for children, though they never attained the mania status of poster stamp collecting. Modernity and modernism, though not without their detractors, moved to the center of politics, society, and culture in the Weimar Republic. Advertising fictions shifted as well, and the medium so adept at mapping its messages onto contested spaces in Wilhelmine society was largely sidelined in the new republic.

Many collectors’ albums were lost during the World Wars, but some survived. Because a sheer flood of stamps was produced in the years 1910–1914, many thousands survive. They still speak to the fictions that facilitated Germans coming to grips with a world focused on goods, and with modernity, societal change, and shifting national identities. Contemporary Reklamemarken have included the 1997 exhibit at the Austrian National Library;84 the 2014–2015 exhibit of Berlin-related stamps at the Jewish Museum of Berlin, which featured some 650 stamps;85 a recent exhibit at the German Dance Archive (Deutsches Tanzarchiv) in Cologne ;86 and an intriguing variety of collectors’ websites.87 These collections testify to an ongoing fascination with these tiny advertising collectibles of long ago.

Rachael Huener

Rachael Huener (PhD University of Minnesota) teaches a wide range of German Studies courses at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, including cultural history, nineteenth- and twentieth-century German literature, and early film. She is active in the field of German Studies curriculum and pedagogy and serves on the boards of The German Studies Collaboratory and the Teaching Network of the German Studies Association. Her research and writing interests include pre-WWI German advertising stamps or Reklamemarken, the 19th-century writer Theodor Fontane, translation, and popular periodicals of the German Democratic Republic.

Footnotes

1. Unless otherwise indicated, all poster stamps are from the author’s private collection. The actual size of each stamp has not been preserved or indicated, rather they appear here at a size appropriate for viewing.

2. Numerous sources give 50,000 as the rough number of individual poster stamp designs in Germany before World War I. See, for example, Rudolf Tramnitz, Die deutschen Gelegenheitsmarken: Blätter für Sammler (Bernburg: 1928), as quoted in “Marken-Geschichte,” Veikkos-Archiv, last updated November 30, 2017, https://www.veikkosarchiv.com/index.php/Marken-Geschichte. Several small, thematic monographs on poster stamps published in the 1980s by Charlotte Maier were based on the collection of her father, Hans König, whose collection numbered in excess of 50,000 stamps. Charlotte Maier, Weiter— Höher—Schneller: Verkehrsgeschichte auf Marken und Medaillen (Munich: Deutsches Museum, 1987), 12.

3. The term “cinderella” is widely used in philately to refer to any adhesive stamp that has roughly the scale and appearance of an official postage stamp but, like the poor heroine of the fairy tale, is not appropriately “dressed for the ball,” that is, was not issued by a government as postage. The term was adopted by the British Cinderella Stamp Club at its founding in 1959. For information on the poster stamp in the United States, see H. Thomas Steele, Lick ’em, Stick ’em: The Lost Art of Poster Stamps (New York: Abbeville Press, 1989); Leo J. Harris, “Neither Posters nor Stamps: Poster Stamp Advertising in St. Paul,” Ramsey County History 49 no. 1 (Spring 2014): 3–10, https://www.rchs.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/RCHS_Spring2014_Harris.pdf; Charles Kiddle, Poster Stamps: The American Story (Classic American Ephemera), in World Poster Stamps (2009).

4. Rachael Anne Huener, “Reklamemarken in Wilhelmine Germany” (PhD dissertation, University of Minnesota, 2001). My doctoral work, under the guidance of Dr. Gerhard Weiss, was based on the prodigious collection of Arthur Groton, MD, who graciously encouraged and facilitated my research. A more recent effort to catalog all German poster stamps includes the excellent resource Veikkos-Archiv.com. But, as Monika Böhm has noted, most catalogs are thematically organized and assessments of the broader medium are still, largely, unavailable. Monika Böhm, “Münchener Reklamemarken aus der Sammlung des Bayerischen Wirtschaftsarchivs” (MA thesis, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, 2003.) Among the smaller, thematically organized catalogs are those produced by Charles Kiddle and Charlotte Maier.

5. Recent contributions to the literature on the German poster stamp include: Günter Schweiger and Gerlinde Spicko, Die Reklamemarke: Das Werbemittel der Gründerzeit (Vienna: Bibliophile Edition, 2008); Werner Schweiger, Aufbruch und Erfüllung: Gebrauchsgraphik der Wiener Moderne 1897–1918 (Vienna: Christian Brandstätter, 1988); Bernhard Reichel, ed., Bitte bitte kleb mich! Werbemarken als Spiegel der Stadt- und Regionalgeschichte (Frankfurt a.M.: Institut für Stadtgeschichte, 1998); Peter Borscheid and Clemens Wischermann, eds., Bilderwelt des Alltags: Werbung in der Konsumgesellschaft des 19. und 20. Jahrhunderts: Festschrift für Hans Jürgen Teuteberg, Studien zur Geschichte des Alltags, vol. 13 (Stuttgart: Steiner, 1995); Erich Wasem, “Reklamemarken,” in Christa Pieske, Das ABC des Luxuspapiers, Herstellung, Verarbeitung und Gebrauch 1860–1930 (Berlin: Dietrich Reimer Verlag, 1984), 223–226; Böhm, “Münchener Reklamemarken”; Christiane Lamberty, Reklame in Deutschland 1890– 1914: Wahrnehmung, Professionalisierung und Kritik der Wirtschaftswerbung, 1st ed., Beiträge zur Verhaltensforschung (Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 2017); Heinz Schmidt-Bachem, Beiträge zur Industriegeschichte der Papier-, Pappe- und Folien-Verarbeitung in Deutschland (Tübingen: Universitätsbibliothek Tübingen, 2009); monographs of Charles Kiddle and Charlotte Maier; and, since 2016, Veikkos-Archiv.com, an ambitious project to create a central catalog and information source for poster stamp collectors.

6. “Mit der Massenhaftigkeit der Heuschrecken sind die Reklamemarken plötzlich erschienen . . .” (Daheim Berlin, 1914, as quoted in “Marken-Geschichte,” Veikkos-Archiv, last updated November 30, 2017, https://www.veikkos-archiv.com/index.php/Marken-Geschichte.

7. The designer of the stamp—indicated by the monogram “JPW”—was Johann Peter Werth. Below the perforation at the bottom of the stamp is a coupon for 1 Mark “in cash” in exchange for 1000 such coupons.

8. Prior to the envelope, which did not appear until 1820 and wasn’t in mass production until 1840, seals of some sort were the only way to protect the contents of mail. Postal secrecy was maintained by custom and, in some parts of Germany, by law, well into the twentieth century.

9. Sources dispute the date and place of the first exhibition stamp; Hans Sachs claims the 1874 Grazer Landesausstellung issued the first stamp (Hans Sachs, “Reklamemarkenausstellung in Berlin,” Das Plakat, May 1913; Adolf Saager assigns the first exhibition stamps (issued solely for advertising) to the year 1894 (Adolf Saager, “Das Sammeln von Propagandamarken,” Das Plakat, January 1913. 21–28). In 1896, 3.5 million stamps were issued for the Berlin trade show (Berliner Gewerbeausstellung); and for the 1908 Munich trade show, some 6 million poster stamps were issued. (Lamberty, Reklame in Deutschland.)

10. “File:AlbertIII, Duke of Saxony.png,” Wikimedia Commons, last revised January 26, 2020, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?title=File:Albert_III,_Duke_of_Saxony.png&oldid=390145962; “Datei:W0213315.jpg,” Veikkos-Archiv, last revised November 16, 2009, https://www.veikkosarchiv.com/index.php?title=Datei:W0213315.jpg.

11. Adolf Saager explains this shift from round to rectangular by the “compositional possibilities” and easier use of text with the rectangular form. (Saager, “Sammeln von Propagandamarken,” 23.)

12. Though the economy overheated several times (1874–1879, 1890–1895, and 1907–1908 were perceived as recessions at the time but, in retrospect, are viewed as periods of retarded growth), the NDP rose from the 1860s onward, shot up steeply in the 1880s, and by 1890 had reached 20 billion reichsmark; that figure doubled by 1914 (Volker Berghahn, Imperial Germany, 1871– 1914: Economy, Society, Culture and Politics [Providence: Berghahn Books, 2005], 1, 10 and 14). Despite booms and busts, by 1914 Germany had the most powerful economy in Europe, second only to the US in the world.

13. The rise of joint-stock companies like the Deutsche Bank, Commerz- und Disconto Bank, and Dresdner Bank was facilitated by their links with rapidly growing firms like Siemens and Allgemeine Elektrizitäts-Gesellschaft (AEG). Berghahn, Imperial Germany, 22–23.

14. Patente, Gebrauchsmuster und Warenzeichen, as quoted in Dick Reinhardt, “Beten oder Bummeln? Der Kampf um die Schaufensterfreiheit,” in Bilderwelt des Alltags, ed. Borscheid and Wischermann, 117. Among the survivors of this enormously competitive period are a few very well-known products in Germany today, such as Leibniz-Cakes (1892), Odol (1893), Kaffee Hag (1906), and Persil (1907), each of which had highly complex and sophisticated advertising campaigns that featured both posters and poster stamps prominently.

15. Earlier trademarks were termed Kurzzeichen, Schutzzeichen, or Hausmarken; in German, service to the court was signaled by the term Hoflieferant (“supplier to the court”) (Karl Lauterer, Lehrbuch der Reklame: Einführung in das Werbewesen (Vienna: C. Barth, 1923. 33–55).

16. Liebig was well-known and his name was clearly marketable, so when the Brazilian-German entrepreneur Georg Giebert founded a company in 1863 with capital from Antwerp and distribution in London to mass-produce the “German” meat extract from cattle farmed for leather in Uruguay, he sought Liebig’s support and name, which Liebig supplied in exchange for quality control. (Günter Klaus Judel, “Die Geschichte von Liebigs Fleischextrakt. Zur populärsten Erfindung des berühmten Chemikers,” Spiegel der Forschung: Wissenschaftsmagazin der Universität Giessen 20, no.1 (2003): 6-17.

17. Stefan Haas, “Die neue Welt der Bilder,” in Bilderwelt des Alltags, ed. Borscheid and Wischermann, 64–77.

18. Stefan Haas has described this structuring of the “associative level” (Zuschreibungsebene) around visual forms rather than linguistic text as an important disjuncture in the transition from a use-oriented economy to mass consumption, and as a tacit acknowledgment of a more visually oriented modernist temperament. (Haas, “Welt der Bilder,” 70.)

19. “File:Liebigbilder 1905, Serie 652. Oberon, Oper von C.M. von Weber - 1 Akt I. Scene 6.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, last revised May 2, 2020, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Liebigbilder_1905,_Serie_652._Oberon,_Oper_von_C.M._von_Weber_-_1_Akt_I._Scene_6.jpg.

20. Urban advertising pillars (Litfaßsäulen) were introduced by the entrepreneur Ernst Litfaß in 1855. Intended as a way of organizing and integrating advertising into the built urban landscape, Litfaßsäulen were often multifunctional (some, famously, contained pissoirs) and sites of spectacle as well as spectatorship.

21. See Lamberty, Reklame in Deutschland, on the professionalization of advertising designers during this period. Many contributors to both posters and poster stamps were actually academically trained artists, such as Lucian Bernhard, Peter Behrens, Fritz Ehmcke, Julius Gipkens, Thomas Theodor Heine, Ludwig Hohlwein, Änne Koken, Alfons Maria Mucha, Max Liebermann, Louis Oppenheim, Sigmund von Suchodolski, and Franz von Stuck.

22. Bernhard Denscher, Österreichische Plakatkunst 1898–1938 (Vienna: Christian Brandstätter, 1992), 8–9.

23. Walter von zur Westen, Reklamekunst, Sammlung Illustrierter Monographien 13 (Bielefeld and Leipzig: Velhagen & Klasing, 1903), 11.

24. Pierre Bourdieu, “The Field of Cultural Production, or: The Economic World Reversed,” in The Field of Cultural Production: Essays on Art and Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993) 29–73.

25. Walter Benjamin, “Ausstellungswesen, Reklame, Grandville,” in Gesammelte Schriften, vol. 6 (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1989), 232–268. [Author’s translation.]

26. Rudolf Seÿffert, Werbelehre; Theorie und Praxis der Werbung (Stuttgart: Poeschel, 1966), 775–777.

27. The designer of the stamp in the center was again Johann Peter Werth (“JPW”) and this stamp, like Figure 2 above, also has a detachable coupon redeemable for cash.

28. Ludwig Hohlwein, “Ludwig Hohlwein und Julius Klinger über die Reklamemarke,” Leipziger Illustrirte Zeitung 143, no. 2 (1914): 11. The last adjective is “prickelnd” in German, meaning “tingling” or “prickling” or “sparkling” (in the sense of champagne bubbles). [Author’s translation.]

29. Many poster stamps were originally tucked, as a free bonus, into the paper packaging of purchases. Though technically one had to buy an item to get a stamp, these items, which one typically purchased individually at specialty retailers, included such necessities as kerosene and groceries. When collecting took off, retailers began selling envelopes with a number of stamps for a single mark, and collectors began writing to producers to request stamps. Though some merchants required a purchase and some publishers required coupons in exchange for poster stamps, the “cost” of the stamps was entirely at the whim of the producer and the retailer.

30. Both the desire of poster stamp designers, like poster designers, to align their works with “high art” and the growing acceptance and popularity of commercial art as art are evident in the use of artists’ initials on many stamps. Certainly, the influence of artistic high modernism is evident in many posters (and later, poster stamps), ranging from Art Nouveau’s two-dimensional ornamentation of surfaces and stylized nature—in response to industrialism—to the powerful geometry, simplicity, and craft ethos of the Werkbund and the Wiener Werkstätte.

31. “Tableau,” Art Terms, Tate, https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/t/tableau.

32. The year 1898 saw the appearance of three collectors’ albums: Walter Fiedler published the first catalog of exhibition stamps, Sammelbuch für Ausstellungsmarken. Wilhelm Mayer, in Gunzenhausen, and Z. Grunert, in Leipzig, published the first catalog with a price list for Gelegenheitsmarken. The third album was titled Illustriertes Sammelbuch für alle offiziellen Ausstellungsmarken: Erinnerungs- und Festmarken (Schmidt-Bachem, Beiträge, 191.) Heinz Schmidt-Bachem reports that numerous attempts to catalog 1900–1914 poster stamps failed or fell short in the face of churning production. In 1911, Karl Wilhelm Bührer founded the institute Die Brücke - Internationales Institut zur Organisation geistiger Arbeit, an organization devoted to the cataloging of all commercial printed material aside from books. Bührer was so distracted by his own poster stamp collecting, however, that he neglected the institute and it closed in 1913 (Schmidt-Bachem, Beiträge, 191–192).

33. The designer of the boy trumpeter stamp on the left was Otto Hofmann.

34. The designer of the youth’s face stamp is Guido Joseph Brunner; the designer of the heralds stamp is Franz Paul Glass.

35. Schmidt-Bachem, Beiträge, 193.

36. Dr. Hans Sachs was trained as a dentist but devoted his time to collecting posters and cultivating the Künstlerplakat. His collection numbered over 12,000 pieces, but it was confiscated by the Nazis in 1933. It has been partially recovered.

37. Sachs, Reklamemarkenaustellung, 254.

38. In another article, Sachs insists that he only collected poster stamps in order to obtain miniaturized versions of the posters he collected for illustrations in his card catalog. (Hans Sachs, “Nachwort,” Das Plakat, May 1913. 247–248). Given the ink Sachs devotes to Reklamemarken—their trading, collecting, and exhibition—this seems tongue-in-cheek.

39. See, for example, “Erste Siegelmarken-Ausstellung in Berlin,” Weltarchiv, August 31, 1913. Here there is a description of brisk trade between adults (die Großen) and boys and girls.

40. Walter von zur Westen, “Moderne Deutsche Reklame-Kleinkunst,” Reklamekunst, 1914, 146. [Author’s translation.]

41. General-Anzeiger der Münchner Neuesten Nachrichten, January 5, 1913, as quoted in “Marken-Geschichte,” Veikkos-Archiv, last updated November 30, 2017, https://www.veikkosarchiv.com/index.php/Marken-Geschichte.

42. Museums, exhibitions, monuments, and even the acquisition of colonies may all come under the heading of “public collections” and were characteristic of national and imperial self-definition in Western Europe, Great Britain, and the United States by the latter half of the nineteenth century. The “delayed” German Empire came late to national collecting but launched into these projects with a vengeance, hosting numerous agricultural, industrial, trade, and cultural exhibitions in the period 1880–1914; building a wide variety of monuments (see below); and acquiring colonies in its short and disastrous period of imperialist overreach, 1888–1918.

43. Somewhat ironically, the most vocal critics of poster stamp collecting were the collectors of event stamps (Gelegenheitsmarken) rather than traditional philatelists. The collectors’ periodical Blaues Blatt attacked poster stamp collecting as “senseless” (Schmidt-Bachem, Beiträge, 192.)

44. Author’s translation. “Für Liebhaber und Sammler wirken gute Reklamemarken geschmackbildend, schlechte soll man nur als Gebrauchsobjekt betrachten.” Archiv für Buchgewerbe 50, no. 11/12 (November 1, 1913): 265.

45. Contemporary observers note that there were many poor-quality stamps and series produced during the mania years (1913–1914) simply to pacify collectors. In a 1920 doctoral dissertation, Heinrich Meyerholz dismissed Reklamemarken as a fashion and a trend. “Much tasteless trash was thrown onto the market and the public was soon oversaturated” (“Viel geschmackloser Schund wurde auf den Markt geworfen. Schnell trat eine Übersättigung des Publikums ein.”) Heinrich Meyerholz, “Die Kunstdruck- und Luxuspapierwarenindustrie Deutschlands” (PhD dissertation, University of Marburg, 1919; published Leipzig-Borna: Robert Noske, 1920), https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc1.b2636970&view=1up&seq=69.

46. “File:Änne Koken Bahlsen 1913.jpg,” Wikimedia Commons, last revised November 1, 2008, https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bahlsen#/media/Datei:%C3%84nne_Koken_Bahlsen_1913.jpg. The poem reads: “Flour and eggs / milk from the cow / rich butter / and sugar, too. / Mix / and bake / pack hygienically / ready for transport / anywhere in the world / heavenly food / for little money.” The designer of the stamp series, issued in 1913, was Änne Koken.

47. The designer of this series, “JPW,” was Johann Peter Werth.

48. Around 1913, pranks were often referred to in German as “stupid boys’ tricks” (dumme Jungen Streiche), and the genre became popular in children’s literature after the 1865 publication of Wilhelm Busch’s Max and Moritz: A Boy’s Story in Seven Pranks. This darkly humorous illustrated classic provided the inspiration for the US comic strip The Katzenjammer Kids, which debuted in 1897.

49. Weltarchiv, Nr. 11, 1913, as quoted in “Marken-Geschichte,” Veikkos-Archiv, last updated November 30, 2017, https://www.veikkos-archiv.com/index.php/Marken-Geschichte. In an important discussion in Leipzig’s Illustrierte Zeitung in 1914, Adolf Behne agrees that adults support poster stamp collecting because of its educational value, since “these days, most fathers are engaged with the art in their children’s lives and use every opportunity to recommend to youth good things for their daily use.” But he argues, as well, that the stamp series with the blatantly “educational” content often fail as advertising, since the advertising message is obscured by the collectible image. Adolf Behne, Leipziger Illustrirte Zeitung, July 9, 1914, as quoted in “Marken-Geschichte,” Veikkos-Archiv, last updated November 30, 2017, https://www.veikkos-archiv.com/index.php/Marken-Geschichte.

50. Susan Stewart, On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection” (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1993), xii.

51. Stewart, On Longing, 54.

52. Adolf Saager argues that poster stamp collecting is clearly more sophisticated than postage stamp collecting, since good sense and aesthetic taste are required to assemble a collection (Saager, Sammeln von Propagandamarken, 26). Whereas postage stamps only teach about the postal system and geography, poster stamps derive from “every area of knowledge and activity . . . they contain cultural-historical material that is able more and more to provide a comprehensive image of human activity” (ibid., 28). [Author’s translation.] See discussion above of educational benefits of the poster stamp. In the conclusion to his article, Saager predicts that poster stamp collecting will replace the collecting of postage stamps.

53. Author’s collection. The poster stamp advertising Penkala pens was added by the original owner.

54. For further information on the Kaffee Hag Coats-of-Arms (“Ortswappen”) series see: https://www.heraldry-wiki.com/heraldrywiki/wiki/Kaffee_Hag_albums_:_Deutsche_Ortswappen.

55. Citing an article in the 1913 periodical Organisation, Christiane Lamberty gives the cost of producing 1000 Reklamemarken in 1913 as 12 marks. (Lamberty, Reklame in Deutschland, 176). According to Adolf Saager, some producers defrayed costs of poster stamp production by selling a portion of newly minted stamps directly to dealers. Five to six million stamps were produced for the Munich Trade Fair (Münchner Gewerbeschau) in 1912. The organizers of the event sold 250,000 pieces to dealers, which completely covered the costs of production. (Saager, Sammeln von Propagandamarken, 25.)

56. Among the important identity shifts of the day were the ongoing demographic movement from rural to urban, changing gender roles and the advancement of bourgeois women’s education and professionalization, and the slow, contested shift from a regional to a national, Imperial German identity (see the discussion of integral nationalism, below).

57. Stewart, On Longing, 49.

58. Although the purchasing of food and household supplies was officially the decision of the housewife and not the domestic servant, it was assumed that servants influenced product choices, as these examples demonstrate. Studies of female domestic servants in Germany (Dienstmädchen) also make it clear that shopping was an area of responsibility with a relatively large degree of freedom. Servants were allowed to leave the house and have social contact, plus they even profited occasionally from the Marktgroschen skimmed off the top of the shopping budget, through clever negotiations at the market. Karin Walser, Dienstmädchen: Frauenarbeit und Weiblichkeitsbilder um 1900 (Frankfurt: Neue Kritik, 1986), 96.

59. The distributor of this stamp, the Neue Gesellschaft zur Verteilung von Lebensbedürfnissen mbH (New Society for the Distribution of Life’s Necessities), founded in 1856 in Hamburg, was a consumer cooperative, one of many established in the mid-nineteenth century, in part in opposition to the rise of market competition in the pricing of proliferating consumer goods. Ironically, German Konsumgesellschaften at the turn of the century actively opposed advertising as a practice that added cost to “life’s necessities,” as they are termed in this advertisement. This poster stamp advertises the generic product “Extra Prima Margarine,” declaring it simply to be “the best.” But the central message of the stamp is clearly the advertising of the buying club itself, the “New Society” which is, in fact, the very familiar “society” of three friendly women sharing product tips.

60. The designer of the stamps and of the Syndetikon building set was August Hajduk.

61. Michael Weisser, Die Frau in der Reklame: Bild- und Textdokumente aus den Jahren 18271930 (Münster: F. Coppenrath, 1981), 65–66. In real numbers, domestic servants were increasingly concentrated in large urban areas. In Berlin, for example, the number of Dienstmädchen increased from approximately 62,000 in 1880 to 85,000 in 1890. There were 126,000 in 1900 and 148,000 in 1904. After 1905, numbers declined in Berlin as everywhere. (Walser, Dienstmädchen, 18.)

62. Karin Orth, Nur Weiblichen Besuch: Dienstbotinnen in Berlin 18901914, Campus Forschung, Bd. 708 (Frankfurt a.M.: Campus, 1993). 45–46.

63. See Dorothee Wierling, Mädchen für Alles: Arbeitsalltag und Lebensgeschichte städtischer Dienstmädchen um die Jahrhundertwende (Berlin: Verlag J. H. W. Dietz, 1987); Walser, Dienstmädchen; and Orth, Nur weiblichen Besuch.

64. Dorothee Wierling does not characterize the relationship between servant and mistress as completely negative, but she does emphasize the inherent tension in the relationship. (Wierling, Mädchen für Alles, 127–139.)

65. Walser, Dienstmädchen, 91.

66. The idea that early twentieth-century consumer advertising sold products to women by representing the products as replacements for domestic servants has been advanced by a number of advertising historians. But whereas the focus is generally on the 1920s–1930s, I contend that the replacement fiction already flourished in the German context already before World War I.

67. The designer of the Glanziol stamp was J. P. Wirtz.

68. The designer of the stamp was J. P. Wirtz.

69. The Heinzelmännchen legend first appeared in August Kopisch’s 1836 poem “Die Heinzelmännchen zu Köln.” According to the legend, the Heinzelmännchen performed the work of the lazy craftsmen and other workers of Cologne at night, while they slept. One night, a tailor’s wife attempted to identify the workers by scattering peas on the floor of the workshop to trip them. In anger, the Heinzelmännchen left town and the citizens of Cologne were required from then on to do their own work.

70. The agents of integral nationalism were not only the elites (the aristocracy and the Großkapitalisten) and the military, but the monied middle classes, which supported and contributed significantly to the various representations of Imperial power—and to colonialism. It is precisely this latter class that generated advertising as well.

71. German “progressiv” nationalism of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, which focussed above all on the forming of a German nation, found its cultural expression in writing, speech, art, and music that sought to shape and articulate a common German identity. Progressive nationalists extolled various regional characters, mythical or historical heroes, and cultural practices as evidence of commonly held values and practices that proved the desirability and inevitability of a German nation. Of course, once founded, a nation is not done being formed, and the process of legitimation continues, including the shaping of a national historical and mythological past, so it is perhaps not surprising to see so many iconic figures associated with progressive nationalism still in wide circulation forty years after national unification. And of course, these characters, heroes, and practices were at the core of a humanistic education for German bourgeois youth.

72. For further information on the poster stamps of the Beyer Chemical Company, see: https://www.veikkos-archiv.com/index.php?title=Tintenfabrik_Eduard_Beyer.

73. Benedict R. Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 2016).

74. A syntagmatic relationship involves a sequence of signs that together create meaning. A paradigmatic relationship involves signs that can replace each other, usually changing the meaning with the substitution.” Steven Bradley, “Syntagms and Paradigms—Telling a Story with Signs,” April 19, 2016, Vanseo Design, https://vanseodesign.com/web-design/syntagms-paradigms/.

75. For discussions of the significance of monument building in the formation of German identity in the Wilhelmine era, see Thomas Nipperdey, “Nationalidee und Nationaldenkmal in Deutschland im 19. Jahrhundert,” in Gesellschaft, Kultur, Theorie: Gesammelte Aufsätze zur neueren Geschichte (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1976), 133–173; Rudy Koshar, Germany’s Transient Pasts; Preservation and National Memory in the Twentieth Century (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998); George L. Mosse, The Nationalization of the Masses; Political Symbolism and Mass Movements in Germany from the Napoleonic Wars through the Third Reich (New York: H. Fertig, 1975).

76. These organizations included, primarily, the gymnastic clubs (Turnvereine) and shooting societies (Schützengesellschaften) of the monied middle classes.

77. Lutz Tittel, “Monumentaldenkmäler von 1871 bis 1918 in Deutschland: Ein Beitrag zum Thema Denkmal und Landschaft,” in Kunstverwaltung, Bau- und Denkmal-Politik im Kaiserreich, ed. Ekkehard Mai and Stephan Waetzoldt (Berlin: Mann, 1981), 215–275.

78. Koshar, Germany’s Transient Pasts.

79. Nipperdey, “Nationalidee und Nationdenkmal,” 164.

80. Nipperdey, “Nationalidee und Nationdenkmal,” 166.

81. Mosse, Nationalization of the Masses, 65.

82. It is useful to remember that frames always speak to what they contain. They are usually literally foregrounded; the viewer has to “pass through” the frame before “entering” the image.

83. The designer of the stamp was J. P. Wirtz.

84. Die Marke um 1900 - Verschlußmarken ran from September 22 through October 19, 1997.

85. The 2014–2015 exhibition, Sammelwut und Bilderflut: Werbegeschichte im Kleinformat, was derived from the Peter-Hannes Lehmann collection of many thousands of stamps. See: https://www.jmberlinde/ausstellung-reklamemarken; https://www.panzlauprugger.de/kreation/projekt/detail/sammelwut-und-bilderflut/.

Additional Information

ISSN
2475-1790
Launched on MUSE
2022-07-23
Open Access
No
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