After stating my piece, I contacted Harold Ackerman, the man who runs the Rotopex, the site for Rotograph collectors. He kindly obliged to educate via this mini-interview.
Harold, tell us about the Rotograph company and how you knew what series the card I found was from.
Rotograph was postcard publisher in business from 1904-1911. They printed their cards in several series identified by a number only or by a letter and a number. Each series tends to be of the same type: black and white lithographs (made on a printing press) or colored lithographs or photo copies on glossy or semi glossy paper or (cyan) blue cards on glossy or flat paper, etc. Most of these are views, but they also printed ships, presidents, actors, authors, holiday greetings, and other “special” occasion cards such as the St. Louis Exposition group or the San Francisco fire group or the Elks celebration group. They also printed repros of museum art cards. Of course there are so many cards of so many types that their plan falls apart here or there (it seems at this time).
But in the case of the card you found, it is clearly marked XS 339, as are the other novelty cards in that group. I have found only a few of them to date, but see the notes under “XS” on the site. They seem to relate (loosely) to Christmas (and now we know New Year’s).
So, some of the letter-prefixes refer to printing processes, some to themes (J = Japan topics; Z = Zoological Society). Others are confusing or unknown at present. Often I get queries from folks like you who have found mistakes or omissions on Rotopex and weigh in loudly with their two cents, and so everything grows and improves.
When and how did you begin collecting Rotographs?
At first I collected a few “view cards” (not necessarily Rotographs), of interesting places including some local (northeast PA) sights. One type was Maximum cards – postcards with an image of, say, a nurse and a matching commemorative stamp with the same image. This is a specialty area. Then I became interested in what are called Poster cards, a three by five equivalent of the movie or concert posters some people collect. As a general rule, I liked good artistic images which were pleasant to look at.
Then at a postcard show — you need to attend one and do an article on it. Do you live near York, PA; New York, NY; Syracuse, NY; or Montreal, CA? The massive amount of ephemera there and the great numbers of collectors shoulder-to-shoulder at one of these shows is amazing! People shouting to a vendor, “Got any Gassaway? How about train depots?” “Ministerial documents?” “Motels?” “Fold outs?” “Hold-to-lights?” “Bears?” “Monmouth County, NJ?” etc. Anyway, as I was saying, at a postcard show, I came upon a Rotograph card depicting the courthouse in our county seat.
Now this building ranks among the ugliest ever made out of a pile of bricks, but the card illustrating it is a delicate masterpiece, a miniature gem. I found that more than one of Roto’s lines of cards is like this, especially the ‘A,’ the ‘G,’ the ‘J,’ and the ‘M’ series. Especially if you find one carefully preserved, you can appreciate the camera and printing art of the day. I have other postcard interests, for sure; but once I saw a few like the Columbia Co., PA, courthouse, I was devoted to collecting Rotographs.
There is, of course a limit, unless one is independently wealthy. I own approximately 1200 Rotos, and a huge number of other cards, but the expense begins to accumulate. I collected online for a time, hoping to spend less, but at last the best way to enjoy the cards without going broke was to establish a website where I and others could post a cumulative list of our holdings with a brief description of each card. Because Rotograph used letter prefixes and numbering for many of their cards (hence the alphabet organization at the top of the main page of the website), it’s not so hard to do this as one might think.
At the same time, we have discovered discrepancies in the numbering of some of the series, and since we do not all have all of the series printed, or do not yet know that we do, it will be some time before we have a comprehensive list.
I’ve been collecting since about 1997; that’s a quick answer.
Who wants a quick answer, when they can learn all that?! Thanks, Harold!