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The companies that actually handled the making of the plates that the printer used to print the posters were known as lithographers. For each size of poster in a movie's ad campaign, the movie studio art departments would ship the original artwork to the lithographers. These were known as "reflective" or "hard" art, which meant the original piece of artwork, and a "mechanical" art, which showed the positioning of titles and credit information.

How the Plates Were Made

The early lithographers used huge limestone slabs, known as Stone Lithography. Later, zinc was used for the plates until the offset press became the primary printing method.

Movie companies were very strict about the size and placement of stars' names in relation to the film's title. The lithographers were not allowed to make any changes without checking with the movie studios first.

When the lithographers finished making the plates, they were either sent to printers OR sometimes the lithographer also had the ability to do the printing as well. They were then sent to studio exchanges, independent poster exchanges, or later National Screen Service.

Larger sized posters, such as three sheets, six sheets, and twenty four sheets were sent directly to the "posting companies" who placed them on billboards.

Keeping Track of the Plates

Early posters were handled a lot different before National Screen Service took control.

Before NSS, the majority of lithographers also did the printing, so quite often plates numbers (their reference numbers) weren't put on the posters because it was all handled in-house. Each lithographer had their own method of keeping track of the plates. It was very common for the studio to need more posters for a campaign and ask for more to be printed, so the lithographer would have to keep a master plate.

For larger lithographers, they would put a litho number on the plate so they could easily find the plate at a later date. It was very common for studios to need more of a certain poster. The litho numbers were a type of reference of filing number that helped them locate the correct plate.

These plate numbers can be very important in helping us date certain posters.


A number of lithography houses lent their expertise and talent to the development and growth of the movie poster in all of its sizes and forms. Some of the lithographers that helped with development were: Donaldson Print Company who printed the American Entertainment Company stock poster of 1900, Miner Litho Company who did printing jobs for United Artists. Hennegan Show Print in Cincinnati was the lithography house used by Thomas Edison for his first programs. Hennegan also printed posters for some films released by Triangle Studios. Triangle Studios also utilized the services of United States Printing and Lithograph Company, another New York company, for some of its posters. Edison later contracted with A. B. See Lithograph of Cleveland to handle the Motion Picture Patent Company's printing.

Other lithographers who contributed to movie poster printing included Greenwich Litho who produced posters for Mutual, the distributor of films for Komic, American Film Manufacturing Company, Majestic and Thanhouser. Acme Litho of New York handled the advertising for Pathe Studios, while another New York lithographer, J. H. Tooker, printed the posters for Vitagraph. Richey Litho Company, Otis Lithographic Company out of Cleveland, Ohio and H. C. Miner Company out of New York were 3 other major lithography companies.

By the 1930's, the big three were considered Joseph H. Tooker Litho Company of New York, Continental Litho Company and Morgan Litho Company.

Many posters will carry a tag line which gives the name of the lithographer. Newer materials, however, do not contain the name, but note that it is a "U.S. Litho."


For information such as history, logos, and plate numbers on individual lithographers, go to our Lithographers/Printers Log





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