When The Jazz Singer was released to theaters in 1927, the world of motion pictures, as we’ve come to know it, began. From that date through the mid-1980s, nothing was more popular across this nation than the movies. From Saturday morning kids’ runs of cartoons and sci-fi low-budget films (The Brain That Wouldn’t Die) to such classics as Gone with the Wind, Citizen Kane and The Wizard of Oz, Americans were passionate about the movies.
Although legions of parents bemoaned the fact that their offspring often refused to “pick up a book,” competition was fierce for the section of the local newspaper where advertisements promoting movies coming to town appeared. The next Hollywood hit to appear at the Roxy (Paramount, Orpheum, etc.) on Main Street seemed more important than the outbreak of international flood or famine.
Naturally, the film studios - great and small - competed to produce the most compelling ads designed to appear in the papers. And this was true whether the “papers” were big city rags like the NY Times, the Chicago Tribune or LA Times, or the somewhat smaller Big Bend Sentinel, the Nome Nugget or the Carmel Pine Cone.
Although all the film studios - MGM, 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros., Paramount, RKO, Universal, etc. - were fiercely competitive with one another, surprisingly, they all seemed to use the same “plate maker” to create the wooden blocks and metal plates necessary for presses across the Country to print the newspaper ads announcing the following week’s attractions. Designed by the art departments in Hollywood, artwork was sent to Omaha, Nebraska where KB Typesetting expertly applied age-old techniques necessary to produce, in reverse, metal images of the legendary stars and magical imagery that said to the reader” You MUST see this movie!”
From the heavy blocks and plates, pressed paper “mats” were made to be sent across the country by the thousands. In various sizes, ads for Midnight Cowboy, Jaws and The Mummy would be rushed to newspapers coast to coast. Because the plates and blocks were reasonably heavy and very costly to make, these “masters” stayed with KB. Some would think that the materials in some way could be re-used for cost savings, but KB thought differently; and so, these artifacts from the world of letterpress printing were put in storage.
More than two decades ago, two friends from Omaha stumbled across the archive. KB Typesetting had been closed for years, it ’s demise brought on by the digital age. With no set plans as to what they could do with the collection, these friends found the blocks, plates and assorted ephemera fascinating and, no doubt, historic, and so they acquired it. All 60,000 items!
As luck would have it, not long after the acquisition, the new owners of the collection were watching public television’s Antiques Roadshow when movie expert/film historian Rudy Franchi appeared. The two friends then reached out to Rudy, describing their collection. In the Appraisal he later produced, Mr. Franchi refers to having seen printing blocks like those in the collection before. They were in the hands of collectors who had, at most, a few examples each. Theirs were nothing like the 60,000 artifacts that he was now being confronted with and which the historian eventually identified as a “source collection.” Tracing the history of movies in America, he referred to the KB Typesetting Collection as having no equal, of being essentially priceless, and a one-of-a-kind collection.
Classic films, blockbusters, horror and monster movies, film noire, animation, musicals... the Archive has the masters that produced the advertisements for them all. And with no parts to deteriorate, these blocks and plates produce ads that are just as alive today as they were over the decades when they thrilled and titillated young and old. Indeed, the friends purchased a small printing press where these masters have been used to crank out “re-strikes,” the paper prints that clearly visualize what the excitement was all about.
The new owner of the Archive will have a museum collection. Whether it will be used to reproduce images from the past is to be seen. But what is certain is that this is a thrilling collection like no other. It is the essence of 20th century culture. It is great. With an auction date for the Archive to be sold as single lot still to be announced, interested parties are urged to contact Guernsey’s.
A sneak preview of the items being offered in this collection:
For half a century, Rudy Franchi has been immersed in the world of Motion Picture collectibles, working as a dealer, historian, consultant and appraiser. He was the owner of The Nostalgia Factory from 1969 to 2005, authored Miller’s Movie Collectibles (Phaidon Press, 2000) and oversaw the production of major catalogued auctions of movie posters and memorabilia at Christie’s, Heritage and Skinner auction houses. For the Show's first seventeen years, Mr. Franchi was the on-air appraiser of movie collectibles for public television’s Antiques Roadshow where he conducted more than one hundred appraisals. He has appraised for the Library of Congress, the Cooper Hewitt (the design branch of the Smithsonian Museum), the Los Angeles County Museum, the Boston Public Library and many other fine institutions.
To learn more about the history of this one-of-a-kind collection. Please visit Hollywood Movie Legends' website: www.hollywoodmovielegends.com
Guernsey's welcomes inquiries from the media regarding both past and upcoming events. PDF copies of the press release and links to media coverage of our Bringing Movies to Mainstreet Collection are available below: