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Robert Burton Printers – Movie Posters

By on December 12, 2012

I often hear people say “They just don’t make Movie Posters like they used to”. Robert Burton Printers, based in Sydney, printed Australian movie posters from the late 1950s through to the mid 1980s and their style was certainly unique. Although the images were sometimes crude and simplistic, the unique hand litho artwork captured the charm of the films of the era.

Printed by Robert BurtonI interviewed an ex employee of Robert Burton Printers who worked for them during the 60s and 70s. He is one of the very few people who is able to provide definitive information about the hand litho printing process that was used and also some background on the artists.

Robert “Bob” Burton, the owner of Robert Burton Printers was able to corner the market for movie posters for many years despite the fact that the equipment that he used was quite dated.

He used a number of different machines:

  • George Mann Offset Printer
  • Quad Crown Printer
  • Solna Printer (used to print lobby cards)

Australian Daybills were generally printed “3 up” from one sheet of MG litho paper ie 3 daybills per sheet. The paper was shiny on one side and rough on the other. The image was printed on the rough side. The theory was that the shiny side would be easier to glue to billboards, etc.

Daybills could be produced in any quantity ranging from 250 – 2000. One sheets were printed in much smaller quantities from as few as 50 – 500 copies.

Printed by Robert BurtonThe hand litho process is quite labour intensive. Artwork was often taken from US posters, pressbooks and stills. A large glass table was used with a light underneath. A rough outline of the original artwork would be traced in reverse onto a sheet using a transfer pen. The outline was then transferred onto a zinc plate.

Colour was then added by the artist (see my article about the artists for Robert Burton posters). For each colour, a separate plate had to be used. The artist would apply the colour to fill the image and text using their fingers, cloths and a greasy crayon.  A gum arabic solution would be added followed by water and oil and the plates would be ready for printing.

If four colours were used, the paper would be passed through the printer four times for each separate plate, often hand fed. The artists were quite skillful in being able to determine the correct amount of paint/ink to be applied so that all four plates would produce an effective image.

It was usual for three or four plates to be used to reduce costs but occasionally a poster would be produced with five or even six colours.

Soon after the poster was printed, the plates were cleaned with a solvent so that they could be reused for other posters. If more posters were needed at a later date they had to be produced separately starting from scratch.

When the poster was finally printed, it would be guillotined if necessary and then folded for distribution. Rita Schofield had the task of folding daybills into bundles of 25. One sheets were hand folded separately. The bundles would then be tied with rope and sent to the distributor.

I think it is fair to say that Robert Burton Printers never intended to produce works of art. Indeed some of the art on posters was very basic and simplistic but there are some that are quite exceptional. The artists were restricted by deadlines and cost contstraints and their main focus was to produce a striking image that would appeal to the public. They were expected to complete that artwork on the plates in less than a day.

Australian Lobby Cards

Australian Lobby CardLobby Cards were produced in Australia for many films – both international and local release. Robert Burton Printers produced these “2up” on a Solna printer usually with photographic images and art and text on the border. They were printed in sets of 8 generally without a title card and the images and styles were usually quite different to American Lobby Cards.

Note that printer details were not usually included on Australian lobby Cards. This has often confused collectors and dealers who have referred to Australian lobby cards as “International release” lobby cards or even thinking that they might be US lobby cards. The best way to determine that they were printed in Australia is to check the censorship rating. Some, but not all, Australian lobby cards also have the distribution company details.

Robert Burton Printers also printed circus and other posters in various sizes up to 24 sheet but the movie posters that they printed usually consisted of Daybills, one sheets and 3 sheets which were usually printed in 3 sections.

Many collectors lament that the modern movie posters lack imagination and charm. The Robert Burton posters of the 1960s and 70s are a unique part of Australian Cinema history.

© John Reid 2012

About John Reid

6 Comments

  1. Wolf

    December 31, 2012 at 6:40 am

    I’ve got a ‘Wizard of Oz’ poster on my hands.
    It got printed in Sydney by Robert Burton.
    The colours are black and some sort of orange.
    The size is about 30″ by 13″.
    Does anybody know a little bit more about it?

    • John Reid

      December 31, 2012 at 6:46 am

      There have been a number of reissues for Wizard of Oz. It sounds like the one you have is a 1960s reissue.
      Regards
      John

  2. Fran

    November 23, 2013 at 9:38 pm

    As ever, highly insightful as well as helpful posting on Robert Burton
    Printers Movie Posters and Australian DaybillsOzeFilm..

    With thanks!

  3. Pete

    February 9, 2014 at 4:41 pm

    I just found an Alien poster from these guys in my collection. The artwork looks hand drawn. Would love to know more about it.

  4. David Williams

    February 28, 2014 at 11:50 pm

    I have Robert Burton movie posters in my memorabilia collection , ten commandments, star trek, war of the worlds etc.in very good condition., I am looking at the value for insurance/selling purposes. Any advice?

  5. Ross M

    April 21, 2016 at 4:47 pm

    Hi

    Chasing information on an R. Burton Easy rider day bill I have.

    Can you help in any details?

    Cheers

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