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Did you know... that we have much added information about NSS distribution?

Return to Did You Know Archive
Added: 07/30/2012

Last week we reported about the history of the National Screen Service (NSS). We received a great reply from a true poster expert (and long time historian of the hobby), Phil Ayling, who started collecting in the late 1950s, and he generously provided us with much greater detail about the NSS, so much so that we are sharing it as a brand new "Did You Know" (but this adds on to and corrects a few errors in last week's, so if you haven't read it, be sure to do so!

Here is his message:

"I hope you are doing well. Please share with your staff my appreciation for all the great work they do. I appreciate all the great info you are always sharing with the hobby and love seeing bits of the different pressbooks that you display.
This week's Club message # 602 has some interesting information about National Screen Service, though it isn't all completely consistent with information that I received around 1960 from Bob Smith at Theater Poster Service in Oklahoma City ( later Movie Poster Service of Canton).
Your message includes the following:

     "Also the major studios did not all join this NSS program right away in 1940, and it took a number of years until almost all one-sheet posters from major studios would have NSS numbers on them (Columbia was the last to join, and that was in the late 1950's)."

 It is my understanding that Columbia executed its NSS Agreement right after the end of the Second World War (1945) and that the printing changeover was completed sometime in 1946. This is in fact the reason why some Columbia posters in 1945 and 1946 were done as Stone Lithos, even though that was otherwise uncommon for them during the 1940's. I believe that Fox, not Columbia was the last Major Studio to go with NSS and that was still during the 1940's.
Many people are aware of the 1976 final decision with Exhibitors Poster Exchange (and others) vs. NSS which had started back in 1962. Though the courts decided otherwise, National Screen Service, by virtue of their "monopoly", was limiting, overcharging or refusing to sell posters to Independent Exchanges in an attempt to drive them out of business. The Independent Exchanges had some initial success with their case in the early 60's, but they eventually lost their court battle with NSS.
The roots of that court battle go back as early as 1942, when the Independent Exchanges first raised anti-trust issues about NSS. An earlier case called Lawler vs. National Screen which was settled in 1955, identifies the various Studios and when they contracted with NSS to produce and distribute posters. The Lawler case was filed by Independent Poster Exchange of Philadelphia and others.
The information regarding the various Studios and when they initiated their contracts with NSS comes from the Major Studio's own filings in the case. This court information seems consistent with what Bob Smith had told me about when Columbia and the other Studios joined with NSS. By the way, MGM is not missing from this list, but rather was represented in Court by its corporate sibling Loew's Theatres.
Below is  a short excerpt from Supreme Court Head Justice Earl Warren's decision on behalf of the majority of the other Justices which identifies the litigating parties.
Lawlor v. National Screen Service Corp. - 349 U.S. 322 (1955)

"Beginning with Paramount in 1939, however, the eight major producers granted to National Screen Service Corporation the exclusive right to manufacture and distribute various advertising materials, including standard accessories as well as specialty accessories and film trailers, for their motion pictures. RKO followed in 1940, Loew's in 1942, Universal in 1944, Columbia in 1945, United Artists and Warner Brothers in 1946, and 20th Century Fox in 1947.   Page 349 U. S. 324"

The full case, which runs more than 350 pages, lists and defines every advertising item covered by each Studio's contract with NSS; even posters as uncommon as 30 x 60's and 2 sheets, along with the prices being charged.
Winning the Lawlor case was probably the impetus for the even more aggressive action by NSS in the late 50 and early 60's. Most of the Independent Poster Exchanges went out of business by 1975. They either threw their posters away; sold their stock to other Exchanges or had transformed their businesses into memorabilia warehouses.

We give our deepest thanks to Phil Ayling, and have invited him to submit regular articles to this club, and he said he will (time permitting from his very busy schedule).

Here are links to related articles of interest:
Did you know... that many years ago, there were "movie poster exchanges" where lots of early collectors obtained their posters?
Did you know... what the "NSS numbers" in the bottom right corner of many U.S. movie posters from 1940 to 1990 or so mean?

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