The earliest known postmark on a postcard published by Adolfo Biener is 1915. Apart from the marking, Biener's early cards are almost indistinguishable in subject matter and printing style from those of Alberto Valdeveallano. Archaeological sites, earthquake ruins and portraits predominate.
Unlike Valdeavellano, whose only use of color was in solid or rainbow tones, Biener in the 1920s began publishing a line of postcards printed by a full color lithographic process. The differences can be noted in the middle example above, as well as in the examples below. These color cards have white borders, and later ones have deckle, or uneven, edges to their white borders.
Kodak began operating in Guatemala in August 1927 as Biener & Compañía Ltda.
Like his counterpart in Mexico, German-born Hugo Brehme, Adolfo Biener offered photo processing and photographic equipment and supplies from the United States and Germany. For some 35 years Biener also published tourist postcards, along with booklets containing 12 postcards that could be detached and mailed individually. (Click on the image at above right for the names of the known booklets.)
Biener's real photo postcards generally have numbers and titles that were written on the negatives, which then were printed with white borders on Agfa, Gevaert, Azo or Kodak papers, and signed either by backstamps or blind-embossing.
In the 1930s, a series of over 200 photo postcards published by Adolfo Biener & Cia promoted Guatemala's coffee industry. Some of the cards are marked with the initials A.R.W., implying that someone other than Biener took the photographs, with Biener having the rights to publish them. The titles on the front are in Spanish, while the promotional line on the back, "Guatemala produces the best coffee in the world," is printed in Spanish, English and German.
Adolfo Biener colorized his photographs into postcards that lie between two major periods in postcard making: black and white real photos and color chromes. Before color film was readily available in Guatemala, Biener's technique, exactly like that of Luis Márquez in Mexico, made his postcard images appear as if they had been shot in color. (Although KODACHROME slide film was introduced in 1935, AGFACOLOR print film in 1936, and KODACOLOR in 1942, Guatemalan and Mexican postcards do not reflect the common use of color film until the 1950s.)
The real photo postcard at top right was individually printed in a darkroom. The negative has been titled and numbered "Fabricando Tinajas. Guatemala. 40." Embossed in the lower right corner of the face of the postcard is "Adolfo Biener / Guatemala." The paper on which the negative was printed was manufactured by Azo from the mid-1920s until the 1940s.
To create the postcard at bottom right, an original black and white photo was colored by hand. The resulting "master" copy was then mass-produced mechanically by a chromo-lithographic process. The new title is "Indígena de Chinautla, quemando ollas." It is numbered "Foto-Biener Nr. 1162" and "Propiedad del Editor" is printed vertically down the center of the back. This example wasn't mailed, but others in the series were postmarked in the 1940s.
An original hand-tinted photograph was typically mounted on heavy textured paper that was embossed with Biener's name. A gold foil label like the one above was glued to the back. These two 5" x 7" hand-tinted photographs, mounted on thick paper that measures 9" x 12", were recently donated to Fototeca Guatemala. Click below to visit CIRMA's web site and explore its mission of preserving the region's photographic history and making it available to the public: CIRMA | Fototeca Guatemala