Dr. Edel Sheridan-Quantz

Freelance geography translator, researcher and author, Hannover, Germany.
In the second half of the 19th century, printing was an important sector in the North German city of Hannover. The city was the world leader in the industrial production of account books; the product itself had been invented there. It is all the more surprising that the fourth-largest printing works in the city in the 1920s should have been almost entirely forgotten by the early 21st century. As a Jewish-owned firm, the family business of A. Molling & Comp. had been forced to sell during the Nazi dictatorship and its owners emigrated in the late 1930s.
In the absence of the more obvious sources such as company records, much of the history of the firm could only be traced through its products. Unusually for Hannover, as well as printing colour advertising and packaging for many well-known companies, Molling had specialised in children’s picture books, which were marketed worldwide. Editions of their books were sold as far afield as Indonesia, Estonia, South America and the USA. This article presents a brief account of the firm, highlighting the analysis of surviving products to trace the ramifications of Molling’s international contacts, including work for world-famous companies such as Raphael Tuck of London. The study is of interest to historical geographers, economic and urban historians and book historians. The research fills a gap not only in the specific, local historical geography of Hannover, but also in our knowledge of aspects of globalisation in the early twentieth century.

Introduction – gaps and questions

A particular challenge to the urban historical geographer is presented by the gaps in urban fabric and urban memory. Many elements of urban landscapes are short-lived, and repeated redevelopment of sites has been the norm since the very first urban settlements. However, when even the memory of the past has been obliterated and the more obvious sources are not adequate, new approaches are necessary. The case of the printer/publisher A. Molling & Comp. of Hannover, Germany, is a micro-study of a single company that ties in exemplarily with the development of urban industrial districts, innovations and changes in printing in Germany, Europe and globally and the development of international business networks.

The second half of the nineteenth century was a period of growth and industrial development for Hannover, like many cities in Germany. The city gained tremendously in centrality when it was connected to the railway in 1842. The railway not only played an important role in the eastward shift of the city’s commercial centre out of the historic urban core towards the new railway station (Sheridan-Quantz 1997), but also provided a focus for industrial development. Hannover was the midpoint of what was initially a two-day rail journey on the main east-west line from Berlin to the Rhineland, and the important north-west route from Hamburg to Munich also passed through the city. This advantage was clearly perceived and frequently cited by contemporaries. A typical example is the schematic “map” published in a municipal brochure promoting the city, which shows travel times (Fig. 1) to destinations such as London, Stockholm, Paris and Vienna and exhorts the reader to “visit Hannover at all seasons”.

Fig. 1 Schematic portrayal of Hannover’s centrality, Fremdenverkehrs- und Ausstellungsamt der Stadt Hannover [1931]

Fig. 1 Schematic portrayal of Hannover’s centrality, Fremdenverkehrs- und Ausstellungsamt der Stadt Hannover [1931]

By the 1870s Hannover was one of 12 urban settlements in the German Reich classified statistically as a Großstadt or city, i.e. with a population of 100,000 or more. The city’s population grew from 25,916 in 1842, to 122,843 in 1880 and 399,100 in 1920 (Statistisches Jahrbuch für das Deutsche Reich 1880, p. 7 & 1925, p. 4; Statistisches Jahrbuch der Stadt Hannover 1914, pp. 1 & 2; Asche 1926).

Fig. 2 Map of Hannover (detail) from Asche [1924]:2. The partially visible blue circles show distance from the central railway station (south-east of this extract) in kilometres. Molling's works (d3) was just over 2km from the station.

Fig. 2 Map of Hannover (detail) from Asche [1924]:2. The partially visible blue circles show distance from the central railway station (south-east of this extract) in kilometres. Molling's works (d3) was just over 2km from the station.

Within the urban area, industrial production was concentrated in two major locations: in Linden immediately west of Hannover, which was incorporated into the city in 1920, and in the suburbs that emerged to the north of the historic city centre, west and east of the main north-south railway line. Hannover’s best-known firms include Hanomag (machinery, locomotives, motor cars), Continental (rubber products), Pelikan (inks and pens), Sprengel (chocolate) and Bahlsen (biscuits). Hannover was also the worldwide centre for the industrial production of printed account books. This product was invented in Hannover in the 1850s by the printing firm König & Ebhardt, which became the world leader in the sector and employed more than 1,000 workers in the 1920s.

Asche’s Heimat-Atlas (Home Atlas), which was used in Hannover schools from 1907 until the late 1930s to teach pupils about the history and development of the city, maps “significant industrial enterprises”. Four companies are listed in the category “account book factories and fine art works” – the first being König & Ebhardt and the third A. Molling & Comp. (d1 and d3 respectively in Fig. 2). But unlike most of the enterprises listed in the atlas, there is no reference to Molling in any recent standard publications on the historical development of the city. However, the company is mentioned in the literature on one of Hannover’s most famous twentieth century citizens, the Dadaist artist Kurt Schwitters (1887-1948). Schwitters experimented with printing techniques to create abstract lithographs in Molling’s works. He also collected misprints in the basement of the works, using them to create artwork, and his innovative fairy tales Die Märchen vom Paradies (Paradise Fairy Tales) were printed by Molling (Umland & Sudhalter 2008, pp. 297-298). But in spite of this significant connection, no research had ever been carried out on the printer who thus facilitated the work of a most unconventional artist. Nothing was known about the size, scope or nature of their business or its place in the industrial geography of Hannover or wider networks. The original works buildings were destroyed by Allied bombs in 1943, and the site has twice been completely redeveloped since then.

Filling the gaps I – conventional sources

The more obvious and conventional sources for urban historical geography research in Germany are similar to those available in Irish cities: maps (printed and manuscript), city directories, statistical yearbooks, postcards and photographs, commercial and industrial directories and contemporary publications. These sources made it possible to trace the physical expansion of A. Molling & Comp. and to estimate its relative significance within the printing sector in Hannover.

A lively family history (Krakauer 1995) provides some background information on the firm’s founder, Adolf Molling (1830-1894) – but his descendants’ lack of knowledge about his businesses, and in particular about the printing works, mirrored the absence of information in published studies of Hannover. They were merely aware of the general fact that the company had specialised in picture books.

Adolf Molling was an active member of the Jewish community in Hannover and had a successful career as a banker; the bank he founded in 1856 specialised in lotteries. A file in the Hannover city archives relating to the street on which the printing works was located, Schneiderberg, reveals that he purchased the site on which the works was later built in 1877 (Stadtarchiv Hannover, Wegeakte 3212). The printing business was established in 1887, operating from rented premises until the new building was completed in 1890 or 1891 (Fig. 3). The site was wisely chosen, conveniently close to the railway (goods) station Möhringsberg (marked “VIII” in the north-east corner of the map in Fig. 2).

From the start the company specialised in colour printing, using the then revolutionary technique of chromolithography (colour lithography). At the time, colour printing was on the threshold of an unprecedented boom. The Nuremberg printer Ernest Nister, soon to be known worldwide, set up in business in 1877 and opened a London office in 1888. German immigrant Raphael Tuck was already selling colour picture books from London and added the new medium of the postcard to his range in the early 1890s. He was soon marketing his products worldwide. They were designed in England but printed in Germany, at least until 1915. In Germany the number of printing works was growing rapidly, and the sector was in transition from a craft to an industry.