Sep 222023

Among the many early postcards of Lake Chapala that were published in Mexico City are several labeled with a caption and stylized “MF” logo. These cards were produced and distributed by México Fotográfico, a Mexico City firm founded by Demetrio Sánchez Ortega. Sánchez Ortega himself took many of the photographs used for the company’s early cards and may have taken this view of the shoreline in Chapala with its distinctive “chalets”. The three most prominent buildings nestled beneath Cerro San Miguel in this image are (from left to right) Villa Elena, Villa Niza and Villa Josefina.

México Fotográfico. Date unknown. Chapala chalets.

México Fotográfico. c 1930. (l to r) Villa Elena, Villa Niza and Villa Josefina.

Demetrio Sánchez Ortega was born in Huatusco, Veracruz, on 22 December 1898. He moved to Mexico City in search of work as a young man and took a job selling paper before finding work as a traveling agent for the Cervecería Moctezuma brewery. This position involved traveling to bars (cantinas) all over the country, where he would perform simple sleight-of-hand and magic tricks, using cards, bottles and simple props, all designed to boost the sales of the brewery’s XX beer brand.

During these trips he must have come across (and maybe relied on) existing illustrated tourist guides, just as he surely encountered postcards published earlier by the likes of Hugo Brehme, Alfred Briquet, William Henry Jackson and Charles B. Waite.

The knowledge, experience and connections that he built up during his travels served him well when he decided to become a photographer. Introduced to photography by a friend, and almost entirely self-taught, Sánchez Ortega founded México Fotográfico, located on Calzada de Guadalupe in Villa de Guadalupe in Mexico City, in 1925, a year after Plutarco Elías Calles became president. Some sources suggest he had government support. México Fotográfico, like several other postcard publishers, became an important pillar of Mexico’s promotion of tourism.

México Fotográfico. ca 1940s. Chapala plaza and ex-presidencia.

México Fotográfico. c 1945 (?). Former Chapala plaza and Presidencia Municipal.

The view of downtown Chapala (above) shows the plaza in its pre-1950s location and the former Presidencia Municipal.

México Fotográfico was very much a family business. Sánchez Ortega and his wife, Tomasita Pedrero, had five children—Alfredo, Eustolia, Teresa, Demetrio and Alfonso—all of whom worked at one time or another in the laboratory and printing side of the business.

Later, the sons became traveling photographers. The company employed a number of “traveling agents”, responsible for photographing the places they visited while promoting the company, taking orders and arranging the distribution of postcards.

México Fotográfico. Date unknown. Chapala lakeshore.

México Fotográfico. c 1950. Chapala lakeshore.

This card (above), showing the lakeshore, trees and fishing nets, and believed to date from the 1950s, was a popular choice as a memento of a trip to Lake Chapala.

Over the years, México Fotográfico amassed an extensive and culturally-rich collection of landscapes and towns large and small all over the country. The collection includes more than 25 cards related to Chapala, and an additional 10 cards of Ocotlán. Several of the cards were reissued in a colorized edition with crenulated edges, and the firm published at least one multi-view card of Chapala, with small reproductions of six photographs in the series.

México Fotográfico. c. 1935? Main beach, Chapala.

México Fotográfico. c. 1935? Main beach, Chapala.

The company’s longevity (it was still producing cards into the 1970s) meant that its corpus of work provides a valuable visual record of the changes in towns, people and customs across post-revolutionary Mexico.

The Mexico City daily, Excelsior, had introduced a weekly supplement—Jueves en Excelsior—in 1923. Photographs published by México Fotográfico were used occasionally as illustrations in 1926. In 1927, the two companies began a much closer relationship, with México Fotográfico supplying many of the photos used in the supplement, perhaps in exchange for small display ads. The earliest such ad, in May 1927, had a portrait of Sánchez Ortega and the text “Fundador gerente de la negociación México Fotográfico, establecida en Guadalupe Hidalgo, México, DF”.

México Fotográfico was active from the 1920s into the 1970s. Its founder, the beer-parlor magician Demetrio Sánchez Ortega, master of postcard illustration, gradually lost his sight and had become completely blind by the time of his death on 27 January 1979.


My thanks to Manuel Ramirez for responding to a query posted on Facebook asking which postcard publisher utilized the MF logo.

This profile is based almost entirely on the extensive research by Mayra N. Uribe Eguiluz for her 2011 thesis on the company for a Masters degree in Art History at the National University (UNAM) and her related article in Alquimia, referenced below.

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Note: This post was first published 29 July 2019.


Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios are welcomed. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Sep 072023

Librería Ruhland & Ahlschier, publisher of the earliest illustrated postcards of Mexico, was a bookstore in Mexico City owned by Emil Ruhland and Max Ahlschier. The store advertised as “Libreria Internacional de Ruhland & Ahlschier” and was located at Coliseo Viejo #16. The company published at least seven different postcards of Lake Chapala, including views of the shoreline, boats, church, plaza (jardín) and a stagecoach. Two of the photographs were also published, at about the same time, by Juan Kaiser in Guadalajara. Kaiser and Ruhland were apparently close friends.

Ruhland & Ahlschier were commissioned to provide the first ever series of illustrated postcards for the Mexican Post Office in 1897. All previous postcards (which at that time were postage paid and purchased in a post office) had one side for correspondence and the other side pre-stamped and reserved for the address. As illustrated cards became popular in Europe and then in the U.S., the Mexican government saw the advantages of issuing its own illustrated cards, which required the purchaser to purchase postage stamps separately and affix them to the card prior to mailing.

These beautifully-produced and inexpensive souvenir postcards soon spurred a new market for collectors; many of the art cards, especially, were far too pretty to entrust to the vagaries of being sent through the mail without an envelope to protect them. In consequence, relatively few postally-used examples exist of many of the more attractive cards.

Demand for illustrated postcards grew rapidly. When the postal service relaxed its regulations, several private firms entered the market, each producing their own illustrated cards and selling them through hotels and a wide variety of stores and other outlets.

Illustrated cards still reserved, prior to 1906, one entire side for the address and stamp, meaning that any message or correspondence had to be written on the same side as the image. The first postcards to have divided backs, allowing for both correspondence and address on the reverse, thereby leaving the entire front side of the card for the image, were released in the UK (1902), then mainland Europe and Mexico (1905), and the U.S. (1907); they were legal to mail in the U.S. from 1 March 1907.

The two men who owned Ruhland & Ahlschier are something of an enigma. Emil Ruhland and Max Ahlschier were both born in Germany. Ruhland, born in about 1847, left Germany in about 1869 and was certainly established in Mexico City by 1883 when he is named as the editor of Deutsche Zeitung von Mexiko, a newspaper for the German-speaking community in the city. In 1888 he partnered with Isidoro Epstein to found (and co-edit) another German newspaper, Germania. Ruhland’s name continued to be associated with Deutsche Zeitung von Mexiko until at least 1897, by which time Max Ahlschier was his co-editor.

In 1888, Ruhland edited and published the Directorio General de la Ciudad de México, a forerunner of the telephone directory and later commonly referred to simply as Directorio Ruhland. City directories were especially important following the introduction of the telephone to Mexico in the 1880s. By 1893 telephone services existed in 14 cities even though intercity lines would not become available until much later.

The first edition of Directorio General de la Ciudad de México in 1888 cost $1.60 (paper cover) or $2.00 (cloth cover). New editions of the directory appeared more or less annually thereafter for more than twenty years. The 500-page 1892 version, “more complete than ever,” and costing $3.00 had four parts: the names of residents and industries and their place of residence; a listing of professional men, merchants and manufacturers; contact details for all government offices and heads of departments; and listings for railroads, the press, societies and ecclesiastical figures. Ruhland published a similar volume for Guadalajara in 1894.

Ruhland’s directories proved to be extremely popular and a commercial success. At the 1895 Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta, Georgia, Ruhland won an award for his guides to the Mexican republic. The following year, the 1896-1897 edition of his directories went on sale in Mexico City at his own store (Avenida Cinco de Mayo #4) and at the bookstore of F. P. Hoeck (San Francisco #12) as well as in New York (E. Steiger & Co., 25, Park Place) and London (Dulan & Co, 37, Soho Square).

Emil Ruhland’s association with Max Ahlschier seems to have begun in 1897. We know little about Ahlschier beyond the fact that he was born in Germany in 1867 and married Anna Vogt, also from Germany, in Mexico City on 4 June 1903. The Lutheran service was held at the Casino Alemán.

The two men opened their joint bookstore, Librería Ruhland & Ahlschier, and also began to publish pictorial postcards. Publicity for their store in 1897 shows that it sold, among other items, American books, literature, American and German paper, pencils, pens, inks, maps of Mexico and illustrated postal cards with views of Mexico.

The earliest Ruhland & Ahlschier cards were black and white or sepia collotypes; later cards were produced by chromolithography. Though their postcards do not identify the photographer, their stable of photographers included some important names in Mexican photography, including German-born Guillermo Kahlo (the father of Frida Kahlo), Guadalajara-native José María Lupercio, and American photographers Winfield Scott and Charles B. Waite.

Guillermo Kahlo (born Carl Wilhelm Kahlo) (1872-1941), who first arrived in Mexico City in 1891, at the age of 19, learned his craft in Mexico and was mainly known as a commercial photographer; his photos were first turned into postcards by “Ruhland & Ahlschier” in about 1903.

Charles Betts Waite (1861-1927) set up shop as a photographer in Mexico City in 1896 and amassed a vast collection of thousands of images taken all over Mexico. In 1908 he bought all the “photographic view negatives” of Winfield Scott, and advertised that he now had “the largest assortment of views of any one country in the world.”

Charles B. Waite. Beach, Chapala.

Winfield Scott. c 1897 (published c 1902). Beach, Chapala.

Winfield Scott was responsible for the photograph on this Ruhland & Ahlschier postcard (above), a photograph now in the collection of Mexico’s National Photo Archive. The photo shows fishermen sitting on a boat in front of the beach, with the Casa Capetillo in the middle background. To the right, only the first story of the Hotel Arzapalo has been built, dating this particular image (though not the card) to 1896-1897. The two-story hotel opened in 1898, and Winfield Scott was its manager when D. H Lawrence visited Chapala in 1923.

Charles B. Waite. Carden's garden, Chapala.

José María Lupercio. c. 1900 (published c 1904). Carden’s garden, Chapala.

The National Photo Archive also has this Lupercio photo of the garden of Villa Tlalocan, the vacation home in Chapala of British consul Lionel Carden and his wife. The home was completed in 1896 and this postcard shows ornamental flower vases in the front garden, with the lake behind and Chapala’s San Francisco church in the distance.

Early cards published by Ruhland & Ahlschier have the imprint “Librería Ruhland y Ahlschier, México, Coliseo Viejo 16.” In about 1903, the two men sold their business, and later postcards (published from 1904 on) have a different imprint: “Ruhland & Ahlschier Sucr. Calle Espiritu Santo 1½, México.” This was the address of La Sociedad Müller y Cia, owners of a competing bookstore, Librería Internacional.

By 1909, Müller and Company had also acquired ownership of, and the rights to publish, Ruhland’s Directorio general de la ciudad de México. The 1909-1910 edition was published in two volumes, one for Mexico City and one for the rest of the country. Müller and Company continued to publish the directory until at least 1913.

What became of Emil Ruhland and Max Ahlschier, pioneers of the Mexican illustrated postcard?

Ruhland revisited Germany in 1899 after an absence of 30 years, before returning to Mexico. Four years later (1903) he appears to have moved to the U.S., at about the time the postcard publishing company was sold. He was a good friend of Juan Kaiser, and Kaiser’s wife, Bertha, records the two men meeting for the first time in twelve years in Los Angeles in 1915.

Ahlschier and his wife visited Europe in 1906. Two years later, he was elected secretary of the Sociedad Alemana de Beneficencia (German Benevolent Society) in Mexico City. In 1912 he lost a civil action brought by a Martin G Ribon and was ordered to pay $3371.08 plus costs.

It seems likely that he and his wife subsequently returned to live in Germany, given that a Max Ahlschier is listed in trade directories there as a publisher between 1928 and 1933. Support for the idea that he returned to Germany also comes from an unusual source. In the Library of Congress’s vast collection of German documents, captured by American military forces after World War II, is a record of one by Max Ahlschier entitled “German colonies in Mexico, 1890-1910.”

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.

Note: This post was first published 9 August 2019.


  • Atlanta Constitution, 22 Nov 1895, 1.
  • El Continental, 13 May 1894, 3.
  • El Diario del Hogar, 3 Feb 1912, 3.
  • Diario Oficial Estados Unidos Mexicanos, 19 Jan 1905; 13 June 1908; 16 July 1909; 17 Oct 1912.
  • El Imparcial, 7 June 1903, 2.
  • Jalisco Times, 10 Apr 1908.
  • Verena Kaiser-Ernst. 2012. Tagebuch Von Bertha Kaiser-Peter Fur Ihren sohn Hans Paul Kaiser. Stuttgart: T H Schetter, 45.
  • The Mexican Herald: 6 Sep 1896, 9; 6 July 1897, 8; 3 May 1899, 8.
  • El Mundo, 1 April 1897.
  • La Patria, 28 Aug 1883, 8.
  • El Partido Liberal, 7 June 1888, 2.
  • The Two Republics, 31 Oct 1888, 2; 20 Feb 1892, 1.

Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios are welcome. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Apr 232020

At first glance this may not seem to be the most exciting photograph of Lake Chapala ever used for a postcard. However, “Casa Abitia” – the card’s publisher – was the business name for one of Mexico’s most interesting, pioneering and remarkable photographers.

Casa Abitia: Chapala postcard

Casa Abitia. “Orillas del lago, Chapala, Jal.” ca 1920.

Jesús Hermenegildo Abitia Garcés, commonly known simply as Chucho Abitia, was born in Batuchic, Chihuahua, on 13 April 1881, spent his early years in Sonora, and died in Mexico City in 1960.

He took his first photographs at the age of 12, after spending his savings – all US$2.50 of them – on an American camera. In 1905, in his twenties, he set up a photography business in Hermosillo, Sonora, named Abitia Hermanos Fotógrafos, that specialized in the distribution of Eastman Kodak products and materials. He was also a pioneer of moving pictures in Mexico, shooting such reels as El mata mujeres (“He kills women”), Los amores de Novelty (“The loves of Novelty”), Los dos reclutas (“The two recruits”) and El robo del perico (“Theft of the parakeet”), all released in 1913.

During the Mexican Revolution, Abitia joined the Ejército del Noroeste (Constitutional Army of the Northwest) commanded by his former school friend, Álvaro Obregón. As a propaganda officer, Abitia recorded the advance of Obregón’s constitutionalist troops as they took control of Culiacán, Mazatlán and Guadalajara before entering Mexico City in August 1914. Obregón was joined in Mexico City a few days later by Venustiano Carranza who established a new government.

In about 1914, and in cooperation with other family members, he established a photographic business – Abitia Hermanos Fotógrafos – in Guadalajara. He was commissioned by then president, Venustiano Carranza, to travel throughout Mexico, shooting documentaries to be shown across Latin America as a means of promoting the country’s progress.

Abitia’s family photography business in Guadalajara continued to operate until 1926. The family store, operating initially as “Abitia Hnos y Cia” and later as “La Casa del Fotógrafo”, was located at Avenida 16 de Septiembre #160. It advertised its products – all sizes and formats of Kodak film “direct from the factory” – and services sporadically over the next few years, occasionally offering discounts such as “10% off all films, plates, papers and postcards”.

This mention of postcards strongly suggests that the Abitia view of Chapala, illustrating this post, dates from about this time. In 1921, a display advert in El Informador boasted that Casa Abitia offered “Tarjetas Postales de Guadalajara y Chapala. Hermosa colección, única en la ciudad.” (“Postcards of Guadalajara and Chapala. Beautiful collection. Unique in the city.”)

Abitia also continued to make movies and, in 1922, with a budget of $300,000 pesos, he founded the Estudios Chapultepec in Mexico City. The earliest Mexican movie with sound was Santa, filmed here in 1931.

At some point, Abitia acquired the Hacienda San Gaspar in Jiutepec, just outside the city of Cuernavaca in the state of Morelos. In the late 1940s, he built a trout farm on part of the property.

In addition to his career as a photographer, Abitia was an accomplished violinist and built several innovative stringed instruments. He first made string instruments in about 1900. His instruments were of high acoustic quality and craftsmanship and included a viola, a violeta (between a viola and a violin) and a violetín (a fifth sharper than a violin) as well as an ultrabajo (five tones below a doublebass). He collaborated with the notable Mexican musical inventor, Julián Carillo in the development and perfection of Sonido 13. (For more about this unusual musical system, see chapter 25 of my Mexican Kaleidoscope.)

For a sample of Abitia’s documentary work, this short silent documentary – “Los combates de Celaya (Abril 1915)” – is viewable on Youtube. Abitia filmed this in April 1915 as General Alvaro Obregón and his forces took the city of Celaya, Guanajuato. (The music accompanying the film on Youtube is by the Hermanos Záizar.)

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.


  • Anon. 2018. “Jesús Hermenegildo Abitia Garcés“, post dated 17 April 2019 on Facebook page, Jesus H. Abitia (1881-1960).  [4 June 2019]
  • El Constitucionalista, Diario Oficial. 3 September 1914, 2.
  • El Informador: 23 Dec 1917, 2; 7 June 1918, 3; 21 February 1920, 8; 20 June 1920, 6; 4 August 1920; 8 January 1921, 7; 24 June 1922; 12 Feb 1923, 3; 14 March 1926, 8.
  • Angel Miguel. Undated. Jesús Hermenegildo Abitia Garcés: Biografía. Fundación Carmen Toscano, archivo histórico cinematográfico. [4 June 2019]
  • Periódico Oficial del Estado de Morelos. 18 June 1939, 1; 27 September 1942, 2; 26 Nov 1947, 1.
  • El Pueblo, 25 Feb 1918, 1.

Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios are welcomed. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

Jul 052018

Swiss-born publisher Juan Kaiser (1858-1916) published some of the earliest postcards of Lake Chapala. His early postcards of the lake, dating back to the start of the 20th century were multi-views, with three small images on each card.

Kaiser was born in Leuzigen, Bern, Switzerland in 1858. In 1881, at the age of 23, he left home to seek his fortune in the Americas. After working with family friends in Peru and traveling in several South and Central American countries, he moved to Mexico in about 1886. After some months in Mexico City, working at “La Helvetia” (part owned by his countryman Guillermo Kaiser who, despite his surname, is not thought to be a relative), Juan Kaiser moved to the silver mining boom town of San Luis Potosí where he bought a bookstore – “Al Libro Mayor” – in 1887.

This proved to be a successful venture and Kaiser envisioned that opening a branch in Guadalajara, which was experiencing rapid growth at the end of the nineteenth century would be similarly profitable. With this in mind, he sent for his younger brother, Arnoldo Kaiser (1875-1952), to join him in Mexico to help run the business. Arnoldo, still a teenager, joined him in San Luis Potosí in 1891. Both brothers were multilingual, having acquired French, German and Spanish in addition to the Romansche spoken at home.

Juan Kaiser postcard

Juan Kaiser’s first wife, Ana Simmen, of Swiss parentage, died in San Luis Potosí on 19 January 1892. The following year, on 13 Nov 1893, Kaiser married her sister, Maria Guillermina Simmen, then 38 years of age, in Mexico City. The couple’s eldest child, Guillermo Juan Kaiser, died as an infant in San Luis Potosí in February 1895.

Juan Kaiser expanded the business to Guadalajara in 1899, opening a store named “Al Libro de Caja”. This bookstore and stationers supplied all manner of pens, inkwells, journals, bookbinding, pocket books, cashbooks and accounts books for the city’s thriving commercial and mining sector. Kaiser also developed a lucrative sideline in publishing picture postcards. His artistic connections were immediately visible to all patrons since the entrance to the store, located at the intersection of Calle San Francisco and Calle López Cotilla, was decorated “in a neat and stylish manner” with the work of another Guadalajara resident, the Brazilian-born artist Félix Bernardelli.

The first series of Kaiser postcards (see triple view of Chapala, above) was published in 1900-1901, with the imprint “Al Libro Mayor. S. Luis Potosi”. Various other imprints were used by the brothers including “Juan Kaiser y hermano”, “Juan y Arnoldo Kaiser”, “Juan Kaiser, Guadalajara”, “Juan Kaiser, San Luis Potosí”, “Juan Kaiser, San Luis Potosí y Guadalajara”, “Arnoldo Kaiser, San Luis Potosí”, “Al Libro Mayor, San Luis Potosí” and “Al Libro de Caja.” According to expert deltiologists (postcard collectors) all the early Juan Kaiser postcards were printed in Germany.

Jose María Lupercio. Chapala. Postcard view published by Juan Kaiser.

José María Lupercio. Chapala. Postcard view published by Juan Kaiser.

The Kaiser brothers worked with several photographers, including José María Lupercio and the American hotelier-photographer Winfield Scott. The early Chapala photographs on Kaiser postcards are unattributed but many are believed to be the work of Scott. Scott also sold his own vast collection of photographs of Mexico – “Scott’s Types and Views of Mexico… true pictures of life and scenery in this country of unequaled picturesqueness” – through the Guadalajara store. The majority of later views of Chapala (see above) include a clear attribution to Lupercio.

See also: Vitold de Szyszlo visited Chapala market in 1910

Juan Kaiser died in Guadalajara on 13 February 1916. His then wife, Berta Meter, and their son Hans Paul Kaiser, aged 4, inherited the business and sold their interests in Al Libro Mayor to Arnoldo Kaiser. Advertisements for the store continued into the 1920s. In 1927, Berta and Hans Paul left Guadalajara for Switzerland. They came back in 1930 to wind up affairs in Mexico before moving permanently to Switzerland in 1932.

Lake Chapala Artists & Authors is reader-supported. Purchases made via links on our site may, at no cost to you, earn us an affiliate commission. Learn more.

My 2022 book Lake Chapala: A Postcard History uses reproductions of more than 150 vintage postcards to tell the incredible story of how Lake Chapala became an international tourist and retirement center.


Comments, corrections or additional material related to any of the writers and artists featured in our series of mini-bios are welcomed. Please use the comments feature at the bottom of individual posts, or email us.

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