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Vintage movie posters a golden investment

Renato Casaro - CasablancaCasablanca  
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Looking to add some atmosphere to your Oscar party? Try a vintage movie poster or two.

But exactly how much is that one-sheet in the window? That depends. Is it original? Is it restored? Was the film popular? Are the stars famous?

In the parlance of American movie posters, a "one-sheet" is the classic 27 x 41-inch poster printed for a film's release. The stone lithography process was used in the United States until the end of World War II (and in Europe until the 1950s), with as many as 14 sizes of posters promoting a single film. Since World War II, offset lithography has been used to print perhaps five poster sizes though the public only sees one or two.

What's hot?
The popularity of a genre can wax or wane with the whims of fashion (and the influence of the major auction houses).

Casablanca
Casablanca
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The Day the Earth Stood Still
The Day the Earth Stood Still
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According to expert Morris Everett, Jr., who has the world's largest and most complete known movie poster collection, "The only thing that's held up in my 39 years of collecting is horror/sci-fi.

African-American, Western, the Errol Flynn-Humphrey Bogart-Bette Davis genre, they've all had their day but except for their A titles, they've declined in popularity. A rare, 80-year-old silent movie stone lithograph might only be valuable to an historian unless the film or the stars are famous.

Subject matter does play a role; for instance, a great Western image, even with a forgotten star, might still be valuable, says Everett, who began collecting movie posters in 1961.

How's the market?

"Movie posters have outperformed gold, stamps, coins, baseball cards, comic books, and the stock market," Everett says. "Posters aren't as universally collected, so there's less room for the roller coaster ride of big collectibles." A Breakfast at Tiffany's poster you might have bought for $1.00 in 1961 would have sold for $100 to $200 in 1990, and is now going for $3,000 to $4,000 (though one recently sold in London for $13,000 in a bidding war). (See the Tiffany Diamond here)

Breakfast at Tiffanys
Breakfast at Tiffanys
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Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)
Available on DVD


Viewed as disposable advertising, movie posters weren't created as collectible "art." Theater operators leased them temporarily, and then supposedly returned them. Overall print runs were and are determined by the film's promotional budget.

Everett stresses that, while many believe the old posters have all been found, "I still discover something exciting every day."

We talked to Everett about the ins and outs of movie poster collecting:

Availability
Thousands of movie posters are offered online, and there are related specialty stores in every major city (a good source for information on conventions, auctions, and shows). Visit flea markets and antique stores; try asking your local theatre operator for a poster.

Marks
Original posters are marked with industry-related information such as year of release, studio, distributor, and copyright. A poster might be lettered A, B, C, etc., as one of a series of images (for instance, Gone with the Wind DVD (1939) produced eight different one-sheets). An "R" in the corner is a re-released poster (Gone with the Wind was also re-released several times).

Reproductions
Buyer beware reprints are becoming more common, and are sometimes sold as originals. The name of the reprinting company is normally added in small letters to the poster's border so watch for trimming, and ask to see a poster out of its frame. Off sizes are a clue to reprinting (Everett commonly sees the 22 x 28-inch reprints by Portal Productions, a legitimate company whose copies are sold by others as originals).
 
Restoration
Restoration is common, "Though there isn't always full disclosure," Everett stresses. "People need the full story to make an informed decision." Restoration's affect on a poster's value depends on age and rarity. Good restoration can revive an original poster, bleaching and washing it, filling in holes, tears, and creases (until the early '80s, one-sheets and larger posters were shipped folded, so creases are to be expected). "An investment of $50.00 to $500 with a good restorer can turn a damaged $300 to $400 poster into a $2,000-plus poster," Everett says.

Investment Collecting
For the collector-investor, Everett advises:
  • Before jumping in, get a feel for the market at conventions and auctions.
  • Subscribe to the three main movie collectible memorabilia papers (Movie Collectors World, The Big Reel and Classic Images).
  • Get The Movie Poster Price Almanac by John Kisch, an annual guide listing advertised and auction prices.
  • Don't frame posters; a serious buyer will want to scrutinize the condition. Everett recommends a simple linen backing, which provides full visibility plus the ability to hang or roll a poster.

 



From Amazon Books:

Vintage Hollywood Posters III
by Bruce Hershenson

Vintage Hollywood Posters II
by Bruce Hershenson

Vintage Hollywood Posters
by Richard Allen

Vintage Hollywood Posters IV
by Bruce Hershenson

Crime Scenes : Movie Poster Art of the Film Noir: The Classic Period : 1941-1959
by Lawrence Bassoff

Film Posters of the '70s: The Essential Movies of the Decade
by Tony Nourmand

Film Posters of the 60s: The Essential Movies of the Decade : From the Reel Postery Gallery Collection
by Tony Nourmand

Film Posters of the 50's: The Essential Movies of the Decade
by Tony Nourmand

Horror, Sci-Fi & Fantasy Movie Posters (The Illustrated History of Movies Through Posters, Volume 11)
by Bruce Hershenson

Horror Movie Posters (The Illustrated History of Movies Through Posters, Vol 7)
by Richard Allen

Hitchcock Poster Art: From the Mark H. Wolff Collection
by Tony Nourmand

Mighty Movies : Movie Poster Art from Hollywood's Greatest Adventure Epics and Spectaculars
by Lawrence Bassoff

The Godzilla Movie Scrapbook : With Bonus 6' Poster! (Godzilla)
by James Preller

Attack of the 'B' Movie Posters (The Illustrated History of Moves Through Posters Series Vol. 14)
by Bruce Hershenson

Academy Award Winners' Movie Posters (The Illustrated History of Movies Through Posters Series; Vol. 3))
by Bruce Hershenson

Errol Flynn: The Movie Posters
by Lawrence Bassoff, Stewart Granger

Best Pictures' Movie Posters
by Bruce Hershenson

Comedy Movie Posters (The Illustrated History of Movies Throuh Posters Series Vol. 12)
by Bruce Hershenson

Musical Movie Posters (The Illustrated History of Movies Through Posters, Volume 9)
by Bruce Hershenson

Cartoon Movie Posters
by Bruce Hershenson

Crime Movie Posters
by Richard Allen

Hollywood and Early Cinema Posters
by Bruce Hershenson

War Movie Posters : Illustrated History of Movies Through Posters
by Bruce Hershenson

The Audrey Hepburn Collection (My Fair Lady, Breakfast at Tiffany's, Roman Holiday)

Breakfast at Tiffany's - Collector's Edition (1961)

Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)

Gone with the Wind (1939)