Vintage movie posters — a golden investment
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.
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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.
The popularity of a genre can wax or wane with the whims of fashion (and
the influence of the major auction houses).
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
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
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:
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.
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).
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 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.
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.