Vintage Movie Posters…What Are They Worth?
Origins and Availability
Movie posters were originally colorful promotional notices displayed to entice viewers to see a new film. Posters and lobby cards were printed specifically for use in movie theaters. These early posters were produced in very limited quantities, for a very specific marketing purpose. Over the last half century, they have become regarded as collectible works of art. Promoters, theaters, and production studios have continued to use the poster as a viable form of marketing for their films, though the production and circulation of modern posters have greatly expanded their availability to common collectors (and thus greatly reduced their value).
What’s Hot and Not…
Subject matter is most important to collectors, along with condition, of course. Paper art is ephemeral in nature, meaning it degrades over time if not professionally protected. (Don’t forget to insure your paper art on your Homeowner’s Fine Art policy.) Few original posters are in mint condition. Look for fold, surface or edge wear, pinholes, losses or faded colors. The most critical step to properly identifying value is, expectedly, the paper. Modern posters, reissues, and reproductions are typically printed on glossy stock, which is easily attributed. Older reproductions or reissues were printed on flat stock so as to appear more similar to the originals. The defining feature that easily denotes older reproductions from vintage originals, is the size of the paper. Reissues and reproductions were edited into standard size for larger printing runs, typically 24 in x 36 in. Original posters and promotional materials were usually 27 in X 41 in or larger.
Of course, rare subject matter ultimately drives prices and condition may be forgiven…
Some vintage movie posters have realized auction sales well into six figures.
In November 2017, Heritage Auction sold the “holy grail” of movie posters, an original 1931 Dracula poster for over $500,000! The striking one sheet is the rarest and most desirable of its genre, if not the entire hobby! Unearthed in the early 1990s, this lithograph poster is the only “style-A” format that has ever surfaced at auction. For more specialized information regarding vintage posters, consider this article by Heritage Auctions.
Vintage Sci-fi and horror films are the most popular genres. The actual movies don’t have to be particularly well written or acted, they just need to have monsters. Dark and dreary imagery of monsters and aliens transport viewers back to the first time they saw these frightening horror films.
If you don’t fancy horror movie posters, there are lots of other categories to collect, including rock and roll or musicals, westerns, sports and comedies. Disney created some desirable posters, too. Even non-Disney collectors liked the poster from “The Mad Doctor,” a film where Mickey Mouse had to rescue his pal, Pluto, from the Evil Doctor’s mansion. At one point, Mickey Mouse is strapped to a chair and threatened with a knife. This was not your typical “feel good” Disney film, which is why the poster appealed to a variety of collectors: movie posters, animation, Disney, horror. This poster sold for $138,000 in 2009!
Getting Into the Market
Not all posters are so pricey. One can find colorful and decorative posters for less than $100. However, the best investments are original lithographs, made for actual movie promotion and display. These will exhibit rich colors. Reproductions of the most popular movies and subjects are widely available. Offset lithographs or limited edition screenprints are typically mass-produced copies. Under magnification, and sometimes to the naked eye, they will have mechanical-looking rows of color dots.
Sotheby’s is currently holding their Original Film Posters Online Auction, through Wednesday, September 5th. There are many affordable original posters for sale for you would-be collectors. The auction can be accessed by visiting their website.
Think of a couple of your favorite movies or characters. Perform an “Advanced Search” for those original posters on eBay, LiveAuctioneers or Bidsquare auctions. On eBay, check the box for “completed sales” or “past sales” on LiveAuctioneers or Bidsquare to see previous prices. Be aware that not all sales are “real.” If you see that there’s only one bidder or that it was a “Buy it Now,” be sure to find other sales that corroborate the value.
If you have a large poster collection that requires appraisal for insurance scheduling, please call The Magnusson Group at 973-425-1550 for an appointment.
Co-authors: Lynn Magnusson, ASA, AAA and Kollin Handler, Communications Director