DALLAS – Collectible Movie Posters: Illustrated Guide With Auction Prices (Whitman Publishing, $19.99) is something of a dichotomy, and an enjoyable one at that. It is a fun, easy read, but one that the reader must sit with for a while to fully absorb. It is heavy with beautiful and captivating full-page color illustrations, but also flavored with important educational insights. It is accessible to new collectors, but codifies what seasoned enthusiasts know yet sometimes can’t explain.
With one-sheets, lobby cards and other display images from great, near-great and even some less-than-stellar films, the book straddles much of cinema history. It notes the dominance of the early Disney films and the Universal horror classics, and also recognizes the combination of art and business required to promote a motion picture with but a single image.
Readers will find such films as Casablanca, Gilda, The Adventures of Robin Hood and This Gun For Hire, and stars from Mary Pickford to the Marx Brothers all represented in the book’s pages. All of the images are beautifully reproduced, and the production values of the book itself are very appealing.
Among the important notations is the recognition of different images released for the same film. For instance, any piece from the 1934 Universal release The Black Cat, which starred Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, would command attention. There is only one known copy of the “B style” one-sheet still in existence, however, and it sold for $334,600 (including the buyer’s premium) in November 2009.
Editors Jim Halperin and Hector Cantu quickly cut to the chase: with movie posters, as with many collectibles, value boils down to rarity and condition. Movie posters were, of course, never produced to be collected. In fact, just the opposite: they were intended to be disposed of when the film’s run at the local theater was over. As such, it’s still unusual in this collectible category to have a specimen described as an “only-known copy,” such as The Black Cat B style.
“That alone creates value, no matter the condition,” said Halperin, who serves as co-chairman of Dallas-based Heritage Auction Galleries, which deals in movie posters, among many other categories. “When more than one copy exists, then you start looking at condition, and that creates this second level of valuation. Of course, there are collectors who chase posters only because they love the image [or the movie it represents, or both], no matter the rarity or condition of the poster.”
In selecting the posters to feature in the book, price was the main factor, but the co-editors’ research resulted in a few surprises, at least at first. On anyone’s list of the 100 most collectible movie posters, one would automatically expect to see representations from the blockbuster movies, like Bride of Frankenstein and Dracula, Halperin said. “But it was surprising that the list also included posters for lesser-known movies – posters like The Benson Murder Case ($33,460 in November 2008) or The Broadway Melody ($31,070 in July 2009). But if you look a little deeper, you’ll see what attracts collectors. In the case of The Benson Murder Case insert, collectors are attracted by the stunning art deco image. And The Broadway Melody, of course, was Hollywood’s first all-talking musical,” Halperin said.
While one-sheets make up the majority of items spotlighted, other types of images are included as well.
“One sheets were the most common posters, measuring 27 by 41 inches, the ones you saw outside the theater behind a plate of glass. They take seven of the top 10 spots. But we’re seeing more interest in half sheets. They measure 22 by 28 inches, and were typically printed on card stock for theater lobby displays. Two half-sheets, for The Black Cat and Son of Frankenstein, made our top 10 list,” said Cantu, who also edits Heritage Magazine.
Disney animation also ranks in the top 100. Halperin said this is because United Artists really pumped up the quality of Mickey Mouse posters when they took over distribution of the shorts in 1932 following the character’s stay at Columbia Pictures.
Likewise, the Universal monsters era has multiple entries, including some recent record-breakers. Dracula, Frankenstein and others have set numerous records, some of them recently, and all are represented with beautifully reproduced rarities.
The past 15 years has seen remarkable growth in the market for collectible movie posters. Even though prices can fluctuate along with the national economy, the demand for rare, vintage pieces has stayed strong, and Halperin believes it’s possible that in the next few years, half-million or even million dollar sales may be common.
An updated edition of Collectible Movie Posters may be in the cards at some point in the future, especially if present trends continue. Right after the Halperin/Cantu book was released, an insert from Metropolis sold for $47,800; and a Swedish version of the King Kong poster realized $28,680 at a Heritage Auction Galleries event. No doubt the editors took note, as well.
Click here to purchase the 224-page softcover book Collectible Movie Posters through amazon.com.
# # #
ADDITIONAL IMAGES OF NOTE