About Movie Posters
Movie posters in our collection predate 1975. While we occasionally acquire newer posters, their availability in the marketplace is such that adding another seller to an already overcrowded field isn’t an active pursuit. Our movie posters come from the golden age of the Hollywood studios, from the 1930’s to the 1960’s.
Movie posters are different from vintage posters. While both types come from the same period and produced in similar fashion, movie posters were produced in greater quantities and designed to generate a rapid, sometimes immediate response. Movie posters came in a variety of sizes, from the common one sheet (27” x 41”) to the billboard size 24-sheet. Movie posters were intended to be displayed in lobby cases of a movie theatre (one sheet and three sheet) and in larger areas such as the sides of buildings and billboards. In addition to posters, card stock products such as lobby cards (11” x 14”) and lobby insert panels (14” x 36”) and (22” x 28”) were also produced. All advertising for a film was documented in the Pressbook, a booklet provided to the theatre in advance to allow for planning of the promotion of the film.
Pressbooks are collectible in their own right, and provide an insight into how the studio wanted to promote the film. In addition to the posters, Pressbooks show the various ads for use in newspapers; special tie-ins with merchandise, articles for insertion in local papers, and interview records. These last were recordings of interviews with the movie stars about the film. With the real interviewer edited out, and a script provided, the local radio station could interview Clark Gable or Humphrey Bogart as if they were sitting in the studio. We occasionally offer Pressbooks for sale.
Unlike vintage posters, which were usually, supplied flat, movie posters were folded; a one sheet was folded in quarters, to facilitate handling and storage. Larger posters were folded as well. In collecting movie posters, it must be recognized that most posters prior to the 1990’s were folded, and will always possess fold lines. It’s unavoidable, and if preserved properly only detectable from a very close range. But they are there and always will be.
Movie posters and vintage posters did have one thing in common; they were not designed to last. Printed on inexpensive paper they were expected to last for the length of the campaign. For movies, that could be three to six months. Vintage posters supported campaigns that lasted weeks (holiday related travel posters are a good example) to several years (food and wine posters). Regardless, none were designed to last 100 years.
Movie posters like the movies they advertised were re-released. Gone With the Wind was re-released nine times since its initial release in 1939. When a movie is re-released a new ad campaign accompanies the film, which means new movie posters. When collecting posters, the initial release poster is the one with the highest value. Re-release posters retain some value, but nothing like the original.
Most of the posters from the period of our collection were distributed by National Screen Service (NSS) and included the NSS number on the back and in the lower right hand front. NSS physically delivered everything from the film itself, ad materials, even popcorn to the theatre. They numbered films by the year and order of release. 56/99 would mean that the film was released in 1956 and was the 99th film of the year, from an NSS point of view. If the movie was a re-release the number would be R 56/99 meaning it was a re-released film. The NSS number, front and back, is a key indicator of poster’s originality.
Most of our posters are original release posters, but we occasionally include re-release and they are so noted.
Lobby cards and insert cards are very collectible because they are small in size and were not usually folded, the exception being the 14”x36” which was often folded in thirds. Lobby card sets were usually eight in number, with the card number in the bottom border. Most lobby card sets included a “Title card” as the first card in the set. The title card is usually the most valuable because it often features the artwork for the film; the remaining seven cards were scenes from the film, sometimes in color, sometimes tinted, sometimes in a duotone. In collecting lobby cards a set with title card has the most value. The title card to the 1951 classic, “The Day the Earth Stood Still” shown below features the artwork, while next to it is one of the later cards featuring a scene from the film, notice that this card is a tinted duotone.
Insert cards were similar but because of the larger size usually included both the title artwork and a scene as well. The example shown at right from “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” features the title artwork as well as a tinted scene below.
Foreign language versions of American films show up frequently but we rarely handle them. Our collection started with English language posters of American and foreign films. No prejudice involved, we know the American market so that’s where we tend to stay.
Our posters are linen mounted if so noted, and if linen mounted you can assume some level of restoration also, usually in two places, first to repair pin holes in the corners from when the poster was actually displayed in a theatre, and second to the fold edges if the fold caused noticeable paint loss artwork. Take a magazine cover fold in in half, then fold and unfold it a few times, lay it flat and you’ll note that the ink has cracked on the fold line. This happens a lot with old posters, and if it seriously detracts from the art, we have it retouched by our master restorer.
Restoration, if done properly enhances the value of a poster. If we do not identify a poster as linen mounted it should be assumed that it is not. Some of our posters were unused or little used and are in like new condition (still folded) but otherwise perfect.