Vintage Movie Posters – A Cinematic Insight

The market for the best collectables shows few signs of slowing down. Among the auction records set during this month’s unpromising economic circumstances was a new high for a music poster. An original 1966 advertising card from The Beatles’ performance at New York’s Shea Stadium in August 1966 – owned for 54 years by a Boston family who pulled it from a wall as they left the concert – sold in April for $110,000.

Posters, particularly those made as ephemera to promote timely events, are a relatively new collecting sphere. However, what began as niche focused upon masterworks by Alphonse Mucha or Toulouse-Lautrec, has grown quickly to embrace the stock of the host of talented painters, designers and photographers who operated in the field of ‘commercial art’. Their legacy is a wealth of bold and colourful graphic statements designed for mass consumption that are deeply honest to the time in which they were created. And they are a great way to fill a wall.

Great age is not always important – there are many relatively modern posters from classic ad campaigns, films and rock concerts that have a significant secondary market value – but date and originality are. A bootlegged copy printed years after the fact is just not the same. It’s why, only in a small handful of cases, are recent reproductions and reissues of classic posters of interest to serious collectors.

The poster market is defined by artist, subject matter, rarity, and condition. Some artists such as Cassandre, master of the ‘machine age’ style, command loyal following. So to do collecting subsets such as wartime propaganda or Art Deco posters promoting the joys of the golden age of travel. Original London Transport posters are a collecting niche of their own – perfect for anyone living in the capital city. PM Antiques & Collectables have a copy of the coveted ‘Theatreland’ poster (illustrated right) published in 1928 by the Dangerfield Printing Company to a design by Robert Percy Gossop (1876-1951). It is priced at £1000.

Among the quickest-growing areas of the market are classic movie posters. It’s not just those promoting cinematic masterworks but also films from the less celebrated sub-genres of horror, science fiction and good-old entertainment. Many of the world’s most expensive film posters are for early Hammer Horror films.

Nostalgia is a key factor in driving demand. “Many of today’s Star Wars collectors are middle-aged men who queued to watch the film as eight-year-olds back in 1977” says Phil Mires of PM Antiques & Collectables. “They may even remember owning some of the merchandise as children, only to throw it away as they entered their teens.”

Countless posters have been made to promote the Star Wars franchise – each film spawning a range of different designs catering to different markets. Some of the ‘grail’ items in the collecting hobby can bring five-figure sums: the record stands at $26,400 for a rare concept poster printed for The Empire Strikes Back.

The best-known British Star Wars poster is the so-called Style A poster designed by artist Tom Chantrell in 1977. This theatrical image complete with good guys, bad guys, the death star and light sabres is the centrepiece of any serious collection. The original poster, printed by Bradford firm WE Berry, will cost north of £2000 but it’s possible to get something similar for less. PM Antiques & Collectables recently sold a copy of the Style C poster (illustrated top) – the same design but including reference to the Academy Awards won by the film in February 1978.  A first release WE Berry poster for Empire Strikes Back (1980) with silver title was another recent sale at £300.

It is estimated that WE Berrya major player in the film printing world until the 1990s, was making three out of four British, vintage movie posters in its heyday. The firm specialised in the ‘quad’ size – the 30 x 40 inch ‘landscape’ format that has long been the UK standard. The ‘royal quad’ occupies a wall-filling 40 x 50 inches. One sheet ‘portrait’ style posters measure 27 x 40 inches and are typically less common than the quad.

American formats include half sheet, one sheet (27 x 41 inches as opposed to the British 27 x 40 inches), three sheet, six sheet, insert, window card, lobby card and stills to name but a few. Respective sizes are approximate as many publishers used their own methods to cut and produce posters.

James Bond posters are a favourite of PM Antiques. “Bond is a great brand and much in demand. We are always interested in hearing from members of the public who have posters or mechanise from any of the pre-1990s films that they are considering selling” says Phil Mires.

Currently in stock is a hard-to-find quad promoting the 1977 movie The Spy Who Loved Me. In addition to the classic design by Bob Peak this one has mention of 007’s new digital watch. Throughout the movie he wore a Seiko capable of receiving a ticker-tape message from Q – a great marketing coup for the Japanese makers. It is priced at £300.

Roger Moore’s final outing as 007 was A View To A Kill. The artwork for the British posters was done by Dan Goozee – most including the film’s most memorable villain, the sky-diving assassin May Day played by Grace Jones. She is pictured standing back-to-back with Bond in the style B poster priced at £200. The same image, plus a vignette depicting the Golden Gate Bridge fight scene, appeared to the style A quad priced here at £150.

An original British quad for the 1967 Bond spoof Casino Royale can bring close to £1000. However, the smaller single sheet portrait format poster is more common. PM Antiques recently sold one for £150 (illustrated left). While the film falls outside the official 007 franchise much of its box office success was attributed to the appeal of the poster by Robert E McGinnis (b.1926), the artist responsible for some of the most memorable Connery Bond designs – and the famous poster used to promote Breakfast at Tiffany’s (itself a rare collectable).

Bond and Star Wars dominate the market for recent movie posters. A little further down the scale and graphically powerful posters for classic 70s and 80s movies can be surprisingly affordable. PM Antiques currently has in stock an original British quad for Raiders of the Lost Ark (the first film in the Indiana Jones franchise that now approaches 40 years old) and a well-preserved poster for the first Star Trek feature film Star Trek, The Motion Picture, released in 1979,  a decade after the original television series was cancelled. Both are each priced at £100.

Also released in 1979, and no doubt inspired by the massive success of Star Wars two years earlier, was Universal Pictures’ Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. This time the film, starring Gil Gerard as the time-travelling NASA astronaut, was released as a promo for the television series that was first aired a few months later. A British quad for the release is priced at £70.

“We’re always on the lookout for more film posters to add to our range. There has never been a better time to deal in vintage movie posters and the market is rapidly growing.”

You can browse our current range of vintage movie posters and entertainment memorabilia here.

Illustrated above: The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), British Quad film poster. £300

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