Film posters were never intended to be preserved. Often papered over or simply thrown away, they were not considered art. They were a movie studio’s marketing tool – a way of triggering intrigue at the time of a film’s release. Throughout the 1980s, plenty of classic posters were designed – those for Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T. are just two of the fine examples from the era – but few were seriously collected.
The 1990s brought us head-turning posters for films such as Trainspotting and Pulp Fiction, and, in 1995, Christie’s held its first vintage-poster auction. It recognised the medium’s power: just as people have an emotional response to films, they also respond to the accompanying artwork. Collectors tend to be attracted to a particular genre or era; the horror films of the 1930s are some of the most valuable and coveted, selling for potentially hundreds of thousands of pounds. Some of the most sought-after and striking posters include those from Ealing Comedies. S John Woods, a graphic designer by trade, was the head of Ealing’s advertising department. His coterie included the likes of Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, and he used overtly political artists to illustrate the adverts. Katherine Schofield, Bonhams’ head of entertainment memorabilia, interviewed for The Telegraph, said paper was in such short supply during World War II that ‘in some cases, only five posters survive, and they were often printed on the back of other posters – for the Red Cross or similar.’
The Original Vintage Movie Posters website currently lists one for the classic Ealing comedy The Ladykillers, produced in 1955, for £1,450, commenting that ‘Only a handful are known to have survived.’ Some posters achieve staggering prices. In 2005, one for the 1927 science-fiction classic Metropolis went for US$690,000 and became the most expensive ever sold. Seven years later, it changed hands for US$1.2m as part of a collection. The original King Kong posters are always hugely popular – an example sold for US$388,375 in 2012.
Collectors prefer posters that were produced for the country from which the film originated, which means a British version for a Bond film will sell for more than its American equivalent. In 2012, a ‘quad’ – that is, a landscape-format poster – for 1963’s From Russia with Love sold for US$14,000 at a Hollywood auction. Robert E McGinnis, who drew Audrey Hepburn for the Breakfast at Tiffany’s poster, went on to create artwork for dozens of Bond films. His Diamonds Are Forever poster, estimated at £18,000 – £24,000, made £79,250 at Christie’s in 2011.
Bruce Marchant, who opened The Reel Poster Gallery in 1991, explains on his website that Sean Connery posters are the most valuable and collected, followed by those featuring Roger Moore. He points out that, while the artwork for GoldenEye and The World Is Not Enough was well designed, the more recent ads for Spectre and Skyfall were just ‘photographic posters that use images of Daniel Craig to attract the viewer’.
If early Bond posters are worth a small fortune and recent ones worth very little, there are plenty of decent posters available for as little as £50 that might gain value over time, and a casual collector can learn how the market works by looking at key info such as availability and condition. Examples from limited print runs, for example, are often in poor condition; Christie’s advises that you always contact a specialist, who can provide a comprehensive condition report and any details about a poster’s history.
Memorabilia expert Paul Fraser, of Paul Fraser Collectibles, says there’s one question to ask yourself: ‘Was this poster produced by a studio as an advert or to be sold to the public? If the former, you could be on to a good thing. The older and more popular the film, the more valuable the poster. Also think about condition, aesthetics and provenance.’
Marchant points out that, while original posters are comparable to comics in terms of price, you can’t open valuable comics in case you damage the spine. Posters, in contrast, are there to be enjoyed: they add to the decor of a room, provide a talking point and encourage a cultural and nostalgic connection – just as everyone has a favourite film, so everyone has a favourite poster.
Amy Raphael writes about art and culture for the Guardian, the Observer and The Times