INTERVIEW FROM THE FORBES
Many dealers I meet started out as collectors, getting into the
business so they could cherry-pick the best material, support
their collecting habit and share their passion and expertise
with others. Such is the case with Ira Resnick, an avid
collector of vintage movie posters since his college days in the
Resnick had long collected
paper. As a boy in New Rochelle, he built a large, quirky
postcard collection—picturing everyone from silent and golden
age movie stars to Evelyn Nesbit, the femme fatale in the
infamous Stanford White murder case. After attending New York
University film school, he worked as a freelance photographer
for 15 years, much of it in Califonia. When Resnick returned to
New York in the early ‘80s, he decided to switch gears and
follow his passion for movie posters. He started his gallery,
Motion Picture Arts, in 1982.
Now his collection has swelled to more than 200 vintage
one-sheets and thousands of other pieces, from lobby cards,
window cards and inserts to a 24-sheet poster for The Awful
Truth. Having stepped down this year after six years as
chairman of the Film Society of Lincoki Center, Resnick recently
exhibited 30 favorite posters from his collection at the Walter
Reade Theater in Manhattan. He also collects vintage
photographs, from Man Ray and Edward Weston to all manner of
film-related photos: stills, location snaps and glamour head
shots. I visited his New York office to get a tour of the
How did you get stated? What attracted you?
I’d studied film in school and loved old movies,
which back then you could only watch on the late late show, or
at revival houses, institutions that have now gone the way of
the dinosaur. I realized that one of the only ways I could own a
piece ol the old movies
was to buy a poster or a lobby card.
What was your first
I bought my first posters
in 1969 at Cinemabilia in Greenwich Village. Often these places
were counter shops, and the people were not very nice. If you
bought a lot, sometimes they would be alit-tie less rude. I
bought one-sheets for The Awful Truth and Love Before
Breakfast (which shows Ca-role Lombard with a black eye) for
$35 each. The Carole Lombard at auction would now be worth
$5,000—$l0,000. I also bought a one-sheet for Grand Hotel,
but I later realized that it was a 1962 reissue—my first
lesson in connoisseurship.
So film posters weren’t
big collectibles back then?
Not at all In the early
60s, people pretty much priced them by year and size. Posters
from the ‘30s and the ‘40s sold for only a few dollars each. In
the ‘60s, college kids like myself began discovering the icons
of old film—like the Marx Brothers and Bogart—helping spur the
collecting movement. People began to realize that there was a
treasure trove out there. Little by little, shops started to
open around the country—on Hollywood Blvd., in San Francisco, in
New York Occasionally you’d find posters at flea markets and
Was there a standard to
how many posters and lobby cards were designed for each film?
Usually each film had two
one-sheets (27 x 41 inches), two half-sheets (22 x 28), two
inserts (14 x 36), one lobby card set (11 x 14) and window cards
(14 x 22). It went up from there: three-sheets, six-sheets and
occasionally 24-sheets, which were almost billboard size. The
lobby card set usually included a title card and seven notable
scene cards. Two one-sheets was pretty standard, except for
blockbusters like The Wizard of Oz or Gone with the
Wind, for which the studio put out three or four poster
How do you decide what
to buy and what not to?
I have always tried to collect Hollywood
history—the great films and the great stars (especially my
favorites)—along with beautiful graphics. I especially love the silents and the ‘30s era. My collection is chockful of the old
romantic comedy titles like It Happened One Night and
Holiday. Dramas too, like Of Human Bondage or
Dodsworth, which to me is one of the great films of all
time. I also collect stars, like Louise Brooks, whose material
has gotten harder to find as more people jump into the game. The
most expensive poster I ever sold was from a Louise Brooks
film, Diary of a Lost Girl, a German movie from 1929. It
sold for $80,000.
What’s the difference in value between posters
made in the originating country and those made elsewhere?
Usually the country of origin is what collectors
want. But there are always exceptions. There’s an Italian
artist, Ballester, whose designs were so gorgeous, like posters
he did of Rita Hayworth. Whereas another Italian poster would
maybe cost $1,000, his could run $5,000—$lO,000.
Are there other artists whose names add value?
Regionalist painter Thomas Hart Benton designed a
poster for The Grapes of Wrath.
freelanced for the studios, designing posters like The
Magnificent Ambersons. Al Hirschfeld worked at MGM in the
1930s and did a lot of Marx Brothers films. Varga did several,
like Moon Over Miami with Betty Grable and Ziegfeld
Follies. Those are some of the biggest names.
What are the important themes within your
One would be highlights of film history, starting
with my earliest poster, a 1913 Mary Pickford film called The
Informer, and moving forward. As I mentioned before, I have
a particularly deep vein of 1930s film material.
Another important subtheme is women through the ages of
Hollywood, from the little-known silent-era stars like Louise
Brooks to contemporary figures like Uma Thurman in Pulp
Fiction—from the vamp to the camp to the tramp. I have large
collections of Katharine Hepburn and Bette Davis, and
significant title card collections for both Jean Harlow and
Greta Garbo. I love them all, even little-known women like
silent-era director Lois Weber and silent-era comedienne
Constance Talmadge. Very few other people collect them. Their
material has far less competition than that of, say, Katharine
Are there periods or genres that command a
The biggest ticket items have always been the
classic horror films. The rarest ones, like Mummy and
have brought in the low to mid six figures.
Other high-value material? Three Stooges posters. There are avid
collectors who will knock each other over the head, just the way
the Stooges did, to get things. Also sought after: sports
titles, film noir and 1950s sci-fi. A lot has to do with each
generation and which movies resonate.
When the market started to go to James Bond and
more modern titles, I personally lost interest. Sure, I’ll buy
some Woody Allen, Mel Brooks or Jack Nicholson in The
Shining, but I’m very selective with later material. My most
contemporary poster is a one-sheet for Pulp Fiction, It
appeals to me, but not in the same way as older stuff does.
Where do you buy?
I do buy at auctions, because it’s easy And I get
first crack at material that’s offered to the gallery. My
gallery director knows my taste, so he’ll cull from what’s out
there, emailing me things he finds online, where much of the
poster business takes place today. Sometimes you come across
the poster stash of an old projectionist or a construction
teardown that used lobby cards as insulation. That doesn’t
happen too much any more.
What about Ebay? Do you buy much there?
On Ebay I buy stills here and there. But in general I don’t buy
much these days. I’m more likely to be trading up to get better
examples of movies I love. Or saving my money for the important
posters, like Son of the Sheik, which is the latest one I
bought. It was Rudolph Valentino’s last film, from 1926. The
poster’s in beautiful condition and very rare. It cost $25,000,
with some trade involved.
Is trade still a big part of the business?
People do it. But I would rather buy than trade.
Nobody wants to be taken advantage of. To get quality you have to give up quality.
Who were your mentors
in this field?
I learned from other
dealers, like José Carpio of Cinemonde in San Francisco and John
Kobal, in Hollywood. Then there was James Card, who ran Eastman
House; he brought Louise Brooks out of alcoholic obscurity, up
to Rochester. I learned a lot about old movies in the few years
I knew him. He wrote a great book about growing up with silent
films. I bought a lot of his collection.
In the days when I used to
spend time in the gallery, I often learned from the customers,
serious movie buffs like this old guy who personally knew a lot
of the character actors of the silent era. Then we have the
occasional movie stars or the screenwriters who come in, like
Uma Thurman and Benicio del Toro. That’s always fun.
What did Uma buy?
Wonderfully graphic Polish posters. Benicio bought
Italian neo-Realists. And Alec Baldwin bought Nightmare
Alley, a great ‘40s noir poster.
What effect does condition have on value?
Very often you can get a better buy when
something has condition issues. In 1986 I bought my The Babe
Comes Home poster, from Babe Ruth’s second film foray, a
romantic comedy about— what else?—a baseball player. It cost me
$600, unbacked and needing light restoration. If it were
pristine, it would have cost about $1,500.
What are the most common condition problems?
Posters were generally shipped to the theaters
flat, folded once length-wise and three times across. So you
often have to deal with creases and losses in those areas. In
general, you don’t want to see tremendous loss from important
parts of the image, like the stars’ faces. Unframed or
improperly framed, paper can become brittle, yellowed or faded.
That could slash value. A Wizard of Oz poster came into
the gallery that would’ve been worth $10,000; but because it was
yellowed, we paid $1,000. Vivid colors are key. But some things
are so rare that you get it in whatever shape you can get it.
How do you preserve this material?
I frame posters with UV Plexiglas and always keep
them out of direct sunlight. If they are on linen you can roll
them. I like to keep lobby cards in beautiful albums or archival
boxes. Those you shouldn’t roll. I store a lot of material in
fireproof flat files. Linen backing is crucial for old posters,
because the old paper really crumbles. Purists prefer Japanese
rice paper, but linen is usually fine.
What’s kosher, restoration-wise?
It depends on if you’re going to keep it or resell
it. You want to make sure it has a backing and maybe just touch
up the folds. In general, less restoration is better. ‘When you
start to really paint in the losses—these days, restorers can
recreate almost anything—it’s a case-by-case decision. With
certain posters, it’s kosher to “cherry it out” and make it look
brand new. I prefer that to being hit in the face with defects.
But some collectors don’t want to put that kind of money into it, or are purists about having
What’s your most valuable poster?
Probably the Babe Ruth. I bought it 20 years ago
for $600 and now it would probably sell for at least $100,000.
There are only two known copies. The other one reportedly sold
at Heritage Auctions for $120,000, but then it showed up in a
later auction. I always thought that in the right auction, it
might sell for a quarter of a million. But I don’t want to sell
it. It’s the one everyone wants to trade me for.
I have several posters in the
$20,000—$30,000 range, like Thief of Baghdad, the Douglas
Fairbanks’ Robin Hood and Black Pirate. I have
Les Enfants du Paradis, a French first panel. It’s enormous.
And a great German Dietrich poster of Blonde Venus, which
I think is the most beautiful image of that film. They’re all
What mistakes can you
counsel collectors to avoid?
It’s important to do your
research. A lot of people who don’t know better get stuck with
later reissues, like I did with my first copy of Grand Hotel.
First, look for the date down at the bottom right. It will
usually say R (for “reissue”) and the date. With It Happened
One Night, they reissued the 1934 film in 1937, the only
difference being the mention of the Oscar. Then you look for
full color. The reissues were very often a duotone. When they
redid a ‘30s poster in the ‘40s, for example, they often just
used two colors. But some reissues have pretty serious value.
There is an R38 of Frankenstein that is quite good, if
you’re not a purist who needs the original. The R38 could be in
low five figures versus low six figures for the original.
What poster are you still out there searching
I’m always looking for a Louise Brooks original Pandora’s Box. Let me know if you find one.
Will do. Thanks. Fc
Copyright 2005 - Forbes Collector, reprinted through the
courtesy of Forbes