Unlike other artifacts now sought by collectors, movie posters
and lobby cards were never meant to be in the hands of the
public. They were manufactured strictly for publicity
and most were discarded after the film had finished its run at a
Theater owners, particularly in big cities, were encouraged
to buy an enormous variety of posters and related publicity for
displays to catch the eyes of passers-by. Before the 1940s these
items were almost always purchased, then trashed. There are rare
instances known of a theater owner or projectionist saving them.
In one instance in Canada thousands of (what proved to be)
invaluable 1930s posters were carefully taken down and stored,
only to be discovered years later by workers doing renovations.
Most survived simply by accident.
Starting in the early 1940s, studios began using a
consolidated printing and distribution method (National Screen
Service) to handle their posters. Now theaters began to buy
publicity goods and return them for a credit. This allowed
National Screen Service to use and re-use posters, rather than
print new ones. Regional warehouses were set to handle the
logistics. Starting with this change posters survived in greater
numbers because they were of some possible value down the
road to the N.S.S.
There are very few instances of movie poster collecting known
before the nostalgia boom of the 1960s, but many caught on
quickly thereafter. Generally, finding the posters themselves
was the difficulty for collecting pioneers, as a network had not
yet developed to connect buyers with sellers. In Hollywood and
New York there were specialty shops where you could stumble upon
some, and at least three poster exchanges were known to sell off
their unwanted back inventory. Naturally, as posters became a
commodity sought by the public, clusters of collectors grew
around these areas. Texas and Oklahoma, Portland and Memphis
became small hotbeds of early collectors, as well as the major
because of their exchanges.
The internet, of course, has been a boon to all areas of
commerce. There's no longer a mystery to where to find movie
posters or anything else, you just need time to sift through the
endless offerings on eBay and other online sites. The chances of
finding just what you're looking for have increased a thousand
Collateral damage is the demise of the great old poster shops
like Cinemonde in San Francisco and, most recently, Movie Star
News in New York. It's also opened the doors to a slew of poster
reproductions being sold as originals at a level
unimagined. Buyers of more contemporary titles have been the
main target, though there was a massive scandal aimed at
collectors of Universal horror. Today one would be advised to do
some basic research before jumping into unknown territory.
Now after fifty years of exhaustive searches for hidden
poster treasure troves, one would image that every conceivable title
would have surfaced. But that's the beauty of collecting film
posters. Here at the Motion Picture Arts Gallery (after thirty
years), we still encounter posters we have never seen before.
Because of scarcity there is always something new to discover.
This page is set up to answer as many questions as possible, concerning
the ins and outs of motion picture art collecting, usually called poster collecting.
Clicking on the links will bring you to a fuller explanation of the
What to collect
There are no set rules when it comes to deciding what to collect. Go with what you
like. There are many people who will only purchase motion picture art
by format, such as lobby cards. Others opt to collect based on the country of origin,
for example, all Italian posters. Still yet, some collectors prefer
to collect only within a particular genre or certain preferred film
titles. The combinations are limitless. The best way is to go
with your instincts. (For additional information on collecting
motion picture art, see below "Recommended Reading on Collecting".)
Ordering a poster
When you are ordering a poster, know with whom you are dealing.
Different dealers have
different definitions of grading condition. Make sure you understand
what is meant by "good condition". Ask about tears,
stains, scratches, pin or staple holes, fading or any retouches or
repairs. While mounting a poster on linen-backing is a
perfectly acceptable archival process, it can also be used to hide
severe condition problems. (See below "Preserving Your
Collection" for explanation about linen-backing process.) Make sure
you know the
condition of the poster before it was linen-backed and how much restoration has been
done to it.
Another concern is how your posters will be packed and
shipped. A poster may leave the shop in good condition, but due
to negligent packing, arrive in worse condition. It is
recommended to ask about the dealer's/shop's return policy in the
unfortunate event that item is damaged or turns out to be in lesser
condition than you imagined. Usual practice is to insure the
package for the dollar value of the item. When returning items,
consideration should be taken as to repacking. The best method
is to use reinforced poster tubes, wrapping the posters in brown Kraft
paper or plastic. For flat items, use a couple of thick pieces
of cardboard, cut slightly larger than the item itself, and packing
tape around the edges.
Re-issue vs. Reproduction
Many people are confused by the difference between a reissue
and a reproduction of a
poster. Many movies were released subsequent to their original dates.
For instance, The
Wizard of Oz was originally released in 1939, but it was re-released in '49, '51, '55, etc.
The studio produced ad campaigns for all of these releases. All
of the posters (lobby cards, etc.) are designated as
"re-issues". Oftentimes, the artwork is completely
different, but interesting and valuable in its own right. A
reproduction, however, is simply a photographic copy of an original
poster and has little or no value as a collectible.
How do you know the difference?
Many of our favorite movie posters are in such high demand that
some companies have reproduced them. There are many ways to tell a reproduction from
a re-issue/original poster. For instance, all 1- sheets posters
before 1980 are folded, with very rare exception. (To find out about
1-sheets, see below "Standard Poster Sizes".) A rolled, original
poster of Gone with the Wind is
simply nonexistent. Making sure the fine print is in focus is another
indication of originality. If you have any doubt about authenticity, contact a
trusted dealer to give you his or her opinion.
Preserving your collection
Like most art mediums, certain materials require the
appropriate preservation methods to insure their longevity. One
method in poster preservation is a process called
"linen-backing". This entails mounting the poster on a
treated canvas material. A sheet of rice paper is sandwiched between the
poster and canvas and adhered to both with an archival glue. This
permits the process to be reversed at a future time, if needed.
"Paper-Backing" is a similar process, except in lieu of canvas,
the poster is mounted on thick archival paper. For the most part,
posters are usually linen-backed.
One warning is clear: Never dry mount posters!
Dry mounting yellows the paper and cannot be reversed. Accordingly,
it devalues the poster. Another recommendation is to keep your
collection out of direct sunlight. If you have a large collection
both in size and quantity, you may want to invest in flat file
drawers. They can be purchased in most larger art supply stores.
For display in frames, we suggest using UV filtered glass
or Plexiglas. Also because of changes in weather, resulting moisture
and mildew from condensation can wreck havoc on paper. Some
solutions are to use a frame with "spacers" which elevate the
glass or Plexiglas off the poster, or by having the poster matted
professionally. Although we can't recommend particular framing
stores in your area, here is a website that might accommodate your framing
Otherwise seek out a reputable local framing store.
Most of all, use common sense when handling, storing
and displaying your motion picture art collection. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us and we'll help you
in any way we can.
11"x 14" (28 x 36 cm) Also known as 'scene cards'. These cards were
situated in the lobby of a theater and were originally distributed in sets of 8;
they can be sold separately or in a set.
11" x 14" (28 x 36cm) The first card of a lobby card set. It
usually has a more complete list of credits and more elaborate
Jumbo Lobby Card
14" x 17" (36 x 42cm) Usually photographic and
unlike Lobby Cards, they are usually borderless.
14" x 22" (36 x 56cm) It has a large white border at the top
where theatres would display dates for local showings.
Mini Window Card
8" x 14" Same as a window card only smaller
14"x 36" vertical
Half Sheet 22"x 28" horizontal
27 "x 41"
(104 x205 cm)
(205 x 205 cm)
|R after the year of the film in
our inventory stands for "re-issue)
See above for "Re-issue vs. Reproduction"
|All foreign posters have their
own standard sizes, which will be notated in the inventory.
The Motion Picture Arts Gallery uses the following system for
grading the condition of our inventory:
Never or hardly ever used condition. Colors are still vibrant
with no marring of any kind.
Colors very bright, perhaps pinholes in the border. Very lightly
used. No major flaws.
Good color and overall very presentable appearance. It may have
had some minor restoration.
Acceptably used condition. Pinholes or tape on border. Nothing
significantly wrong with the actual image. Possible minor fading
Signs of usage. Perhaps separation along fold lines. Fading,
excessive pin-holes or possible border paper loss.
Wear or damage evident. Paper loss, fading and/or marring.
The Motion Picture Arts Gallery suggests the following books for more information on movie poster collecting:
- Reel Art: Great Posters from the Golden Age of the Silver Screen
Stephen Rebello and Richard Allen, 1992
- Film Posters of the '60s: The Essential Movies of the Decade
Tony Nourmand and Graham Marsh (editors), 1999
- Film Posters of the '70s: The Essential Movies of the Decade
Tony Nourmand and Graham Marsh (editors), 1999
- Crime Scenes: Movie Poster Art of the Film Noir: The Classic Period: 1941-1959
Lawrence Bassoff; Foreword by Robert Wise, 1997
- Film Posters of the Russian Avant-Garde
Susan Pack; Foreword by Christopher W. Mount, 1995
- Hitchcock Poster Art
Tony Nourmand and Mark H. Wolff (editors), 1999
- Movie Poster Design: Film Graphics
Mike Salisbury, 1999
We have some of these titles available. Larger bookstores either carry them or will order them for you.
For further information, please e-mail us through our Email Inquiry.