Vintage movie posters add op culture art to any home
Movie theater manager Brian Mossman gets the same questions from customers nearly every weekend.
“Hey, may I have that movie poster?” “My daughter loved this movie. May I buy this movie poster for her?”
The answer is always a solid “no,” says Mossman, vice president of the Fine Arts Group, which includes the Glenwood and Rio theaters. His career in the movie business began more than three decades ago, and since then he has amassed thousands of movie posters for his own personal collection.
“I started collecting them so long ago,” Mossman says. “This can be an investment one day when I retire. It’s like ‘The Blob’ – your collection just keeps on growing and growing.”
Return to sender
It wasn’t always so. In the early days of film, movie theater posters were rented out to theaters, whose management mailed them back to the studios once the film’s run had ended. The concept of movie posters as art didn’t really exist, and thus posters were printed on cheap paper with little attention paid to their overall design or keeping them for posterity.
The general fragility of movie posters from the 1920s to the 1940s, coupled with the general conservation of paper during World War II, meant that very few posters from Hollywood’s Golden Age have survived to the present day. In fact, according to online retailer filmposters.com, it is estimated that “fewer copies of movie posters exist from most films made during the period of 1930 through 1945.” This would include many beloved classics of the silver screen, including “Gone With the Wind” and “The Wizard of Oz,” both of which were released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1939. The idea of movie posters as works of art emerged from a post-war America in the 1950s, and posters began to be more artfully designed and printed on more durable paper.
Mossman says that due to the nature of his job, collecting movie posters has been a cinch.
“I collect everything I play, and I have since day one,” he says.
For those who don’t have the luxury of having access to free movie posters, the Internet is a collector’s best friend.
“With the Internet, you can go to eBay and search for almost anything. It’s so easy to find what you want,” Mossman notes, adding that other websites such as filmposters.com and allposters.com sell both original and reproductions of movie posters from the earliest days of cinema to today.
Collectors can also buy old movie posters from some sellers at conventions such as Kansas City’s annual Planet Comicon, a pop culture convention. This year’s event will take place April 28-30 at Bartle Hall in Kansas City, MO.
Mossman says that even spending a weekend hunting for treasures at neighborhood garage sales could produce surprising results.
“A friend of mine bought an original poster of ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood’ (1938, starring Errol Flynn) for only $15,” Mossman recalls. “It was 30 years ago. He ended up being able to sell it for $15,000. It was an original. It was folded, but only had a couple of pinholes where the poster was put up.”
Mossman says that many original posters “can be very valuable,” depending on their condition.
“Another friend of mine had the original posters for ‘The Thing’ and ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still,’” he says. “Some can go for thousands of dollars.”
Mossman adds that other collectible movie memorabilia includes lobby cards, which are essentially smaller versions of movie posters – usually, 11” x 14” in size.
“Those are big collector’s items, too,” he says, but adds that lobby cards are no longer produced, making vintage lobby cards even more valuable. “It’s supply and demand – when an item isn’t made anymore, it really becomes one of a kind.”
According to The Boston Globe, the record for most expensive movie poster goes to the international poster for “Metropolis,” a silent film released by German director Fritz Lang in 1927. The worth of the poster has been estimated to be $850,000.
Just collect – but handle carefully
“Personally, I don’t collect movie posters for the value of them,” Mossman admits. “Some people do that … but your attachment to the poster should be sentimental. Those posters are a way for you to remember your favorite movies.”
One handy tip, according to Mossman, is to leave your vintage posters rolled up in a cardboard tube, like the ones that may be purchased at any post office or craft store. Don’t fold them, he warns, or the paper will become warped with time.
Most traditional movie posters measure 27” x 40”, but sizes may vary based on the time period in which the poster was made. If you’re just starting out as a collector and want to make your favorite movie poster the focal point for your home, nicer, more expensive wooden frames can be found at specialty and craft stores; if the posters will be displayed in a special room in your home, like a media room, you might wish to opt for cheaper, black, plastic frames. The 27” x 40” size can be found at any big-box retailer.
“Some people collect on a small scale, but some people have their own media room,” Mossman notes. You get leather chairs and a digital projector, buy those one-sheet frames, and change them out every once in a while – it’s fun!”
Mossman encouraged those who are novice collectors to ignore the value of certain posters, and just go with one’s natural instinct.
“People have different reasons for collecting,” he says. “It all depends on your personal taste. There are so many of them – where do you start?”
“If you’re starting a collection, just collect what you like,” he says, smiling. “It’s that simple.”
Corbin Crable worked as a movie theater employee and manager for AMC Theatres and Dickinson Theatres in the KC metro area for more than 20 years. Over that time, he amassed a collection of hundreds of posters, only a few of which are displayed in his home. His favorite movie poster advertises Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film, “A Clockwork Orange” — though “Barbarella” (1968) comes a close second.