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An Introduction To Collecting Movie Posters

This article first appeared in Warren's Movie Poster Price Guide, 3rd edition.

Filmmakers have advertised their films by every means conceivable since the first producer decided to splice his footage together, load it onto a projector, set up a screen and some chairs, and sell tickets. Film trailers, handbills, heralds, radio and TV spots, sneak previews and the revered publicity stunts of the great showmen of the past have all played a role in getting the attention of the public when a film needed selling. But for film fans all over the world, one area of film advertising remains specially connected to the heart of filmmaking: the movie poster. Posters go right back to the beginning of movie exhibition a century ago. The evolution of advertising using posters was inevitable; in the previous century almost anything you could buy had been advertised on posters. Posters were colorful and they were ubiquitous. They were cheap to produce and they really grabbed one's attention. So it was natural that filmmakers would turn to posters as a means of arousing curiosity. The modern one sheet posters of today, offset printed on translucent "lightbox" paper, fulfill exactly the same function as did the stone lithographs which announced exhibitions of cinema by Lumiere and Edison. By the exploitation and juxtaposition of image, text, and color they attract the public's attention and invite people to reach for their wallets at the boxoffice.

But aside from this primary function, film posters have another quality. They are at once mementos, memorabilia if you will, of the experience of attending a film. In this they are artifacts of our culture. The poster that you see at the cineplex for a film like Jurassic Park or Howard's End could have the same nostalgic appeal in fifty years that a poster for The Wizard of Oz or It Happened One Night has for us today. It's hard to say for sure. The possibility that it might is part of the charm and allure of collecting.

The ability to see something special in a poster is the hallmark of a talented collector. A collector may have great posters and yet have a lackluster collection. Collections with verve are amassed by collectors with vision. This is true with all collectibles, and it is equally true with film posters. Happily, this is what makes collecting fun. Not everyone can own an original King Kong one sheet. Not everyone has the money, but even if they did they still couldn't because only a few are known to exist. But anyone interested in movie posters can have a wonderful collection. That is to say, a collection filled with wonders.

Poster Sizes

Movie posters were made in certain specific sizes, sometimes in multiple styles (different posters in the same size), to be used in different situations. The most common size, the one sheet poster, 27 inches wide by 41 inches high, is today triumphant over the other sizes which are, largely, no longer manufactured. The one sheet poster is what one sees when attending a theater today.

But in the past, as recently as the 1970s and 1980s, posters were made in several configurations. Classically, from the smallest to the largest, posters were produced in the following sizes:

Three Sheet. The three sheet poster is printed on paper stock and is three times larger, in square inches, than a one sheet. Its dimensions are 41 inches wide by 81 inches high. So, like an insert poster, it has a long, vertical orientation. It may be printed by offset photolithography or by stone lithography. Three sheets are generally scarcer than smaller posters on the same title. Because it is large, preparation of the poster for display is more expensive than for a smaller poster. But if you have the space to display one, or even it you are simply in love with larger posters, three sheets are wonderful. They may simply show a larger image of the same art as is found on one or more of the smaller posters on a title, or they may offer an image that is different altogether from any other poster. The most successful three sheets are ones which are designed to best utilize the vertical scheme.

Six sheet. The six sheet poster is six times larger, in square inches, than a one sheet and twice as large as a three sheet. Normally a six sheet measures 81 inches wide by 81 inches high: the only movie poster that is a perfect square. I have been six sheets that were slightly larger and slightly smaller than these dimensions but these are unusual. By any definition this poster is BIG. Three and six sheets were usually used in the big, downtown movie palaces, and, to me, they are especially evocative of the golden area of movie exhibition. The six sheet is scarcer in general, than, say a three sheet on the same title. This is so because fewer sixes than threes, and threes than ones etc., were manufactured to begin with. And because larger posters were often dismissed as "too big" by collectors in the early years, they were often discarded or treated casually, further reducing their numbers. Six sheets may be offset photolithography or they may be stone lithos; they are printed on paper stocks. They are even more expensive to prepare for display than a three sheet. When they are good, however they can be very impressive indeed. Obviously, they can be very impressive in a larger room.

Roadshow Posters

Roadshow (or limited engagement) films often had posters which were printed and distributed outside of the normal National Screen Service channels. 1952 to 1967 was the heyday of reserved seat engagements of such popular films as This Is Cinerama, Around The World In Eighty Days, Oklahoma!, Ben Hur, Spartacus, Cleopatra, My Fair Lady, and The Sound Of Music, to name but just a few. These special roadshow posters are becoming increasingly collected and are sometimes considered the best posters on these titles.

Foreign Posters

Movie posters were manufactured and distributed in England, France, Belgium, Italy, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Spain, Austria, Poland, Russia, Argentina, Mexico, Japan, China, India, Australia, and other countries. Each country produced posters for both original films from these countries and films imported from other countries. If you consider this for a moment, you begin to get an idea of the permutations of posters for any given film: a Belgian poster for an Italian film, a French poster for an American film, an Australian poster for an American film, an American poster for a British film, and so on. And each country produced its own particular poster sizes. To complicate matters further, there are original and reissue posters in foreign posters just as in U.S. posters, often without identifying marks to indicate whether the poster is original or reissue.

In Closing

These are some of the basics of collecting movie posters. Check out the collector's magazines. Go to a convention. Attend an auction. Get on the phone with some dealers and chat. Call up another collector who likes what you do. Don't take anyone's advice as the gospel, but listen to the experiences of others with an open mind. Treat others in the hobby as you would want to be treated and expect the same

Submitted by:

Millsap Brady

http://www.posters123.com




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