How vintage film posters became collectable

PUBLISHED: 12:34 12 August 2014 | UPDATED: 12:34 12 August 2014


Becoming very collectable these days, vintage film posters can make a great focal point for a room. Here, Ali Heath brings us the low-down

Invented by Augustus and Louis Lumiere in 1895, motion pictures resulted in one of the most influential art mediums of our time in the form of the film poster.

Prior to 1910, the majority of early posters were just simple signs made up of block text with the title, producer and director. Studios quickly recognised, however, that colourful, attractive designs illustrating scenes from their movie could attract more attention and ultimately increased ticket sales. Early designs were still printed on cheap paper though, as they weren’t intended to be kept or collected.

By the 1920s, film studios had begun hiring famous artists and illustrators to create their own designs. 20th Century Fox, promoting mainly musicals, became known for artwork using rich and effervescent colours, while MGM was synonymous with slick posters that used pastel colours on stark white backgrounds. Colour photographic quality became the preferred choice and Columbia Pictures broke new ground by colourising black and white still photos, which soon every studio embraced.

During World War II, however, enormous volumes of paper were destroyed resulting in many classic poster titles becoming extremely scarce such as Casablanca, King Kong, Frankenstein and The Wizard of Oz.

Also, until the mid 1980’s, the National Screen Service (NSS) printed and distributed almost all movie posters for the studios. Posters were legally required to be sent back and archives of old posters were usually destroyed en masse once the film’s run had ended and the need for advertising elapsed. Eventually though, with the advent of multi-screen cinemas, studios cut back on distribution and the role of the NSS was eliminated.

Today, movie posters are in increasing demand to both film buffs and those wanting original artwork for their homes. These advertising mediums have become nostalgic souvenirs and provide a historical record of key periods of time portraying how our culture, style, trends and film techniques have evolved over the last century. Major auction houses such as Christie’s and Sotheby’s regularly auction movie posters worldwide. For example, The Mummy (1932) recorded the highest price ever achieved for a film poster; an astonishing $453,000! Even at the more affordable end, posters can still be good investments – for example, the poster of Bond movie Dr. No sells today for around £3,500, compared to hundreds in the 1990s.

Collecting is very personal and these tips are just intended as simple guidelines. My motto is find what you love and love what you find. That way, it will always have a place in your home regardless of value.


Where to look locally... 
Ewbanks auctioneers have regular entertainment and memorabilia auctions at their Send auction house. Call 01483 223101 or see


Where to look online… 
Take a look at Mark Hochman’s company, Vintage Movie Posters, for a fabulous range of print memorabilia: Alternatively, give them a call on 01494 432816 or, for all the latest. you can follow them on Twitter: @vinmovieposters




Discover a DVD collection's worth of Surrey Film Locations



3 things to look for... in a movie poster

Here, we reveal some of the key things to check for in your search...

Classic films...
Classic early titles such as Casablanca, King Kong and The Wizard of Oz are all highly collectable but expensive due to the popularity of the films and the scarcity of the printed material. 1960s and 1970s nostalgic films are gaining momentum too, with films like Breakfast at Tiffany’s, the Bond films and The Italian Job. Still affordable though at under £1,000.


Star appeal...
Early movie stars that attract high yield returns include Charlie Chaplin, Humphrey Bogart, Errol Flynn, Greta Garbo, Bette Davis and Marlene Dietrich. 1950s and 1960s favourites include Audrey Hepburn, Grace Kelly, Elvis Presley, Cary Grant, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, James Dean, Marlon Brando, Steve McQueen and Sean Connery as Bond. For 1970s star appeal, look out for Clint Eastwood, Michael Caine, Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. Certain directors also prove popular such as Alfred Hitchcock, Woody Allen, Frank Capra and Quentin Tarantino.


Great design... 
Artists such as Saul Bass, Reynold Brown, Drew Stuzan, Al Hirschfeld, Ericole Brini, Jack Davis, Anselmo Ballester, Frank MacCarthy, Tom Jung and Roger Soubie have all become synonymous with great movie poster design. Most of the best collectable designs are pre-1980 when illustrative style was at its peak. During the 1980s, studios began to use stars to promote the film and by the 1990s illustrative designs were nearly non-existent, with photoshop designs becoming the norm.




Ali Heath is the owner of Plum (see / To contact Ali about styling and writing commissions, e-mail

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