Vintage movie posters | Original film posters - Limelight Movie Art
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A BRIEF HISTORY

Cinema has now been with us for over a hundred years. But in its early days it was often seen as a passing fad - cheap entertainment for the masses, commercial and without any artistic merit or pretensions. Films themselves were designed to be disposable - prints to be watched at nickelodeons for a week or so, until the arrival of the following week's fare.

Advertising materials are also intended to be ephemeral - designed for immediate impact and intended to encourage consumers to buy something or to do something.

Cinema advertising is no different, and was never intended to be kept in its own right.

Posters and other paper promotional materials have been part and parcel of the motion picture industry since its earliest days, and were the main way of getting viewers into the picture house in the days before radio, television or the internet.

The ways in which the advertising campaign's basic aim was accomplished have varied over the years - by era, by fashion, by country, by poster artist and even by film studio - but its purpose has always been the same - to entice audiences into the cinema.


WHO BUYS ORIGINAL FILM POSTERS?

Today it isn't just "collectors" who are interested in film and cinema ephemera. More and more people are now deciding to buy an original film poster rather than, say, a watercolour.

Long term collectors, collecting mainly by artiste, director, or genre; film buffs looking for a permanent reminder of a favourite film, or less avid film fans, buying instead for the image itself. Sometimes because of feelings or memories associated with the film or the star. But sometimes just for the aesthetic pleasure of the piece.

The original film poster or lobby card has become an item of decoration for home or office display. Some people even buy original posters as an investment, and over the last ten or fifteen years many titles have increased considerably in value. For example, ten years ago you could still buy an original poster from "It's a Wonderful Life" for around £1,500. Today, it will probably cost you up to ten times that.



WHAT MAKES A POSTER COLLECTABLE?

It is our firm belief that when looking at movie art, you should buy or rent what you like, and shouldn't be too influenced by other people, or trends, or even investment considerations. But we are - understandably - frequently asked what makes a poster collectable, or particularly desirable, or expensive/valuable?

There is no one simple or correct answer to this question. Many people will hold different, and no less legitimate, views. But we believe that there are a number of factors to take into account, and that - usually - the more of these that can be found in a particular poster or other piece of cinema memorabilia, the more likely it is to be "collectable". They are:

The Title
The Star
The Director
Rarity
Poster Artist
The Image Itself
Fashion and Trends

The Title. The list of recognised classics continues to grow. Although films go in and out of vogue, some are always popular. There are too many to list, but as examples, think of "The Birth of a Nation", "Metropolis", "City Lights", "Gone With the Wind", "Casablanca", "Citizen Kane" or "It's a Wonderful Life". And modern classics too, such as "Star Wars" or "Pulp Fiction".

The Star. "What makes a star?" is a question with no clear answer. But for whatever reason, stars exist, and then certain stars transcend their own time, and become icons. Their images on original art are especially attractive to many people.

Some are obvious, like Monroe, Hepburn, Grant and Brando. More recent artistes such as Eastwood, McQueen and Caine are also tremendously popular. But then the top Box Office star of most of the 1980s - Burt Reynolds -is virtually uncollectable, as are most female stars of the last 30 years.

The Director. The same principles apply to Directors, especially those who are labelled auteurs by the film academics - think Welles, Hitchcock and Ford. And more recently, Woody Allen, Pedro Almodovar, and perhaps Tim Burton and Quentin Tarantino (though the purists might say that the latter is derivative rather than original - but the posters for his films are suitably cool, either way).

Rarity. Unsurprisingly, the general rule is that the older the film, the more scarce is its surviving advertising material. Original posters from the 1950s and onwards are generally relatively easy to find.

But pre-war posters can be very hard to come by, as can materials from the war and immediate post-war years because of paper shortages and other restrictions.

The poster artist. Sometimes a poster artist has been sufficiently talented - and given enough free rein - that his own style shines through, regardless of the film title.

Again, there are many examples from different generations and different countries, but here are a few of the more well known ones to look out for.

From the US, the renowned graphic artist, Saul Bass, the classic American caricaturist, Al Hirschfeld and the Romanian born Jacques Kapralik. (Some commentators think that Drew Struzan is the only worthwhile poster artist from the last 40 years - we disagree).

From Italy, Ercole Brini and Enzo Nistri. From Sweden, Gosta Aberg. And from Poland, Wiktor Gorka and Waldemar Swierzy.

These latter Polish posterists, and others from elsewhere in Eastern Europe, have often produced some of the most imaginative artwork, since up until quite recently they often only had the title of the film with which to work. They didn't see the US or British advertising materials, or the film itself, before producing their poster artwork.

The image itself. Many beautiful and interesting posters can be found for films which no-one remembers, and featuring stars that no-one has ever heard of.

American "B" movies of the 1940s and 1950s provide countless examples, as do 1960s posters, which often seem to reflect the art and style of that decade rather than the films themselves.

Similarly, foreign posters often have superior artwork, and French and Italian poster artists in particular often worked in watercolours, producing a very different type of poster to the more familiar US or UK images.

Posters from Cuba and Poland, where the artwork was frequently produced by well known local artists, are also well worth looking out for.

Many - though by no means all - modern US and UK posters consist mainly of photographic representations from the film, or of the stars. They are still popular for other reasons, but the aesthetics of the image often compare unfavourably with posters from earlier generations.

Fashion and trends. Like any other industry or art form, poster values and collectability are influenced by the whim of current vogues. Film posters also go in and out of fashion.

Recent examples of "in vogue" titles have been "Breakfast at Tiffany's", "The Godfather", "Blow-Up", "Bullitt", early Bond titles, "Chinatown" and "Get Carter". "Jaws" and "Cool-Hand Luke" were very popular, but may now be starting to wane a little.

Who knows what will be the next generation of heavily sought after titles? Will it include "Downhill Racer", "Performance" and other rock related titles, and 1990s feelgoods like "Four Weddings and a Funeral"?

Some or all of which may (or may not) explain why someone was prepared to pay a record US $ 453,000 at Sotheby's in 1997 for an original poster for 1932's "The Mummy" starring Karloff, or why a single Lobby Card from "Breakfast at Tiffany's" sold for £2,600 at Christie's in September 2004.