Hunting Down the Most Collectible Movie Posters, from 1930s Horror to 1960s Sci-Fi

October 9th, 2009

Rudy Franchi knows movie posters inside and out. That’s because he’s more than a poster dealer, more than an Antiques Roadshow appraiser, more even than a respected author on the subject. Franchi is also a film buff, as his years running the Bleecker Street Cinema in New York City attest. In this wide-ranging interview, Franchi talks about how he got his start in the movie-poster business, and the life experiences that prepared him for his trade. Franchi can be contacted via www.posterappraisal.com.

Pillow of Death by Universal 1945 U.S. poster design

Pillow of Death, Universal Pictures, 1945. U.S. design. Image source: www.posteritati.com

I worked at 20th Century Fox in the publicity department, so I was always fascinated with film, and then I moved to Montreal in late ’68, right after I got married. I was in the film business, and I spent all my free time going to antiques shops and buying all kinds of strange collectibles. Across from where I worked, there was a used bookstore going out of business, and everything was half-priced. When I walked in, I picked up an old magazine lying on the counter and said, “How much?” The woman who owned the place said, “Are you interested in old magazines?” I said, “Sure.” She took me downstairs, and the entire basement was filled with thousands of old magazines—Life, National Geographic, British and French periodicals—dating from the 1880s right through the 1960s. She said I could have the lot for $500. I bought the entire basement.

I hired a taxi for the afternoon and drove back and forth to my flat, which had a vast living room, and I filled it floor to ceiling with magazines. My wife, Barbara, came home from work and she said, “What is this?” and I said, “This is what we’re going to do for the rest our lives.” She said, “When do we start?”

I never went back to work. I opened a little shop and we sold old magazines and other stuff.

A lot of people don’t make it in the business because the first years are so difficult, but we stuck to it even though we were raising three kids. We focused on Art Nouveau and Art Deco collectibles because it was very trendy in New York at the time and people in Montreal hadn’t caught on to it yet. So we were able to buy things cheaply and sell them to people who came up from New York to visit Montreal.

As much we liked the Art Deco and Art Nouveau stuff, it wasn’t really what we enjoyed. So we went into old advertising and country-store stuff like die cabinets and spool cabinets and old signs. We added a lot of graphics and we sold travel and movie posters. Eventually we moved to a little downtown shop in Montreal where we became very successful.

In 1976 the separatist government, the Party Quebecois, came into power in Quebec and business went down to zero because of the upheaval. We had to change the English name of our shop, and there were a lot of restrictions on what you could do. If somebody entered your shop, you had to say hello to the person in French first. You couldn’t speak English until they spoke English, crazy stuff like that. We put up with it, but it really was disastrous for business.

Tourists weren’t coming up to Montreal because they didn’t want to worry about being insulted if they spoke the wrong language. So we looked for a place in the states. We picked Newport, Rhode Island because it was just starting to be a tourist destination. It had been a big Navy town, and the government pulled the Navy out of there and it really almost destroyed the city. But they decided to go after tourism because they had those beautiful Robber Baron-era mansions. We were lucky enough to buy a condo store cheaply right downtown. That first summer the boom started—we were there for 10 years and did very well.

The Thing by Carpenter 1982 U.S. poster design. Image source: www.posteritati.com

The Thing, Universal Pictures, 1982. U.S. design by Drew Struzan. Image source: www.posteritati.com

After a while, my wife and I decided we were tired of small-town life and we were going to open a shop in New York, but any decent place in New York was too expensive. So we moved our shop to a storefront on Newbury Street in Boston.

We drifted more toward movie posters and memorabilia. We were about 50 percent movie posters and movie memorabilia when we launched a website. An Internet magazine reporter called me recently and said they thought we were the first commercial site on the Internet in 1992.

Frankly, at the time I thought the Web was going to be a big fad like CB radios in the 1980s. But about the second day after the site was up, I got a phone call. Somebody wanted to buy one of the six posters on the site.

It really was like the horse and carriage back then. There were no search engines at that time. People would poke around the Internet and type in different URLs they had heard about, and then somebody came up with the idea of links so you could actually go from one site to another.

As the Web became more and more sophisticated, my wife kept up with all the changes. She was really great. Eventually we were able to put up a site with hundreds of posters on it, and with our webmaster we developed the first shopping cart on the Internet.

Eventually, we had 250,000 posters, press books and press kits on the site—all the movie ephemera you could think of. For a while we had the whole market to ourselves, nobody else was selling movie memorabilia on the Web. Even when other people put up sites in the late 1990s, we were ahead of the game because we could charge sales through Visa and MasterCard.

The business grew, and we wrote a book about movie posters that was published in 2000. In the late ’90s, I was invited to be on Antiques Roadshow. When we were at our peak, before we sold the business, we had the largest selection of original movie memorabilia on the Internet.

Collectors Weekly: Was that the online Nostalgia Factory?

Franchi: Our URL was nostalgia.com. Back when we got the URL in ’92, you called up this telephone number and said you wanted a URL, and they said, “What do you want?” and we said, “Nostalgia,” and they said, “Okay, you got it.” And when I think back, everything was available. Exxon was available, Ford was available, Apple was available. Nobody thought about registering. They thought it was just a joke.

Collectors Weekly: And you focused on all different types of memorabilia, or just ephemeral stuff?

Franchi: We made a decision very early on that the Internet was a place to sell specific collectibles instead of a whole broad range of stuff. So we picked our favorite thing, movie posters, and then stopped dealing with all the other stuff.

Eventually we dropped our retail operation. The last three years, we were in this nice warehouse on the Mystic River in Charleston, which is just next to Boston. There was no retail there. It was way out of the way, and there was no signage or anything. If people wanted to look through posters or sell us stuff, that was fine, but there was no passing trade. We had a smaller staff that could focus just on taking the orders and shipping the material. Matter of fact, our biggest operation was shipping. The orders were automatically generated on the computer.

Collectors Weekly: Now you offer poster appraisals?

Franchi: It’s just a service I started. We do movie posters, travel posters, war posters, rock posters. When I sold the business, I wanted to stay in touch with the marketplace because I was still doing the Roadshow. I felt one way to do that would be to set up this site that offered free verbal appraisals of posters. I also suggest how people can realize a poster’s worth. I suggest whether to sell it to a dealer, which is usually my last choice because dealers are going to offer the lowest price.

But if you need cash right away selling to a dealer is a valid option. A dealer will stand there with pockets full of money, and he’ll buy the stuff on the spot. But usually I suggest the auction houses for getting the best price, especially in the world of posters. The top collectors and dealers prefer to buy from major auction houses because you get a certain guarantee of authenticity. Even online they have very sophisticated graphics where you can examine a poster inch by inch for any flaws.

If I recommend the person to one of the big auction houses and it sells, they sometimes give me what’s called an introductory commission. It’s a small percentage of the price, but that’s not why I do it. Basically, I’m trying to give something back after all these years.

Collectors Weekly: And you’re still doing memorabilia and posters for Antiques Roadshow as well?

A Woman is a Woman (Une femme est une femme) by Godard 1964 French poster design. Image source: www.posteritati.com

A Woman is a Woman (Une Femme est une Femme), Unidex, 1964. French design. Image source: www.posteritati.com

Franchi: Yes. We just finished our 14th season. I’ve been on since the beginning.

I do movie posters and Nick Lowry of Swann Gallery does all the travel posters and war posters. I also look at country-store advertising which includes you name it—everything from Boy Scout collectibles to condom tins.

The rules state that you can’t just come to the show if you have a ticket. You have to bring something with you. So people will grab something as they’re running out the door because they really just want to see the show. They want to see the Keno brothers and get autographs from everybody.

Every once in a while they’re surprised by the thing they grabbed. That metal piece happens to be a colonial candlestick worth $18,000. But that’s a freakish accident. Most of the time, the stuff they bring is not of any value.

Some people bring in their collections and then they sit there and tell us about it. That’s not really what the Roadshow is looking for. The appraiser is supposed to tell them about what they’ve brought.

When you think that we get between 4,000 and 5,000 people and everybody is allowed to bring two objects, that’s 10,000 pieces that 70 appraisers evaluate. Well, the odds of something spectacular coming along are rather high, and it doesn’t have to be spectacular in price. It has to be new, interesting or have a story behind it.

Once this fellow came in with the original artwork for the logos from the fronts of locomotives and all the great rail systems from 1930s. It was just fascinating stuff, but it wasn’t that valuable. I think it came up to $8,000 or $9,000 for about 35 of them, but they wanted to tape it because it’s something we’ve never done.

Most of the stuff I looked at this summer was in the $5,000 to $10,000 range, but they were interesting pieces and they had educational value. After all, this is PBS. We’re rather heavy-handed on educating the public.

Collectors Weekly: Before you started the antiques shops, you were involved in the film business in New York?

Franchi: I started out in art films in the 1960s, independent films and revivals of old films. I ran the Bleecker Street Cinema, which was one of the three major movie revival houses in New York. We showed things like Casablanca and the French classics. That might sound cliché today but back in the early ’60s it was very hard to see these films. There was no TiVo or VCRs or DVDs. The only way to see them was in a movie house, and until we came along, movie houses just weren’t showing those old films. To show them, we had to find the prints and dig up the rights to them. It was real detective work.

“People aren’t going to make films if no one looks at them.”

We gave premieres to films like Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising and Akira Kurosawa’s The Lower Depths. We showed independent American films, too. The Bleecker Street was a real meeting place in Greenwich Village. We had this huge backroom, and we used one of the corners as an office. On a Sunday afternoon, Andy Sarris, Jonas Mekas, Ralph Ellison, and all the young critics would gather there.

I published a little film magazine, and we were the first ones to translate material from “Cahiers du Cinema,” which was the new-wave magazine where Truffaut and Godard and Alain Resnais worked. We sort of became the American voice of the auteur theory. Andy Sarris was a major proponent of it, and he wrote for us. We were attacked by a lot of people. Pauline Kael said some nasty things about us. She never liked the auteur theory. But it became a very powerful force because it eventually led to the ’70s.

I distributed a few films and produced a few shorts. I was involved in that whole ’60s period of young, independent American filmmakers. The French cinema was my real love because I became very friendly with Truffaut. Whenever he came to New York, he would come to the Bleecker Street and hang out. We did two major film interviews with him about the auteur theory. Those films about the birth of the auteur theory in France have become seminal.

8 1/2 by Felini 1964 Czech poster design. Image source: www.posteritati.com

8 1/2, Italsky Film, 1964. Czech design by Bedrich Dlouhy. Image source: www.posteritati.com

We never knew who would walk through the door because all the new-wave directors had our card, and they would just walk in, and we would just sweep them up into our little, crazy world. We’d all go out to dinner together, and we’d swap stories and just enjoy each other. It was a very nice, open atmosphere.

Pauline, John Simon, Andy Sarris and I were always exchanging ideas. There was competition among us to be the first to write about something.

The only problem with running the Bleecker Street Cinema was we were always all broke. I had been working with the Montreal Film Festival as their U.S. representative. At one point, they wanted to open the festival with Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard, the film with Burt Lancaster. 20th Century Fox had the rights, so I went over to Fox and negotiated to open the festival with them. And I said, “Now, who’s going to make the opening announcement?” And they said, “You do it. Frankly, we really don’t care about this movie. It’s not going to make any money.”

So they gave me free rein to do the publicity for the Montreal Film Festival that year. I went to town on it, and I got a big break in the New York Times and Variety. And Fox called me and said, “How’d you do that?” and I said, “It’s what I do. I know a lot of people.” So they hired me to be their publicist.

Well, that turned out to be a disaster because as soon as I went to Fox, all my friends thought I had sold out and had nothing to do with me. I couldn’t get a word in any of the little magazines or anything. But it turned out that I was very good at putting on big events. When they needed a party or premiere, I was really great at finding different places to have parties and putting on publicity stunts for premieres. I did that for three years, but eventually I was worn out by the high life.

That’s when I met my wife. She had two kids, young children. And I didn’t want to raise them in New York. This was the late ’60s, and the city was a desperate place at that time. It was all right to be single but raising kids there was tough unless you were fabulously wealthy and sent them to the best private schools. So we moved to Montreal where I had a lot of contacts from the film festival and at the National Film Board. I worked in film up there for a while until I struck out on my own with the collectibles.

There is interest now in looking at the early ’60s when a whole bunch of the ideas that are now very important in the movie business germinated. At the time, Hollywood studios had lost their way; they didn’t know what people wanted to see anymore. They were making the same old spectacular Hollywood films, but nobody was coming to see them. And this bunch of young directors like Francis Ford Coppola and Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, Peter Bogdanovich came along and they said, “We want to make these kinds of films.” And the studios said, “Go ahead. Do something. Maybe that’ll work.” It did work, and it made the director the boss in Hollywood.

In the early ’60s there were a few noted directors like Alfred Hitchcock, but they would use the director to sell the film. They would say, “It’s going to be a Hitchcock film.” And because he was fairly successful, they left him alone to do what he wanted. Or let’s say it’s a George Cukor film. They’d bill it as a sophisticated comedy. But for the most part, Hollywood publicized the actors and actresses. They would give as much prominence to a producer as they would to a director back then. But eventually because of the spread of the auteur theory, the director became the king in Hollywood and still is today. They’re the ones who drive the industry’s artistic end. We were very influential in that.

Collectors Weekly: Does that kind of open atmosphere still exist with directors of independent movies?

Vertigo by Hitchcock (poster art by Saul Bass) 1958 U.S. poster design. Image source: Margaret Herrick Library Catalog

Vertigo, Paramount Pictures, 1958. U.S. design by Saul Bass. Image source: Margaret Herrick Library Catalog

Franchi: It’s now a massive business. Directors get together at Sundance. There’s the famous story about the Venice Film Festival back in the early ’50s about Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, and Roberto Rossellini sitting at a table talking. Some film critics were at another table and they said, “To be a little bird and hover there and hear these masters talking about cinema.” So one of the guys went over and asked Orson Welles, “Orson, what aspects of cinema were you talking about?” “Well, we were talking about how to recapture the Argentine percentage of our grosses that had been held back.” They were talking money.

What happens today is that all these independent filmmakers, they gather someplace like Sundance, and all they talk about is distribution and money. There’s no time to talk about art anymore. It’s too desperate, and the methods of distribution are shifting rapidly. Movies are streaming on the Internet because there’s just no way that all of these films can get through the usual distribution channels. There aren’t enough movie theaters to show them, and there aren’t enough people who want to see them in movie theaters.

When people want to do a night out at the movies they want something big. Even if it’s an offbeat, uninteresting film, they really want to see something that has been talked about and reviewed. There’s very little room now for the distribution of offbeat films. Through technology, though, they’re finding other methods for getting their movies out, but it’s hard to calibrate how many people are seeing films on the Internet.

People aren’t going to make films if no one looks at them. All the major studios had a division for independent films, and they’re closing them one by one. So production is dropping rapidly. There are a lot of young people making films, but they’re particular, strange films.

Collectors Weekly: What kinds of posters did you specialize in?

Franchi: When I ran the movie theaters, I handled tons of film posters and I knew the different formats. Aside from the basic poster which is called a one-sheet, there were lobby cards, special lobby cards, inserts, three-sheets, six-sheets, window cards, banners, you name it. There was just so much paper that was produced by the studios to promote films. There are hardly any one-sheets anymore because now they’re going to digital posters.

Today it’s 27 by 40 inches. It’s the poster that you see in a movie theater when you go in. Now they’re able to create digital posters that they can change every minute. They can change the language and the images. It’ll be impossible to collect those.

Collectors Weekly: So is movie-poster collecting strictly vintage?

Franchi: Well, there’s a big problem with modern posters because as soon as the poster comes out, it’s immediately reproduced and it’s just about impossible to tell the original from the copy. You can get some directly from the movie theater so that at least you know it was sent to the movie theater by one of the majors. But in the secondary market, it’s impossible to prove that to somebody who wants to buy it from you because it’s identical to the laser copy. So most people are buying them just to hang them up for a while because they enjoyed the movie.

Shock Corridor by Fuller 1963 U.S. poster design. Image source: www.posteritati.com

Shock Corridor, Allied Artists Pictures, 1963. U.S. design. Image source: www.posteritati.com

But there’s a huge market in movie memorabilia. An auction house like Heritage sells the early Universal horror films for hundreds of thousands of dollars. So there is a tremendous market. It took a while for the big money to move into it. Some of the big directors like Spielberg and Lucas had been in it, but what you need is a lot of people with deep pockets bidding against each other on a wide number of posters. And that’s happening now.

The most that anyone has paid for a movie poster is $800,000, which was for the German three-sheet of Metropolis. I don’t think it’s going to be long before we see a $1 million movie poster. It’s most likely going to be one of the great horror films. That’s where all the big money is going—Frankenstein, Dracula, The Black Cat, all those early 1930s films. The Mummy, of course, all those early ’30s Universal horror movies pull in the big bucks. But there are people who will spend thousands on a single lobby card from a musical, a rare lobby card. It’s a very wide market. There are a lot of different collectors in it now, and they’re beginning to spend real money. So it’s become worthwhile for major dealers and auction houses to court these people.

The key to anything to do with movie posters is quality, and there are a lot of rogues out there. They’re reproducing the older posters very cleverly. I would never buy a movie poster now even with all my expertise except from a major auction house because any major poster has to be submitted to a whole bunch of forensic tests, black light, X-rays, and even chemical tests. The forgers have gotten very clever because they have all these other techniques at hand. They’ll take an old poster, some worthless poster from a C movie, and carefully scrape off the image on that poster and lay on a brand new image via laser printing, onto a classic poster with the old paper. It looks great, and it’s enough to fool even some experts. These are posters that are selling in the hundreds of thousands. So you have to be very careful.

My favorite story is back in about 1999 or 2000. A Mickey Mouse animation celluloid from the early 1930s, very rare, sold for $400,000. Steven Spielberg bought it. A dealer came to him and said, “I have another one from the same film with a different theme.” And Spielberg looked and he said, “I love this. I’d love to own this.” And the guy said, “Yes. Well, you can have it for $200,000.” Spielberg said, “You know what, if you ever put it at auction, be sure to call me.”

People with real money would rather pay more and be protected than be taken advantage of. For Spielberg, it’s about more than the $200,000 difference. He doesn’t want to be taken advantage of just because he’s Steven Spielberg.

Collectors Weekly: Other than Universal horror films from the 1930s, what other eras are collectible?

Dr. Strangelove by Kubrick 1964 U.S. poster design. Image source: www.posteritati.com

Dr. Strangelove, Columbia Pictures, 1964. U.S. design by Tomi Ungerer. Image source: www.posteritati.com

Franchi: 1950s science fiction, The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Thing, all the great classic science-fiction movies from the ’50s because the graphics in the posters are wonderful. Horror stuff from the ’50s is the next biggest area. Those sell from the low thousands right up to $100,000 to $200,000 for some of the hard-to-find classic images.

There are people who collect the great musicals like The Wizard of Oz. It’s a highly collectible film. Surprisingly, some classics like Gone With the Wind aren’t as valuable because so much stuff was produced to promote it that it’s still washing around out there. Even with a film like Casablanca, the one-sheet only sells for $25,000 to $30,000. Now, here’s everybody’s favorite movie, but the problem is that it’s an ugly poster. It doesn’t capture the nature of the film. There are some French and Italian Casablanca posters that sell for a higher price because they’re more evocative. There are whole books now about that genre of collecting.

Collectors Weekly: How many posters were typically made for one movie?

Franchi: Everybody produced posters. And most countries would change the artwork. The French and Italians make much larger posters, and the English use a horizontal poster called a quad. It’s 40 by 30 inches, but it’s horizontal. Sometimes they would use, especially the British, the key art or the basic graphic elements of a poster, but often the British, Italians, and French completely changed the poster.

The most interesting foreign posters are the Polish ones. They did such advanced graphics that sometimes you can’t tell unless you speak the language what the movie was. Once you get hooked on them, it’s like a disease collecting them because some of the treatments of the titles are so bizarre.

People are collecting Japanese posters now, too. There’s really no end to what people will collect. There are Turkish, Czechoslovakian, and Egyptian posters.

Collectors Weekly: What are some of the rarest posters?

Franchi:  The rarest of them all is Metropolis. Paramount bought the rights, and they released it in 1927 but in a very limited way, and various small pieces of released material have shown up, but never a full poster. I predict that a U.S. original of the one-sheet for Metropolis will be the first $1 million movie poster. There are quite a few posters that are lost. As a matter of fact, when you go back to the silent era, there are thousands of films that nobody has ever found a poster for. It’s also interesting that there are thousands of posters for films that have disappeared.

Collectors Weekly: When did they start making posters for movies? Was that always a way of advertising?

Grand Hotel by Goulding 1932 U.S. poster design. Image source: Margaret Herrick Library Catalog

Grand Hotel, MGM, 1932. U.S. design. Image source: Margaret Herrick Library Catalog

Franchi: They started in the late 1890s. The first posters advertised movies in general. And they’re almost like stock posters. There was a beautiful poster with a woman usually and a projector flashing light and where the projector flashed, there was a blank space where you could put the title of the movie that was going to be shown.

The 1890s was one of the great golden ages of posters for theaters and restaurants. And there was a big fad back then to collect them. There was even a magazine called “The Poster.” The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ research library, the Margaret Herrick Library, has tens of thousands of movie posters in its collection. Their real big thing is to acquire a one-sheet from every Academy Award winning film. They were missing two as of 1998, Cavalcade and Grand Hotel. And when I was doing the auctions for Christie’s in New York, it popped up in the mail one day, a little photograph, 4 by 5 inches.

I open up this envelope, and it’s a picture of the one-sheet for Grand Hotel. I called the fellow up in Florida. His father had worked at MGM as a carpenter and that was his favorite movie. He wanted to know if it was worth anything. Well, eventually we put it into the Christie’s auction, and the Academy bought it for $50,000.

So, they’re only looking for one more. If anybody comes up with a one-sheet for Cavalcade, they know they have a customer for it. So you can see even though there were thousands upon thousands of posters produced for each film, they’ve just disappeared, most of them. They were thrown away. It’s surprising that on some horrible movies, people turn up a quantity of posters, like several hundreds in a box someplace, but nobody ever turns up a box of posters for Grand Hotel.

Collectors Weekly: Were people aware of the artists who made these posters?

Franchi: No. Until the last 10 years, people were not that aware. Saul Bass did Hitchcock posters, Vertigo and that type of thing. But there were dozens of artists who worked on movie posters, and it’s only in the last few years that a tremendous amount of research has been done about that.

Now there are people who collect by the artist because their work was so distinguished. In Italy, there’s Ballester. Dave Kehr, the New York Times critic, wrote a book a few years ago about Ballester called The Italian Poster. There are people like Reynold Brown who, in the States, did all of the great horror posters and science-fiction posters in the ’50s. Al Hirschfeld did movie posters back in the ’30s for MGM. He did most of the Marx Brothers posters. All this stuff is slowly emerging from the research. There are college courses on film, of course, and people are even doing PhDs about poster artists. So there’s a lot of attention being paid to the field.

Collectors Weekly: Besides posters, have you noticed any major trends in movie memorabilia?

Creature from the Black Lagoon by Arnold (poster art by Reynold Brown) 1954 U.S. poster design. Image source: Margaret Herrick Library Catalog

Creature from the Black Lagoon, Universal Pictures, 1954. U.S. design by Reynold Brown. Image source: Margaret Herrick Library Catalog

Franchi: The trend is toward quality. It used to be people collected because it was fun, and it was cheap. And now that prices have gotten so high, condition has become very important. It used to be that posters would be heavily restored. When people first started collecting movie posters in the early ’90s, heavy restoration was accepted, but as other copies emerged, collectors became fussier about restoration.

For example, in travel posters and war posters, any kind of restoration is frowned upon unless it’s really necessary. The Margaret Herrick Library is no longer restoring movie posters—they are stabilizing them. They are having them paperbacked and leaving them as is. The standard had been to have the posters linen-backed with a duck canvas. It preserves the poster, but it doesn’t totally stabilize it. Paper backing is preferred.

But the collectors at the time wanted their posters to look really nice and they didn’t want to see those ugly lines because most old movie posters were folded, and there were little holes and tears, and they wanted all that patched up. Now, the more restoration a poster has, the lower its value. It’s very easy to spot the restoration with a black light. We used to say the early posters were dipped in paint. In other words, they were heavily restored. And you would actually see layers of paint on them, pieces where whole sections had been re-created. People paid a lot of money for those posters back then, in the thousands or tens of thousands. But now they come out onto the market and they sell for nothing because they’re over-restored.

So it’s a real fight for quality and purism. Nobody wants a poster that’s in tatters. But the problem is you have to find an original that’s in fairly good shape and then not fool around with it to any great degree. That’s the real key. If an old poster looks perfect, that’s a bad sign. Minor restoration is all right, but anything major—painting, big paper replacement—that’s death. You’ll have a hard time reselling that poster. If you want to enjoy it for yourself, that’s fine. It’s like a shelf piece. It’s like a cracked piece of valuable china. You can always turn the cracked part to the wall and enjoy it, but it’s not going to have any value. The same with an over-restored poster, you might as well buy a reproduction.

Collectors Weekly: Why is poster collecting so confusing?

Franchi: I get tons of people who say, “I just found a Wizard of Oz poster.” The problem is there were tons of reproductions. There was one company in the 1960s called Portal that reproduced hundreds of different movie posters. These things show up regularly at Roadshow. People e-mail me about, “Well, I have an original Frankenstein poster,” and I say, “Look at the lower left-hand corner. It says Portal Publications, California. And then there’s a zip code.” The zip code arrived in 1962, so it’s hardly an original poster.

Othello by Welles 1952 Belgian poster design. Image source: www.posteritati.com

Othello, United Artists, 1952. Belgian design. Image source: www.posteritati.com

Then there were posters that were re-releases. Now, these are original posters, but they were printed when the film was coming around a second time. Hollywood re-releases films three to four times over a period of decades. And at the beginning, they would put a little R next to it. For example, if Frankenstein was 1931 or it was ’32, then in 1939 they re-released it and they put an R39 at the lower right hand corner. That means re-released ’39. But in later years, they dropped that and they just did a whole new poster for it, and didn’t indicate that it was a re-release. That’s the expertise you need because you can pick up a poster and say, “Hey, I got a Frankenstein poster,” but it might be from 1958. That’s why it’s very confusing.

And then there are all the sizes. People think lobby cards are posters. They were the 11-by-14 cards that came in sets. But then again, not all of them came in sets of eight. There were sometimes sets of nine and sometimes sets of 12. It’s very arcane and specialized. I wrote a whole book about it. It’s called Miller’s Movie Collectibles. You can buy it on Amazon. I’ve seen it as low as like 89 cents. That hurts a little bit, but what can you do?

The introduction tells you all about the different formats of posters. There are values in there, but the book was published in 2000, so you have to use the values as sort of a scale. X is more valuable than Y. The important thing is it explains what the terms mean: insert, one-sheet, three-sheet, six-sheet. And it does the same thing for the foreign posters. As I say in the book, dealers try to blind you. They use arcane terms like a code. Well, if you can break the code, you have a good leg up on talking to dealers. If they don’t think you know what you’re talking about they will try and fool you.

It’s like the story about the scorpion and the frog. There’s a stream and the scorpion comes up to the frog and says, “Hey, Frog, will you take me across the stream?” He says, “Are you crazy? You’re going to stab me, and we’ll both die.” And the scorpion says, “Why would I do that? Then I would die too.” So the frog says, “Hop on.” They get halfway across and the frog feels the stinger come into him and he says, “Hey, why did you do that?” and the scorpion says, “I can’t help it. It’s my nature.” It’s the same with antiques dealers. They really can’t help themselves. I can tell you stories about selling things to my mother and finally getting the best price out of her.

8 comments so far

  1. ed Poole Says:

    An excellent interview with one of the true experts of the hobby.

  2. blair pitre Says:

    rudy , you truly are a great man ,the more i learn about you the more i am humbled by the life you have lived so far . I am very fortunate just to know you and all the world needs to know just how amazing you ,,thank you for being a great advocate for antiques you have so much class . to you i am grateful for your help …,your friend blair pitre

  3. Ray Says:

    I recently found an old movie poster rolled up in an old barn in Alabama. It says: JACK SCHWARZ PRODUCTIONS presents BUFFALO BILL RIDES AGAIN. It’s very long and narrow in size. Colors are red, yellow with a full-color photo. Starring Richard Arlen and Jennifer Holt. It’s not mint. Has a few tears and it’s been rolled up. Any estimate of worth, age…? Thanks. Ray

  4. shelia mason Says:

    we found some movie posters that are of 1957 era .I was woundering how to get an appraisal on them. there in very good condition as they have not seen the light of day in about 35 years. the mice and bugs have not got to them .the only holes in them is where thumb tacks held them to the wall of the movie theater. thank you

  5. irving Says:

    I have an all plastic vintage poster 35.5″h 35 “w of “THE OUTLAW and was wondering what you think it is worth to sell for..
    It is printed on to the board or in the board. My father has it over 40 years. It was given to him BY SOME SORT OF A DEALER in the 60′s. ON THE BACK OF THE POSTER MFG. UNDER U.S. PATENT AND PAT. PEND.

    Thanks,
    Irving 914-588-5829

  6. Jeanette McKnight Says:

    I am working on trying to sell a collection of Original Star Trek and Bruce Lee Collectibles such as posters, magazines, movies, etc. I am looking to have it all appraised before actually listed it on ebay. What is the best way of going about finding an appraiser or what it will sell for?

  7. Mark DeRose Says:

    S orry,what I was looking for was any info on Fox posters.I have a Callender sales kit that has poster size prints by Fox.My grandfather would sell regular calenders from these 12 inch by 20 inch color prints.Some are of Swimsuit chicks/Stars and others are hunting,puppys kittys and comical. Any help would be great.I have never seen any loike them and have looked for 25 years

  8. Alan Oster Says:

    I bought an outdoor theatre movie marquee in the ’60′s from the cult film Reefer Madness. It’s 3′x20′ w/block lettering “MARIHUANA the weed with roots in hell” I can’t find a thing about it on the internet, all they have are movie posters. Any comments?


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