When Parisian artists elevated the poster to high art in the 1890s, some of the first subjects they rendered were of sporting events. Bicycle racing, rowing, and auto racing became standard fare for poster advertising. Later, resort promoters used recreational sports to advertise their destinations, which is why many travel and aviation posters featured scenes of skiing and sailing. In the U.S., boxing and wrestling posters—not to mention baseball and football—were also popular.

The roots of sports posters go back to the late-18th and early-19th-century etchings that depicted subjects such as hunting, racing, equestrian activities, and coach riding. These prints tended to emphasize beautiful scenery, but they were still the forerunners of the sport-oriented posters of today.

Unlike other genres of posters, sports posters and prints were rarely made by well-known artists. Sure there were exceptions, such as Andy Warhol’s famous Muhammad Ali prints from the late-1970s and LeRoy Neiman's endless output of sports prints and paintings, but on the whole, most collectors care far more about the subject matter of a sports poster than whose signature is at the bottom of it.

Perhaps the most popular collectible sports posters are those made for specific sporting events. These posters are especially rare as they tend to have limited runs, and they are collected primarily by fans of that particular sport. Examples of these sorts of sports posters are those offering public-transit directions to an event (“By Underground to Southfields…”) or posters that were essentially advertisements (“Footballers prefer Shell…”).

In the United Kingdom, tennis and golf posters produced for specific events are particularly coveted, as are some rugby posters. For example, Wimbledon and Davis Cup tennis posters, as well as British Open golf posters, which are arguably the biggest sporting events in that nation, are especially sought. Similarly, in the United States, U.S. Open posters are fancied by collectors, although the golf posters are more popular than those for tennis.

In recent decades, event posters of this type have been mass-produced in virtually unlimited runs, so they are not heavily collected. Sports posters that garner the most attention from collectors are those printed before the 1960s, and especially the early posters of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

A short swim across the English Channel is France, where organizers of the Tour de France have produced many collectible prints. Especially enjoyed are photographic posters depi...

The kings of event posters are Olympics posters. Like other sports prints, the older the better, and the more valuable they are. For example, posters from the 1912 Stockholm Olympics, the 1924 Paris Olympics, and the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics are some of the most coveted. There is one especially rare poster from the ’24 Paris games by Jean Droit showing a group of shirtless men with their right hands raised in front of a Parisian flag. In general, the most rare and coveted Olympics posters are from the ’20s and ’30s.

Despite the preference for older posters, there are a number of popular Olympic posters from more recent times. For example, a very plain Yusaku Kamekura poster from the 1964 Tokyo Olympics is quite desired by Olympics aficionados.

The Winter Olympics and winter sports in general have also produced highly collectible prints. These posters tend to be aesthetically pleasing since they depict vast snowy mountain scenes. Skiing and ice skating posters are most common, and posters from the 1968 Grenoble Olympics and the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics are targeted by lots of collectors.

Another sport that is synonymous with poster collecting is boxing. Like with other sports posters, pre-1960s prints are most sought, and scarcity impacts value. With boxing, however, there is an added variable—the reputation of the boxer—in determining a poster’s value. A Jack Dempsey or Rocky Marciano poster will likely than fetch a higher price than say, one showing Jimmy Ellis or Cody Jones.

Boxing posters come in a few different styles, one of which is actually known as the boxing-style poster. These are the pre-fight, posed portraits of the two boxers, surrounded by loud, aggressive graphics and type. There are also posters that depict the fighters in action. Again, depending on the name on the poster, the latter of these two tend to be more desired.

In the United States, posters of American sports stars, from Michael Jordan to Wayne Gretzky, are expectedly popular. Few are collected for their value, though—most hang on the walls of kids’ bedrooms all over the country, to be discarded by parents when their offspring move away from home.

Some of the most desired baseball posters are ones with early-20th-century photographs on them of star players such as Babe Ruth. These modest, sport- or athlete-specific posters naturally increase in value when they are autographed. While there is usually little impact on price if a skiing poster is autographed or not, a signature on a football poster with a great player on it will immediately make it more desirable.

One final subset of the sports-poster family is the commemorative poster. These are prints made to celebrate things like a World Series championship, a Super Bowl, or an All Star game, such as those produced in 2007 by Michael Schwab for Major League Baseball. Signed posters for such events could be worth something one day, depending on who's doing the signing, the nature of the event, and the number of posters printed. But most commemorative posters are mass-produced on inexpensive paper, which means they are probably more valuable to true-blue fans than collectors hoping to save something today that will one day be worth as much as those French bicycle-racing posters from the 1890s.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

London Transport Museum Posters

London Transport Museum Posters

A must-see collection of 5,000 vivid, colorful British posters from the early 1900s onward. Browse by artist (over … [read review or visit site]

Fillmore and Avalon Collection

Fillmore and Avalon Collection

Wish you'd visited San Francisco in the late 1960s? Get a quick hit with this comprehensive collection of psychedel… [read review or visit site]

USSR Posters

USSR Posters

Ben Perry's Flickr photoset showcasing almost 1500 Soviet propaganda, advertising, theatre and movie posters from 1… [read review or visit site]

New York Public Library

New York Public Library

The New York Public Library's impressive Digital Gallery offers free access to over 500,000 historical images inclu… [read review or visit site]

The American Memory Project

The American Memory Project

This amazing Library of Congress site includes about a hundred photo and document collections (see complete list) o… [read review or visit site]

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Roberto Clemente Sports Illustrated 1960's, 24x36 Rare Vintage Poster.(hof)1968 Topps Baseball Poster Roberto Clemente # 6 Of 24 X 3..nice & Originals!!!!!1969 Topps Baseball Team Poster Of The Pittsburgh Pirates X 2 W Roberto ClementeVintage Michael Air Jordan Poster - Slam Dunk - Chicago Bulls - New2014 Patriots 4th Super Bowl 49 Champions Sports Illustrated Tom Brady Poster Ufc 71 - Full Size Event Poster Signed By Chuck Liddell Coa! Mma Signatures Llc,Rare Fedor Emelianenko Royce Gracie Kimbo Slice Autographed Poster Ufc Bellator1984 Sarajevo Olympic Games 3 X Official Posters!!!Teresa & Dale Earnhardt Hand Signed Poster 1984 Sarajevo Olympic Games Mascot Official Poster!!! Huge Vintage Muhammad Ali Vs Rocky Marciano 1970 Original Onsite Fight Poster!!Vtg Pittsburgh Steelers Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer 1976 Super Bowl Football PosterDaryle Lamonica Oakland Raiders Original 1968 Sports Illustrated PosterIan St John & Roger Hunt Signed Liverpool Fa Cup Kings Poster 1965 Bids From £10Vintage Terry Bradshaw,franco Harris And Joe Greene 1973-1982,1983 Near MintLen Dawson Kansas City Chiefs Original 1968 Sports Illustrated Poster1968 New York Yankees Mickey Mantle PosterVintage/original Hawaii Poster For 1974 Ali - Foreman "rumble In The Jungle"Sports Illustrated Si 1968 Vintage Posters Of Mlb All-stars In Original Wrap!Original 1962 Safe At Home Mickey Mantle Roger Maris Theater Poster 14 By 229 Vintage Pittsburgh Pirates Baseball Poster's, (hof) Willie Stargell, 1970-2001Dick Butkus Sports Illustrated PosterHot Wheels Snake & Mongoose Original 1960s Giveaway Mini PosterUfc 178 Autographed Poster Sbc Cerrone Mcgregor1988 Costacos James Worthy L.a. Law Poster Lakers 24x36 New Nice Rare VintageDerek Carr Oakland Raiders Art Print 11x17 3 Poster Lot !!!Original 1980 The Last Hurrah Muhammad Ali Vs. Larry Holmes Poster & TicketSeattle Pilots 1969 Topps Team Poster - Wax Pack Insert - 12" X 20"Darrell Lamonica. Raiders. Original 1968 Sports Illustrated PosterTerry O'reilly. Boston Bruins. Victoriaville Hockey Stick Advertisement PosterVtg National Football League Poster 36x24" Rare Football Nfl Collectors SeriesVintage Hulk Hogan Hulkamania Deluxe Barbell Workout Set Poster Chrome BarVintage Bob Griese Sports Illustrated Poster Dolphins 24x36 19731992 Barcelona Olympic Games 4 X Official Posters!!Sports Poster Magazine #1 1960's Giant 40 X 29 Inch George Best PosterVintage 1960s-70s Extremely Rare Chicago Bears Dave Boss PosterUfc - 8" X 10" Ufc 71 Autographed Mini Poster Of Rampage Jackson , Coa ! Look!!Ufc On Fox 12 Lawler Vs Brown Fight Night Autographed Poster Sbc1989 Vintage Detroit Grand Prix Viii Poster-rare Htf-diego Rivera InspireddesignHand Signed Uconn Women's Basketball Team Photograph 2012-2013 Autograph PosterJoe Frazier 1972 Vintage Poster Life Size70x241948 Midget Auto Races Souvenir Program-full Page Color Posters Car/driver 9l431975 World Football League Football PennantUfc 184 Official Full-sized Event Poster Ronda Rousey Vs Cat Zingano 2/28/20151993-1994 Mighty Ducks Inaugural Season Poster 36x20 InchesSuper Bowl Xlix "dummy" Front Page Poster From Boston Globe - Patriots Roy Jones Jr Vs Eric Harding World Light Heavyweight Championship Fight Poster Rare! Kentucky Basketball Poster 2014-2015 Limited EditionTwo 1999 Us Open Putter Boy Posters Personalized And Signed By Eric Johnson!Original & Rare 1956 Rallye De Los Pirineos Motor Rally Poster *barcelona1967 Topps Poster Inserts Lot Of 25, 8 Different Poster CardsRic Flair Hand Signed 18 X 24 Poster - Wwe, Wcw, NwaGoodwood Festival Of Speed 1995 Poster Signed P Hearsey Number 1223/1500Vintage Autographed Poster - Bill Shoemaker - Horse Racing Print 1980Rare Denver Broncos 1979 Nfl Theme Art Poster By Chuck Ren - Damac Inc.Vintage 1982 Dale Earnhardt Southern 500 Darlington Sc Poster "wrangler"1982 Team Lotus Stickers Press Hand Out Jps Clothing Folder+poster+2013-14 Notre Dame Hockey Auto Team Signed Poster! Bryan Rust Stephen Johns +24Kiana Tom Signed Raiders Raiderette Cheerleader Poster Autographed!1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games 4 X Official Posters!!!