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    

Original ~ Vintage C1940's ~ "lms" Railway Poster For The "isle Of Man Tt Races"1970 Mexico World Cup Poster Signed By 3 Time Winner Pele Bid Now From £80Muhammad Ali-joe Frazier I Harlem Closed Circuit Poster (1971)Ufc 8 Original Authentic Event Poster Seg *rare* Royce Gracie Ken Shamrock KimoVintage 1968 Sports Illustrated Tom Seaver 24" X 36" Poster Ny Mets Hofer NiceRay "boom Boom" Mancini_deukoo Kim On Site Poster (1982)1969 Sports Illustrated 9a3 Reggie Jackson Poster New In Orig Wrapper Nm/mtMint Johnny Unitas Si Sports Illustrated Like Poster Baltimore Colts Nfl1968 Sports Illustrated 1a1 Brooks Robinson Poster New In Orig Wrapper: Nm/mtOriginal 1968 Topps Roberto Clemente Pittsburgh Pirates Poster 9 3/4 X 18 1/2Graham Hill Signed 1968 Monaco Gp Large Photograph/poster - Lotus 2014 Panini Prizm World Cup World Cup Posters Prizms Green Crystal Manaus #17/25Original 1968 Topps Mickey Mantle New York Yankees Poster 9 3/4 X 18 1/2Wwe Signed Wrestlemania 30 Promo Poster! Triple H John Cena Daniel Bryan Figure2014 Panini Prizm World Cup Posters Host City Curitiba Green Crystal Prizm /252014 Panini Prizm World Cup Host City Poster #4 Gold Prizm 3/10 Psa 9University Of Kentucky 14-15 Men's Basketball Team Autographed "3" Sign Calipari Secretariat Triple Crown Poster Signed By Ron Turcotte And Penny TweedySalvador Sanchez-patrick Ford Official Poster (1980)Rare 1935 Basketball Poster, Whiskers,jewish,house Of David, I.a.m.a.s.,italianMike Tyson, Larry Holmes Original Fight Poster 22x36Superbowl Of Motocross Vii Original Vintage Poster1973 Willie Lanier 6a63 Sports Illustrated Kansas City Chiefs 24" X 36" PosterCarl Fogarty Signed Team Ducati 996 Poster Superbike Wsb Motogp Autograph ProofAssortment Of Green Bay Packers MemorabiliaVintage Extremely 1970s Rare Nba Pro Basketball Superstars Studio One PosterLot Of (20) 1967 Topps Baseball Posters W/ StarsVintage Cincinnati Reds 1970 Champs Poster By C Hamick 1971 23" X 29"Chicago Bulls Trio Jordan Pippen Rodman No Bull 1996 Nike Poster 72" X 14"The Rock Wwe Wrestlemania Xxx (30) 2-sided Street Banner, Sign/flag/poster MintVintage Extremely Rare Spencer Haywood Sports Illustrated Poster11 Vintage Nba Posters 6 Michael Jordan Nike Si Posters, 5 Wheaties Posters1970 - 71 Topps Nba Basketball Cards - Lot Of 36 + Walt Frazier PosterVintage Michael Jordan Hare Jordan (1992) Nike Air Jordan Poster W/bugs BunnyRare, Vintage Bo Jackson 2 Sided Nike Hit & Run Poster Oakland Raiders/kc RoyalsNike Michael Jordan Dream Poster Chicago Bulls Original Og New Sealed Vtg RareCharles Woodson Don't Even Think About It Oakland Raiders 2001 Starline PosterOriginal 1982 Louisville Cardnals Dream Game Poster 28"x20"Wwe Signed The Undertaker Wrestlemania 29 Promo Photo! Wwf Poster Plaque -figureVintage Greg Lemond "tour De France 1989 / Autographed Poster / 1013-1123Very Rare 1975 Rudy Tomjanovich Si Sports Illustrated Poster Houston Rockets NbaThe Quicksilver 30th Annual Eddie Aikau 2014-15 Official Poster Autographed-$390Yugoslavia Motogp 1968 Croatia - Opatija Grand Prix Adriatique - Small Poster/adSecretariat Triple Crown Winner Poster Sports Illustrated Neil Leifer 1973 1970 Portland Trailblazers Promotions Inc. New VintageOriginal National Championship Drag Races Oklahoma City 3rd Annual 1957Nike "there Is No Finish Line" Vintage Running Poster Original 1993Vintage Can-am Canadian American Championship Road America Poster 1969 L@@k!!1972 Boston Celtics Nba Promotions 23"x29" Vintage Poster 1969 Ny Mets Star Portraits Of 19 Players By Bruce StarkJerry Rice 6' Poster Growth Chart Breathe Right Nike Advertising San FranciscoMike Schmidt John Bench Si Sports Illustrated Like Poster RedsOriginal 1988 James Worthy Los Angeles Lakers L. A. Law Costacos PosterVintage Baseball Posters Louisville Slugger Mantle & Ebbets Field All- Star 1949Original 1981 Michael Spinks V Larry Holmes Boxing Poster 22 X 28 Great CondVery Rare 1985-86 Montreal Canadiens Team Poster Molson 17 X 12 Patrick Roy RcChelsea Blues Fc Official Team Portrait Poster 2013/14 Epl Soccer PosterCarlos Monzon V Gratien Tonna Poster Original Original 1977 Portland Trailblazers Poster Bill Walton Blazers Fast BreakPortland Trailblazers 2013-2014 Team Autographed Poster