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    

Mickey Mantle / Willie Mays / Duke Snider Signed /autographed Huge Poster 24x36 1978 The Rolling Stones Some Girls Post-fillmore Boxing Style Album Promo Poster500 Home Run Club Signed 18x24 Poster! Mantle, Williams, Aaron, Mays++! Jsa Loa!Willie Mays Autographed Signed 22x34 Poster San Francisco Giants Psa/dnaNolan Ryan Signed "texas Heat" 24x36 Poster! Rare! Rangers! No Hitters! Jsa Loa!Liverpool Fc - Shoot Magazine 1970s Posters [kennedy, Thompson, Dalglish, Neal]Liverpool Fc - Shoot Magazine 1970s Posters [hughes, Toshack, Case, Heighway]Original Brioni Travel Poster. Vintage Art Deco. Polo & Golf & Italy Travel Mickey Mantle Signed / Autographed 1986 #7 National Show Poster Psa/dna AutoTeam Usa Signed 1980 Winter Olympics "miracle On Ice" 21 Signatures #808 / 1980St.kilda Football Club 2009 Rare Loosing Premiers Herald Sun Poster Walter Payton Autographed Signed 16x20 Poster Photo Chicago Bears Psa/dnaJoe Frazier Vs Jerry Quarry Bob Foster Vs Jorge Ahumada Closed Circuit PosterVintage Motorcycle Racing Poster Dodge City Race, Cardboard MadeHank Aaron Autographed Signed 18x24 Lithograph Poster Photo Braves Psa/dnaJim (jimmy) Clark Lotus 25 Coventry Climax 1963 World Champions Poster AshleyWwe Bayley - I'm A Hugger Huge Giant 6 Foot Tall Poster 72" X 30" Store DisplayChampions Forever Muhammad Ali Signed Poster W/ Frazier, Holmes, Foreman, NortonPhiladelphia Phillies Poster Signed By Chase Utley And Artist Dick PerezMasters Augusta National Golf Tournament Catstudio 18" X 24" Poster 2017Boxing Evander Holyfield Vs Pinklon Thomas Official Poster Jake Lamotta Signed 16x20 Raging Bull Movie Poster Auto Autograph Jsa Coa Integrated Saloon/bar Photo W/jack Johnson Fight Poster, Black Customer, C19101969 Original Black & White Poster, Aba Rick Berry Oakland Oaks And Mae West1982 Vintage Detroit Grand Prix Poster-licensed Product - 21.5 X 36 - Minty Nm1960's Mickey Mantle B&w Poster By Jwk Sports Publications 25 By 38New Ohio State Buckeyes Logo Ncaa Real Big Fathead/poster Decals Mural 38x381965 Detroit Dragway Drag Racing Poster Ramchargers Connie Kalita Don GarlitsVintage Roger Staubach Cowboys Sports Illustrated/marketcom 24x36 Poster #4283 Vintage 1971 Don Getz Awesome Plymouth Barracuda/cuda Racing Poster 22" X 38"Vtg Advertising Poster Cavalcade Kentucky Derby Winner 1934 Mr. Kool 14" X 22"Rare Original Darryl Strawberry New York Mets 1989 Sports Illustrated Si PosterVtg Michael Jordan 1983-1984 Carolina Basketball Poster Unc Tarheels 82bulls19851909 World Heavyweight Champion Jack Johnson PosterCarrie Underwood Signed 23x36 Sunday Night Football Poster Autograph Jsa Coa David Beckham Pepsi Collectable Advertising Life Size PosterVintage 1975-76 Nhl Hockey Vancouver Canucks Shopper's Drug Wall Calendar/posterVintage 1974-75 Nhl Hockey Vancouver Canucks Shopper's Drug Wall Calendar/poster6 Wrestling Magazine Posters Double Sided...lance Erich, Junkyard Dog, Hayes Very Rare 1971 Formula 1 Poster Jackie Stewert Race Car Driver F1team Tyrell Elf1960's York Pa Us 30 Drag-o-way Drag Racing Posters Dave Strickler Don Garlets 1970 Topps Posters Complete Set 1 - 24 High Grade Nm Roberto Clemente Bench +Vtg 1984-85 Michael Air Jordan Nike Rc Posters Card Vtg Chicago Bulls Basketball1984 Olympic Rowing Poster And Olympic Ceramic Mug1982 Unc Tarheels Men's Basketball Ncaa Championship Poster Anheuser-buschIndianapolis Colts 6-posters2017 Nhl St. Louis Blues Rally Towel - Tarasenko 91 & Gameday Booklet W/ PosterStephanie Mcmahon,chris Jericho,wrestling Poster,rare,2 Sided,y2j,wwf,wwe,rawDale Earnhardt Poster 1982Pete Rose 4192 Hits Cincinnati Reds Advertisement Cardboard Ad Topper Firestone 1979-80 Seattle Supersonics Team Give Away Poster-rare-1977-78 Seattle Supersonics Team Poster-wilkens/dj/fred/gus/sikma/jj/silas/wally1968 Topps Poster #14 Hank Aaron Atlanta BravesNolan Ryan Texas Ranger Bpjersey XlRare Portland Trailblazers Blazers Lot Oregonian Posters Over 5+ Coach HistoryMaria Kanellis Wwe Tna Nxt Sexy Signed 24x36 Full Size Poster Full SigBicycle Bicicletas Orbea Bike Sport 20x30 Vintage Poster Repo Free S/h In UsaAir Jordan Nike Last Nba Game Promo 2003wizards Poster Chicago Bulls Basketball1Patriots Super Bowl 38 Champions Poster 24x36 Mcginest Law Bruschi 2003Unc Tarheels 1983michael Jordan Yearbook Poster Carolina Basketball Acc1984bulls