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    

1962 Safe At Home Original Baseball Movie Poster..mickey Mantle & Roger Maris1962 Safe At Home Original Baseball Movie Poster..mickey Mantle & Roger Maris1970 Topps Football Poster Inserts Complete Set 1 - 24 Vintage NicePride Fc 34 Poster Signed Fedor Emelianenko - Rickson Royler Renzo Gracie - UfcPride Fc 4 Full Sized Poster. 1998 Signed By Rickson Gracie! Sick Poster-ufc Seg2015 Wwe Survivor Series Ppv Poster The Undertaker Awesome!!Rare! Important! Antique 1929 Chicago Cubs World Champion Photograph PosterUfc 40 Full Size Poster Signed By Tito Ortiz And Ken Shamrock Autographed AutoUfc Ufn 32 Vitor Belfort V Dan Henderson Signed By Card Autographed Poster AutoF1 2008 Hand Signed X20 Drivers German Grand Prix Race Poster Hamilton, Button++Early 1970s Atlanta Flames Nhl Hockey Poster By Sportsgraphics Vintage 24x36Original Vintage On-site Wrestling Poster The Arena Phila 12-16-1967 SammartinoWrestling Show Poster Ken Patera Vs Pat Patterson Wwwf Wwe NwaRonda Rousey Vs. Holly Holm Poster Ufc Bantamweight Championship 11-14-15 Rare Ufc Tuf 14 Team Bisping V Mayhem Signed By Card Autographed Poster Auto SbcUfc 189 Autographed Mc Gregor Poster.2015 Ufc Champions Johny Hendricks 15/25 Fight Poster Review Auto Ufc 181Micheal Jordan Runway Poster VintagePete Rose Beautiful 1968 Topp Large Insert Poster #23 Of 24 9 1/2 X 18 1/824" X 36" Willie Lanier Si Like Poster No Border (chiefs)Original Vintage Nfl 1972 Bartell Series Poster Nfc + Afc 24"x31" 26 Teams!Mickey Mantle Beautiful 1968 Topps Rare Large Poster Insert #18 Of 24 Yankees1968 Daryle Lamonica Oakland Raiders 36 X 24 Poster Color Photo By Tony TomsicWest Bromwich Albion Memorabilia Pennants, Poster, Polo Shirt Etc 1986 Nike Air Jordan Michael Jordan Imagination Poster 21x38inWillie Mays 18x24 Vintage 1970's Coke Baseball Greats Hand Signed Poster Psa Coa2015 Ufc Champions Fabricio Werdum #08/25 Fight Poster Review Auto Ufc 1801991 Nike Poster Cards 5x7 Rare #908 Bo Jackson Don’t I Know You? Psa 10 - Pop 1New York Knickerbockers In The 1880's Poster Hof John WardMichael Jordan Collection Lot. Auto, Cards, Shoes, Poster Rare.. $$$value 2015 Virginia Cavaliers Team Signed Basketball Schedule Poster Bennett Brogdon 1969 Topps Test Issue Team Posters #22 Los Angeles Dodgers Don Drysdale Nm1960s Alaga Syrup Willie Mays Poster Original Baseball Ad Advertising Sf Giants1970 Greg Cook Cincinnati Bengals 36 X 24 Poster Of Malcolm Emmonds Color PhotoJim Dunn Signed 2015 Calif Hot Rod Reunion Poster & HandoutDick Trickle Autographed Poster2015/2016 Kansas Jayhawks Men's Basketball Poster2015/2016 Kansas Jayhawks Men's Basketball PosterEarly 1970s California Golden Seals Nhl Hockey Poster By Sportsgraphics VintageJeff Gordon Dale Earnhardt , &12 Others Autographed 1995 Nascar Daytona Poster1978 Muhammad Ali V Leon Spinks Superdome - New Orleans Signed24" X 36" Tommy Mason Si Like Poster No Border (vikings)Lebron James Lifesize Fathead Stand Up Poster Nba Miami HeatVintage Nba Baltimore Bullets Poster From 1970Pavel Bure/doug Gilmour Dual Signed Hockey Hall Of Fame Legends Classic PosterJake Lamotta Hand Signed 26x40 Raging Bull Movie Poster Autographed Psa CoaJake Lamotta Hand Signed 26x40 Raging Bull Movie Poster Autographed Psa Coa24" X 36" Larry Csonka Si Like Poster No Border (dolphins)Carroll Shelby Signed Poster 28x40Tony Meola 1995 Auto Poster 21x36 World Cup Autographed Autographed Indy Car Marlboro Poster Twin Towers 911 Justin Wilson Tracy Vasser1971 Topps Football Pin-ups Posters Complete Set - Namath, Unitas, Starr, SayersWillie Mays 18x24 Vintage 1970's Coke Baseball Greats Hand Signed Poster Psa Coa24" X 36" Dan Pastorini Si Like Poster No Border (oilers)Xiii Olympics Winter Games, Lake Placid 1980 Luge PosterRare 1971 Cartoonists Jim Dobbins Bobby Orr Boston Bruins B&w Poster Nice24" X 36" Bobby Douglass Si Like Poster No Border (bears)Winged Express Youngblood Drag Racing Poster Wild Willie Borsch1970 Topps Basketball Set 6 Poster Lot West Hayes Havlicek Cunningham Ellis ChapOriginal Porsche 20x30cm 1967 Nurburgring 84 Hours Poster - 911 2.0 Sportomatic