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    

Ted Williams Signed 16x20 Poster Autograph Framed 21x25 Psa/dna Loa Red Sox HofUfc 130 Rampage Jackson V Matt Hamill Signed By Card Autographed Poster Auto 200Helio Gracie Signed 18x24 Gracie Jiu-jitsu Poster Grandmaster HélioOklahoma Sooners Signed Barry Switzer Blake Bell Poster Signed + 21 More W/ CoaKen Griffey Jr Junior 4 Poster Set Seattle Mariners Limited Ufc Wec 51 Jose Aldo V Gamburyan Signed By Card Autographed Poster Auto Sbc 2001970-71 Topps Basketball Posters-alcindor,west,hayes,robertson,havilcek,monroe- Ufc Ufn 21 Ken Florian V Takanori Gomi Signed By Card Autograph Poster Auto 200Ufc On Vs 6 Dominick Cruz V D Johnson Signed By Card Autographed Poster Auto 2001988 Original Vintage Reggie White Minister Of Defense Costacos Poster SealedUfc Wec 38 Urijah Faber V Jens Pulver Signed By Card Autographed Poster Auto 200Ufc Ufn 15 Nate Diaz V Josh Neer Signed By Card Autographed Poster Auto 200 NickGreat American Bash, Banner, Poster, Road Warriors Wcw, Nwa, Wwf, WweUfc Wec 44 Jose Aldo V Mike Brown Signed By Card Autographed Poster Auto Sbc 2001968 Topps Baseball Poster. Pete Rose. Cincinnati Reds. 9x18. Clean. Sharp.Julius Erving Dr J Philadelphia 76ers 1977 Studio One Poster 24x36Ted Williams Signed 20"x16" Boston Red Sox Poster Psa/dna CertifiedAlexis Arguello Vs Aaron Pryor Closed Circuit Fight PosterK-1 World Max Gp 2005 B2 Event Poster Pride Dream Ufc Mma Unsigned Souwer MasatoDwight Gooden ~ New York Mets ~ Dr. K ~ Full Size Vintage Nike PosterRare Ron Harper Cleveland Caveliers Cav's Si Nba 23x35 Sports Illustrated PosterBilly Sims Si Sports Illustrated (like) Poster Lions 24x36Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls Lot 28 Misc Poster Samples Cards Nike Grolier Tag24" X 36" Lem Barney Si Like Poster No Border (lions)Wwe Nxt Detroit Signed Poster 10/50 Zayn Balor Joe Bayley Corbin Crews Enzo CassHearns Vs Roberto Duran Original Kronk Boxing Poster. Promoter Collection. Rare!Ron Kittle ~ Chicago White Sox ~sports Illustrated ~ Vintage Full Size PosterJohn Havlicek Si Sports Illustrated (like) Celtics Poster 24x3624" X 36" Billy Kilmer Si Like Poster No Border (redskins)Framed Signed Poster From 104th Us Golf Open 24" X 36"Nike Poster, Mlb Phillies Cy Young Steve Carlton And Mvp Mike Schmidt 1981-1982Philadelphia Phillies 4 Living Legends Signed Autographed Poster, Jsa Cert1991 Original Vintage Nike Michael Air Jordan 6 Vi Cartoon Poster Amazing RareHearns Vs Mccrory Super Rare Fight Used Exhibition Poster. Kronk. OriginalHearns, Barkley, Mayweather Original Kronk Boxing Poster. Promoter Collection.Nhra Us Drag Car Racing Poster Nascar Ktm Helmet Beer Bar Neon Light Sign 13"x7"Ty Detmer Poster Byu Football 1991 Lavell Edwards Heisman TrophyVintage Harlem Globetrotters Promotional Poster Ima Auditorium Flint, MiMr Baseball Bob Uecker, Major League Movie Miller Lite Beer Counter Display2014 Panini Prizm World Cup Posters Green Crystal Refractors Brazil Belo #07/25100 Years Notre Dame Football Vintage 1987 Framed Authentic Picture Estate Find!1969 Topps Baseball Team Posters WrapperMike Trout 2016 Topps Heritage Box Topper Poster 67pb-mtr Only 50 Made Ssp SpWwf Ljn Harley Race W/ PosterWwe Signed Poster! Undertaker John Cena Roman Reigns - Figure Promo T-shirt Belt1968 Topps Baseball Poster. Mickey Mantle. New York Yankees. 9x18. Clean.Air Jordan 1985 Vtg Basketball Program Ad Nike Shoe Blue Black Poster Rc 86bullsRare Framed Signed Lance Armstrong Poster (1/1)1985 New York Mets Opening Day Dwight Gooden Daily News "k" Poster NiceAuburn War-eagle Framed 19-1/4" X 14-1/2" Poster"beat Em" Susquehanna University Pin - 1925 Susquehanna Vs. Drexel Footbal GameVintage 1973 Brooks Robinson Poster Approx. 18x24Steve Kinser Signed Autographed 22x28 Hof Poster World Of Outlaws Sprint CarNitf New Factory Sealed Label Nike Poster Bo Jackson The Ball Player 1st Print1968 Roberto Clemente Sports Illustrated PosterVintage 1981 Indianapolis 500 Framed Poster "it's Miller Time" Michael Jordan Rookie Poster Sports Illustrated Chicago Bulls Rare Nike Air NbaNew Peyton Manning Lifesize Fathead/poster Nfl Denver BroncosMickey Mantle Si Sports Illustrated (like) Poster Yankees 24x36Charles Barkley Poster Sports Illustrated Nba Sixers Super Rare Nike Air Rookie