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    

Derek Jeter Re2pect Poster Nike Jordan Respect EastbayRare Vintage €1968 Willie Mccovey Sports Illustrated Poster-vintage OriginalRare - Vintage "no Passing" Oakland Raiders Nike Poster Panini Prizm Prism World Cup 2014 Rare Poster No.2 Gold Parallel Card 3/5Vintage Michael Jordan Life Size Autographed Poster -- Official Licensed ProductHand Signed Shoot Magazine Full Page Poster Liverpool Fc Kenny Dalglish 1970sLimited Edition Lauren Fisher Progenex Poster Rare 2014 Crossfit Games Prgnx Sdcc Mike Tyson Boxing Signed Autographed Poster Panini World Cup Prizm World Cup Gold Prizms Salvador Posters 03/10New Colin Kaepernick Lifesize Fathead/poster Nfl San Francisco 49ers1955 Old German Beer Cincinnati Reds Milwaukee Braves Baseball Schedule Poster1958 Baltimore Colts National Bohemian Beer 27 X 18" Team Photo Poster Display24" X 36" Johnny Unitas Si Like Poster (colts)Sidney Moncrief Sir Sid Milwaukee Bucks Vintage Rare Nike Poster Nba (13) 1967 Dexter Press With Ex-mt Roberto Clemente + Kaline Stargell Mathews+24" X 36" Tony Dorsett Si Like Poster (cowboys)Rare Original 1962 12 Hours Of Sebring Racing PosterVintage Wrestling Poster Wwwf Dusty Rhodes Superstar Billy Graham Vga CondWcw Great American Bash 1992 Ppv Poster! Vintage! Wwe Wwf Photo Sting Vader LjnVintage Super Bowl Xix Promo Poster For Abc 1985 Sf 49ers Vs. Miami DolphinsVintage 1970 Al Unser Indianapolis Indy 500 Johnny Lightning Poster Topper ToysOriginal 1973 Dragway 42 Poster Ad Jungle Jim Garlits Snake Mongoose Hot WheelsAndre Agassi Vintage Nike Poster Rock N Roll Tennis CampAutographed 2010 Corvette C6.r Gt2 Alms Le Mans Racing Team Poster, 6 SignaturesRare Vintage "rising Star" Nike Poster - Artis Gilmore24" X 36" Mick Tingelhoff Si Like Poster (vikings)Fil Lacrosse World Championships Poster, Denver Co July 10-19, 2014 Us Lax24" X 36" Jerry West Si Like Poster (lakers)Man Cave Alert: 1973 Baltimore Orioles Special Events Giveways 14 X 22" PosterGreg Maddux Tome Glavine Bobby Cox Hall Of Fame Baraves Poster And ProgramFramed Baseball Hall Of Fame Detroit Tiger Al Kaline Multi-color Poster1969 Aquasco Speedway Poster Presidents Cup Jungle Jim Mickey Thompson Funny CarLionel Messi & Neymar Signed Photo Poster 8x10 Rp Autographed Barcelona Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl Game Ticket Framed With Si Posters1970 Topps Football Poster Inserts Complete Set Of 24Vintage Nike Poster Bo Jackson "i'm An Athlete, Not An Actor" Knows Unopened12 Vintage Pittsburgh Steelers Schedules / Posters 1970s Stoneys Iron CityVince Lombardi Collectible Artwork - What It Takes - SuccessoriesRare Ohio State Buckeyes Football Stadium Aerial View Poster PrintVintage Pittsburgh Steelers,50 Years Commemorative PosterUfc 158 Georges St-pierre (montreal 3/19/2013) Official 27x39 Poster (corrected)5 500 Goal Scorers Ron Lewis 22-3/4" X 37" Posters - Wayne Gretzky, Gordie HoweWorld Cup Poster - Usa Yanks 24" X 36"Original 1969 Dragway 42 Poster Ad Dick Harrell Gene Snow Pandamonium Funny CarVintage 1970's Poster 36 3/4" X 24 1/2 Philadelphia EaglesLos Angeles 1984 Olympics The Finish (100m Race) By Ernie Barnes Signed PosterVintage Gambling : Color Sports Equestrian Horse Race Poster Syracuse Ny C1930'sAnthony Davis Kentucky Wildcats Basketball Uk Vs Ul Louisville Poster Coa Signed1974 Complete Set Vintage Gymnast Magazine 10 Magazines No Posters Rare To Find Vintage Nascar Poster Richard Petty Rusty Wallace Dale EarnhardtMickey Mantle 1969 Poster Linda Vaughn Poster 18"x24" Miss Hurst Shifters Mr. Gasket Co. *new*Limited Edition Progenex Poster Rare 2014 Crossfit Games Prgnx Fisher Khalipa Road America June Sprints 30 Years Commemorative PosterAnthony Davis Signed 2012 Kentucky Wildcats Basketball Poster Mkg Doron Lamb CoaOriginal 1969 Detroit Dragway Poster Ad Ahra Grand Nationals Funny Car Top Fuel(4) Penn State Nittany Lions Football Schedule Posters 2007 2008 2009 2011Vtg Dale Earnhardt Jr. Bud Beers Life Size Double Sided Poster #2154 FredtOriginal 1969 Fuel Funny Car Factory Showdown Poster Ad Jungle Jim Tom Grove