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    

1933 Hillerich & Bradsby Louisville Slugger Baseball Bats Orig. Store Ad Poster1968 Topps Posters Mickey Mantle Number 18 Pack FreshVintage '26 German Ludwig Hohlwein Dkw Sport Motorcycle Advertising Poster Print1970 Topps Basketball Complete Poster Set Alcindor West Chamberlain Robertson 1975 Bobby Murcer Sports Illustrated Poster-san Francisco GiantsShimmer Women's Wrestling Autographed Summer 2016 Poster1968 Tom Seaver Sports Illustrated Autographed Poster1970 Topps Baseball 1-720 And Comic Book, Scratch Off & Poster Sets Complete Nr1972 Willie Mays Sports Illustrated Autographed Poster-metsFramed Autographed Seattle Supersonics 1979 Nba Championship Team Poster Near Complete 1971 Topps Poster Pin-ups Set (30/32)!(tracey Emin) Olympic Posters 20121971 Ron Johnson Sports Illustrated Poster-new York Giants2004 Us Olympics Team Trials Gymnastics Carly Patterson Autographed Poster1968 Topps Posters Willie Mays # 201968 Topps Baseball Posters Retail Store Box Mickey MantleVintage Original Converse Choose Your Weapon Poster Weapons Division Larry Bird Stock Car Poster - Old Hyde Road, Belle Vue, Manchester 1970Rare Bob Greise Poster 1973 Miami Dolphins Football Nfl Sports Illustrated Qb 121967 Topps Posters Lot Of 11 Carl Yastrzemski Joe Morgan Juan Marichal McclainNew England Patriots Rb #28 & #29 Signed Nike Nflsb17 Cap And Rb #29 Sb PosterLaurel Maryland Md Howard County Fair Harness Racing Early Horse Poster1968 Dick Allen Sports Illustrated Poster-phillies1968 Pete Rose Sports Illustrated Autographed Poster-mint1970 Tommy Agee Sports Illustrated Poster-mets1974 John Riggins Sports Illustrated Poster-new York Jets1968 Ron Swoboda Sports Illustrated Poster-mets1970 Topps Posters Lot Of 18 Roberto Clemente Rod Carew Lou Brock Willie Mccovey24" X 36" Bart Starr Si Like Poster No Border (packers)1968 Topps Poster Insert Lot Of 14 Different Star Unitas Tarkenton Sayers...1932 La Olympics 'come To Los Angelies' Poster Label1968 Topps Posters Number 24 Frank RobinsonLarry Holmes-trevor Berbick Original On Site Poster (signed By Holmes-1981)Autographed Poster Of Greg LemondPro Wrestling Event Advertising Poster 22"x17" Featuring Andre The GiantMuhammad Ali-ken Norton Iii Closed Circuit Poster (1976-signed By Ken Norton)1960's Shelby Ac Cobra Dodger Stadium Race Vintage Advertising Poster 11x17 FordBrand New Chicago Cubs World Series Champions 3x5 Ft Flag Deluxe Poster BannerTopps Poster Vintage LotJim Brown Browns All American Hof Signed 40x27 Movie Poster Jsa LoaAllen Iverson Retirement Banner / Nylon Flag / Poster Philadelphia Sixers2016 Patriots 5th Super Bowl 51 Champions Sports Illustrated Tom Brady Poster 1950s Frazer Nash Lemans Vintage Race Advertising Poster 11x17 Ft Pierce FloridaOriginal 1969 Grand Prix Of Mexico Race Poster - Denny Hulme Gulf Mclaren WinMuhammad Ali-ken Norton Iii Original Poster (1976)Mike Tyson-tyrell Biggs Original On Site Poster (1987)1968 Topps Posters Hank Aaron Number 14Stan Musial Autographed Cardinals Poster Signed Hof Baseball Art Auto (stm Coa)Original 1967 Bridgehampton Can-am Race Poster - Denny Hulme Gulf Mclaren M6aGordie Howe Signed Hockey Wit Poster 22x31 Psa/dna - #183/500 - Slightly DamagedWayne Gretzky Rare Upper Deck Poster National Hockey Card Day 20171930's Knute Rockne Notre Dame & Helen Moody Tennis Beer Alcohol Danger Poster 2016 Patriots Super Bowl Champions Sports Illustrated Edelman Brady Poster 19-vintage Hof Fran Tarkenton W/ Posters-vikings Legend-9x Pro Bowl-awesome Lot.Very Rare Nice Maurice Hope Vs Wilfred Benitez World Title Handbill Poster 1981!24" X 36" Al Oliver Si Like Poster No Border (pirates)1950's Mercedes 300 Sl Gullwing Race Vintage Advertising Poster 11 X 17 1955 Mercedes-benz Xxii Mille Miglia Original Racing Poster,Classic Retro Julio Cesar Chavez & Chavez Jr. Boxing Poster L.a Gear 18x24 Rare1960's Ford Mustang Race Vintage Advertising Poster 11 X 17 Waterford Michigan