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    

Original ~ Vintage C1940's ~ "lms" Railway Poster For The "isle Of Man Tt Races"1986 Mike Tyson Vs Trevor Berbick Vintage Boxing Fight Poster Las Vegas, NevadaHelio-rorion-rickson-royler-renzo-royce Ufc Gracie Jiujitsu Family Signed PosterOriginal Palm Springs Road Race Poster March 1955 Actor James Dean's First RaceMichael Jordan Bulls Rookie Mvp Jumpman Action Poster In Frame New Nm-mtWillie Mickey & The Duke Multi Signed 20x26 Poster Auto Psa/dna Loa Mays MantleMuhammad Ali-joe Frazier I Harlem Closed Circuit Poster (1971)Multi Signed 1994 Manchester United Team Group Poster X14 Eric Cantona Butt ++Vintage Extremely Rare 1974 Bob Mcadoo Sports Illustrated Studio One Poster2014 Panini Prizm World Cup World Cup Posters Prizms Green Crystal Manaus #17/25Rare Vintage Nike Michael Air Jordan Poster - 1990's 1973 Oakland A's World Champs Major League Baseball Promotions Corp New VintageVintage Football Poster Floyd Little Denver Broncos 1970 Sports IllustratedVintage Michael Jordan Imagination Chicago Bulls Nike Air Jordan Ii 1986 PosterSigned Poster Busby Babes Manchester United Roger Byrne Football AutographVintage 1968 Sports Illustrated Tom Seaver 24" X 36" Poster Ny Mets Hofer NiceWcw 1993 Yearbook Collector’s Series Special #3 With 18 Trading Cards & Posters 1970 San Francisco Warriors Promotions Inc. New VintageSalvador Sanchez-patrick Ford Official Poster (1980)P130b 1993 Wwf Catalog Live Event Poster Mr Perfect Autographed Signed Wwe Rare 1971 Pittsburgh Pirates Major League Baseball Promotions Corp New VintageSuper Rare Ufc 2001 Press Kit Zuffa Seg Ultimate Fighting Championship PrideStan Musial Hof Signed 30x40 Cardinals Autographed Poster Baseball Art Print Stm1969 Sports Illustrated 9a3 Reggie Jackson Poster New In Orig Wrapper Nm/mt 1970 Portland Trailblazers Promotions Inc. New Vintage 1971 Kansas City Royals Major League Baseball Promotions Corp New VintageVintage Extremely Rare 1975 Keith Wilkes Sports Illustrated Studio One PosterThe Ultimate Ultimate Poster/programMint Johnny Unitas Si Sports Illustrated Like Poster Baltimore Colts NflOriginal 1968 Topps Mickey Mantle New York Yankees Poster 9 3/4 X 18 1/2Vintage Early 90's Nike Portland Trailblazers "uh-oh" PosterUfc 102 Autographed Signed 27" X 40" Event Poster Couture Nogueira Jardine Silva 1972 New Orleans Saints Stancraft Nfl Football League New VintageMuhammad Ali Cassius Clay Vs Oscar Bonavena Original Fight Poster Yankee Stadium 1972 Kansas City Omaha Kings Promotions Inc. New VintageJoe Frazier Vs Jerry Quarry Large Boxing Poster1968 Sports Illustrated 1a1 Brooks Robinson Poster New In Orig Wrapper: Nm/mtSigned 2x Anthony Davis Doron Lamb Kentucky 2012 March Madness Bracket Poster 1971 Milwaukee Brewers Major League Baseball Promotions Corp New Vintage 1971 Cleveland Indians Major League Baseball Promotions Corp New VintageNice Rare Vintage 1967-68 Minnesota Muskies Aba Basketball Poster 1st YearVintage University Of Illinois Campus Collage Poster Chief Illiniwek Super Rare24" X 36" Roman Gabriel Si Like Poster (rams) Secretariat Triple Crown Poster Signed By Ron Turcotte And Penny TweedyGraham Hill Signed 1968 Monaco Gp Large Photograph/poster - Lotus 1971 Houston Rockets Promotions Inc. New VintageRare Vintage Nike 90's Godzilla Vs Barkley Poster 1969 Chicago Bulls Bendelow & Associates New Vintage PosterAssortment Of Green Bay Packers MemorabiliaPoster St Johnstone V Ayr United Final Game Ever At Muirton Park 29 April 1989Lot Of 10 Ufc Event Posters Aldo Rousey Tate Weidman MachidaMike Tyson, Larry Holmes Original Fight Poster 22x36 1971 Philadelphia Phillies Major League Baseball Promotions Corp New VintageDallas Cowboys 1970s Doomsday Defense 17 X 24 PosterSugar Ray Robinson Vs Gene Fullmer Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer Boxing Poster30" X 19" Wrestling Poster, Ice Rink Nottingham. Early 70's. Very Good. 1982 Jiro Watanabe Vs Shoji Oguma Boxing Fight Poster Japan World Title Fight1971 George Blanda Renselear Corp. 24"x 36" Poster Oakland Raiders - 9a16Pete Rose Signed Go To Bat Against Cancer Poster Guaranteed AuthenticHulk Hogan & Mr. T Wrestlemania I Rare Framed Poster 1985 Msg! Wwf Wwe