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    

Ufc 181 Hendricks Vs. Lawler Autographed Poster Pettis Vs. Melendez Wec Mma Tuf 20 Finale Team Pettis Vs.team Melendez Autographed Poster Ufc 181 Wec MmaRare Vintage Nba Michael Air Jordan Slam Dunk Poster - Nike 1992 - NewKobe Bryant No. 3 All-time Scorer Lakers PosterBo Jackson Framed And Signed "the Athlete" Vintage Poster6x Signed 1978 Kentucky Wildcats Ncaa Champions Poster + Coa Givens Robey Macy1971 Nebraska Cornhusker Schedule Poster Bob Devaney National Championship Seaso*signed* Wwe Wrestlemania 30 Official Program! -- Plaque,poster,ppv Chair & DvdStan Musial Hof Signed 30x40 Cardinals Autographed Poster Baseball Art Print StmLucha Libre Mexican Wrestling Poster-el Santo 1975Kobe Vs Lebron Nike Poster Anthony Davis Kentucky Wildcats Basketball Uk Vs Ul Louisville Poster Coa SignedAndre Agassi Autographed Signed Full Size Wilson Tennis Racquet Psa/dna Miami Dolphins Larry Csonka S I Sports Illustrated 1973 Poster 7a39 Iooss Jr.Signed David Haye V Derek Chisora Fight PosterWwe Signed Wrestlemania 30 Promo Poster! Undertaker John Cena Plaque & ProgramTuf 20 Finale Team Anthony Pettis Vs.team Gilbert Melendez Poster Ufc 181 Wec Host City Cuiaba Poster No. 3 2014 Prizm World Cup Brazil Gold 5/10 Rare Sp Sebring Vintage Race Poster 1970 Arcf Scarce, Rare !!! Falstaff Beer 1968 1969 Leroy Neiman Signed 23x30 Ken Griffey Jr Litho Poster Auto Jsa Coa Vintage 1993 Nike Michael Jordan Aerospace #4026 Poster - SealedLot Of 10 Ufc Event Posters Rousey Jon Jones Weidman MachidaLarry Holmes & Gerry Cooney Signed 22x28 Boxing Poster Auto Jsa Coa 1976 World Champion Cincinnati Reds Signed PosterVintage 1960's Sports Illustrated Kansas City Chiefs PosterGreen Bay Packers Kwik Trip 3d Player Cup Complete Set & Bonus Limited Poster 6x Signed 1978 Kentucky Wildcats Ncaa Champions Vs Duke Poster + Coa Shidler1970 Topps Baseball Posters Near Set 22/241977-8 Chicago Bears Walter Payton Nfl PosterSan Francisco 49ers Nfl Display Stop Sign + Bonus Poster!Seattle Seahawks Nfl Display Stop Sign + Bonus Poster!Vtg Cleveland Browns Mike Pruitt Sports Illustrated PosterVintage 1993 Nike Michael Jordan Stargazer #5341 Poster - SealedReggie Jackson Signed 20x26 Poster Auto Jsa Coa A's Yankees Angels HofVintage 1970's Dea Football Poster Billy Kilmer Washington Redskins Ultra Rare2004 Inaugural Season Philadelphia Soul Poster Signed By Jon Bon JoviVtg Cleveland Browns Brian Sipe Sports Illustrated PosterOregon Ducks 2014 Football Season Poster Mariota Center Huge Pac 12 ChampionsDuke Blue Devils 2014-2015 Mens Basketball Autographed PosterLebron James Nike Poster 10/30 Game Lot Cleveland Xl Shirt Chalk Cavs Christmas24" X 36" Dave Osborn Si Like Poster (viikings)Texas A&m Aggies Vs Ut Nov. 28, 1975 Winning Scoreboard PosterStan Musial Signed 30x40 Cardinals Autographed Poster 1954 Saturday Evening PostRare Basketball Poster Harlem Globetrotters Vs House Of David 1947 Corn PalaceGeorgia Bulldogs Basketball 1996 Tubby Smith Team Signed Poster * Jack Davis UgaGreen Bay Packers Nfl Display Stop Sign + Bonus Poster!Rare Julio Cesar Chavez Mexico Hollywood Signed Boxing Poster 1993Babe Ruth 16th Homerun Signed Poster 10 By 13Jake Lamotta "raging Bull" Signed Raging Bull Movie 26.5x39 Lobby Poster Psa/dnaVtg Souvenir Poster "incomparable Prize Fight" Jack Johnson Boxing 10 1/2" X 14"Signed Mickey Mantle PosterVintage 1978 Seattle Seahawks Team Poster Steve Largent Jim Zorn Oly Beer Kiro24" X 36" Carl Eller Si Like Poster (viikings)Original Vintage 1973 Evil Knievel Harley Davidson Wheelie With Cape Poster !!John Wooden Hand Signed 8-1/2x11 Pyramid Of Success Document + Coa Illustrated Current News Vintage Poster (1954) -ny Giants Nl Pennant (mays) RareMichael Jordan 1989 90 Vtg Basketball Nike Air Shoe Poster Ad Chicago Bulls 1984Cleveland Cavaliers 10/30 Game Lot Lebron James Nike Poster Chalk Cavs ScheduleCal Ripkin Jr Autographed Signed Coa Photo Poster 16x20 Baltimore Orioles #8Mick Doohan Honda Poster Laminated Rare 24 X 17" Ex-display