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 Strikeforce Heavyweight Gp Semi Final Signed By Card Autographed Poster MmaPride Fc Replica Fight Gloves Mint Rare Htf Mma Seg Wec Ufc Poster BellatorJoe Morgan 1978 Vintage Si Sports Illustrated Studio One Poster 24 X 36 VgPeyton Manning Autographed Sign 20x36 Poster Litho Colts Denver Upperdeck Uda LeUfc On Vs 6 Dominick Cruz V Demetrious Johnson Signed By Card Autographed PosterHulk Hogan Wwe Wrestlemania Xxx 30 2-sided Street Banner, Sign/flag/poster MintDon "the Snake" Prudhomme Signed Poster By Kenny Youngblood NhraLebron James Signed Full Size Original Nike Witness Poster Atlanta Braves Dale Murphy Nike Vintage Power Alley Poster 1980's 22"x36" James Braddock Aka Cinderella Man & Joe Louis Original Boxing Broadside/poster"jungle Jim" Liberman Poster By Kenny Youngblood "welcome To The Jungle"Ufc On Vs 2 Jon Bones Jones V Matyushenko Signed By Card Autographed Poster MmaChi-town Hustler Pat Minick Ltd. Ed. Poster 232/500 By Kenny YoungbloodVintage University Of Kentucky Basketball Poster Lot 18 Total High Grade Nr1985 Nike Michael Jordan Black Blue Xrc Poster Prototype Promo Bgs 2x 9.5 SampleFive Cent 1968 Topps Baseball Posters Wax Pack Trading Gum Card UnopenedUfc 108 Rashad Evans V Thiago Silva Signed By Card Autographed Poster Mma AutoUfc On Fx 3 Demetrious Johnson V Ian Mccall Signed By Card Autographed Poster New York Rangers 2014 2015 Team Poster Msg Sga Henrik Lundqvist Zuccarello NashDick Butkus 1970 Vintage Si Sports Illustrated Renselaar #s3n51 Poster 24x36 Nm+Rare Vintage Nba Michael Air Jordan Slam Dunk Poster - Nike 1992 - NewChris Karamesines Chizler Dragster Nhra Poster By Kenny Youngblood SignedLarry Bird, Robert Parish, Kevin Mchale Poster Jolly Green Giants-20''l 17''wUfc Ufn 21 Kenny Florian V Gomi Signed By Card Autographed Poster Auto Sbc Nick Penny Hardaway Lil Penny Who's Got Next? 35x23 Poster Nike Original Rare Magic2015 Official Mayweather Vs. Pacquiao Fight Boxing Poster May 2nd 2015 Classic!!Gale Sayers 1969 Vintage Si Sports Illustrated Renselaar 3n40 Poster 2x3 Nm+Gerry Cheevers Si Sports Illustrated Poster Bruins Nhl 1971Mad Dog Nhra Vintage Dragster Racing Poster By Youngblood SignedNy Rangers Town Fan Appreciation Team Poster Sga Msg 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs O.j. Simpson 1973 Vintage Si Sports Illustrated Studio One #2a36 Poster 24x36 Nike Griffey In '96 Ken Griffey Jr 24 X 36 Original Poster - Rare Mariners Tony Esposito Si Sports Illustrated Poster Blackhawks Nhl 19711992 Dream Team Signed Poster Ewing Drexler Pippen Bird Robinson Mullin DrexlerY2 Ka Boom! Eddie Hill Signed Ltd. Ed. Poster By Kenny Youngblood Nhra5 X 1970's Original Wrestling Promo Posters-mascaras, Patera, Rhodes EtcThe Rock Wwe Wrestlemania Xxx (30) 2-sided Street Banner, Sign/flag/poster MintUfc Ufn 15 Nate Diaz V Neer Signed By Card Autographed Poster Auto Sbc Nick Vintage 1980's Nike Poster Bobby Jones "secretary Of Defense" Basketball "tv" Tommy Ivo Twin-buick Aa/dragster Poster Schematic Line Drawing Signed Original Cassius Clay Vs Sonny Liston Boxing 21 Inch X 13inch Promotion Poster Ramchargers Dodge Demon Nhra Nitro Funny Car Limited Ed Poster Signed By DriverVintage Nike Poster Of Norm Nixon "stormin' Norman" 22"x36" Basketball PosterMickey Mantle Signed 19x35 Framed Color Print Poster Auto Jsa Loa Yankees Hof Nike 1985 Promotional 6 Poster Card Set 3 X 5 Unopened Sealed Michael Jordan*original & Rare* 1962 Raf Debden National Speed Trial Motor Racing Poster *weccPaul Warfield 1972 Vintage Si Sports Illustrated Studio One 7a42 Poster 24x36 1990 U Of Washington-schedule Poster-100 Years Of Husky Football-rareKareem Abdul Jabbar .vintage Sports Illustrated PosterManny Pacquiao Vs Brandon Rios Signed Auto Boxing Fight Poster Psa - Stock Photo1966 England World Cup EusÉbio/puma Football Boots Original Very Rare CatalogueMotown Shaker 1972 Vega Funny Car Nhra Nitro Nostalgia Drag Racing Signed PosterWec 46 Varner V Ben Henderson Urijah Faber Signed By Card Autographed PosterTony Stewart's Prelude To The Dream Poster From Eldora Signed By Participants1973-74 O-pee-chee, 2 Wha Hockey Posters Affices Sealed Wax Pack, RareVintage Micky Mantle - Willie Mays - Duke Snider Autographed Mini PosterWwe Wrestlemania Xxviii 28 Poster The Rock V John Cena Limited Edition 715/10002002 Hao Wanderlei Silva Ltd Figure Pride Ufc Topps Seg Jakks Round 5 Poster 187Brock Lesnar Wwe Wrestlemania Xxx (30) 2-sided Street Banner, Flag/poster MintNew York Rangers Poster