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    

Authentic Autograph Signed Borg, Connors, Vilas, Mcenroe Peter Max Tennis PosterOld Vintage Team Yamaha Bob Hannah Motocross Supercross Poster From The 70s'2016 Tony Stewart Bobby Allison Coca-cola Darlington #14 Nascar Poster/postcardUfc 202 Signed By Card Sbc Event Poster Conor Mcgregor Diaz Mma 196 AutographUfc 56 Rich Franklin V Quarry Matt Hughes Signed By Card Autographed Poster AutoNew 2016 Mlb Los Angeles Dodgers Vin Scully Set Of 5 #2-6 La Poster, SgaNos Vintage Hutchins Performance Products Poster Bmx Freestyle RacingVintage Si Sports Illustrated Poster Ken Stabler Nfl Football Oakland RaidersUfc On Vs 2 Jon Jones V Matyushenko Signed By Card Autographed Poster Auto SbcUfc On Vs 6 Dominick Cruz V D Johnson Signed By Card Autographed Poster Auto SbcAutographed Chicago Cubs Home Run Kings Poster - Ernie Banks Ron Santo WilliamsNew 2016 Dodgers Vin Scully Poster Sga Att Park 10/2 And Farewell LetterJoanna Jedrzejczyk Signed 16x20 Photo Ufc 205 Mma Pride Glove Poster Auto PolishMickey Mantle Signed 18x23 Cardboard Poster Autograph Psa/dna Loa Ny Yankees Hof "mcqueen Drives Porsche" Original 1970 PosterOriginal Vintage 1950's Midget Sprint Auto Racing Poster Sign Bone Stadium Pa Rare 1985 Sam Bowie Nike The Portland Tower Poster 36" X 22"Muhammad Ali Vs Jerry Quarry 1970 Orig Closed Circuit Boxing Poster Very RareUfc 30 Brand New Event Poster Rare Tito Ortiz 36x24 Pride Fc Bellator Chael Sonnen Signed 16x20 Photo Mma Auto Poster Glove Bellator Ufc Tito Ortiz1963 Yankees Multi Signed 18x24 Poster 13 Auto 's Terry Kubek Houk Linz Jsa Loa Mars Blackmon (spike Lee) Do You Know Air Jordan (1990) Nike Basketball PosterChicago Cubs Poster - Playoff Giveaway 10/15/16Dan Lurie Muscle Show Body Building Poster-boyer Coe Mae West-1975-hrkxNew Ryder Cup 2016 By Michael Birawer Artwork Golf Poster 32x22 Msrp $351967 Topps Pinup Poster Set Insert Lot Of 81 With Mays Mccovey Killebrew KalineNos Vintage Diamond Back Foldable Poster / Brochure Bmx Freestyle RacingNew 2016 Dodgers Vin Scully Last Game Poster Sga Att Park 10/2 Thank You VinVintage Si Sports Illustrated Poster Cal Ripken Jr. Baseball Baltimore OriolesVintage Si Sports Illustrated Poster Larry Bird Nba Basketball Boston Celtics2016 Cta Cubs Playoffs Souvenir Poster . Penn State Wrestling 2016-2017 Autographed Signed Poster Sanderson RetherfordVintage Si Sports Illustrated Poster Michael Jordan Nba Basketball Chicago BullsVintage Big Red Machine Cincinnati Reds Baseball Poster Autograph Willard MullinVintage 1991 Virginia Boxing Broadside Poster Matthew Saad Muhammed, Tony OjoeVintage Si Sports Illustrated Poster Terry Cummings Basketball Milwaukee BucksKobe Bryant Signed Poster Olympic Game AutographedNebraska Cornhuskers Football 1984 Seniors PosterRicky Carmichael Rare Fox Supercross Poster Ken RocsenVintage Si Sports Illustrated Poster Spud Webb Nba Basketball Atlanta HawksVintage Si Sports Illustrated Poster George Brett Mlb Baseball Kansas City Royal1990 Nike Poster Card Nolan Ryan King Of Zing Psa 4 Only 8 Graded By Psa Rare1971 Questor Grand Prix Poster Ontario Motor SpeedwayAmerican Muscle Show Body Building Poster-rickey Wayne-bruno Sanmartino 76-hrkxVintage Nike Jamaal "silk" Wilkes Poster 1980's Nba Basketball SportsVin Scully Sga Poster/large Postcard Oct. 2, 2016 Dodgers (you Get 5) Last Game!Nebraska Cornhuskers Football 1962-1994 200th Sellout Poster Ufc Tuf 14 Team Bisping V Team Miller Signed By Card Autographed Poster Auto SbcVintage Si Sports Illustrated Poster Michael Jordan Nba Basketball Chicago Bulls1990 Mark Grace Nike Grace Under Pressure Rare Chicago Cubs Poster New SealedJason Motte Baseball Auto Poster Bobblehead Card 4 - Lot Cardinals Cubs RockiesVintage 1977-78 Season Manchester United Souvenir PosterUfc Tuf 8 Team Nogueira V Team Mir Signed By Card Autographed Poster Auto 200Autographed John Cena Poster 8x10 Wwe LicensedDiddy Kong Racing Poster - Nintendo 64, N64Vintage Si Sports Illustrated Poster Larry Bird Nba Basketball Boston CelticsDale Murphy Dwight Gooden Stick Ball Nike Poster, Brand New In Pkg24" X 36" Pete Maravich Si Like Poster No Border (jazz)104th Us Open Shinnecock Hills PosterAndre Ward Vs. Kovalev Boxing. 35x23 Official Poster