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This feature on movie poster collecting was the start of a slippery slope... First published in Mondo Magazine

Popcorn culture meets fine art sensibilities – movie poster collecting is the newest way to hang your wallet on your wall…

”It’s a sickness,”  is how Tony Nourmand explains away his dedication to the world of film poster collecting. “Collecting anything is a sickness. Why does somebody buy a Ferrari when a Golf would do the same job?”

Indeed, why would somebody spend $453,500 on an original 1932 Mummy poster when the same image would cost a couple of bob in Forbidden Planet down Tottenham Court Road? True, almost half-a-million is real top-end-of-the-market stuff, but still, original posters are regularly changing hands for tens of thousands of pounds. Not bad for a market still in its relative infancy. Although it’s been going on since the 1960s, poster collecting only started troubling the cheque book brigade around six years ago. Since then it’s grown at an amazing rate, with the likes of Sothebys taking it very seriously, and the Kensington Christie’s establishing a presence in the market with regular, well-attended auctions. Like anything, it has built – and built quickly – from a foundation of aficionados keen to lay their hands on images from their favourite movies.  As more and more people come onto the market, the limited quanities mean prices have been hiked high.

At a recent Christie’s sale, for instance, a private buyer stumped up just over 10 grand for the privilege of hanging a bona fide 2001: A Space Odyssey on his wall. That’s £10,000 for a tatty piece of paper, just  31 years old – and probably boasting rips and pin-holes – that once hung outside the local fleapit. Chances are, if you’d sweet-talked the surly manager at the time, you’d have got it for free.

Tony Nourmand, then, must be a very sick man indeed. He owns London’s Reel Poster Gallery on Westbourne Grove, a show space just as plush as any blue-chip art exhibition. Only, this one has film posters hanging around the walls. One for The Man With The Golden Arm, a poster designed by Saul Bass of whom more later; a beautifully designed print of Les Diaboliques; a suitably lurid Invasion Of The Body Snatchers and still other assorted exotica. Tellingly, there is a distinct lack of posters advertising the works of Adam Sandler. Nor is the Police Academy  franchise represented. Nevertheless, and perhaps somewhat scarily, there’s no real reason why they might not be at some point in the future.

“It’s supply and demand,” explains Nourmand of the growth in the market. “Nine out of ten people who walk into the gallery ask for Audrey Hepburn, and of those nine out of ten ask for Breakfast At Tiffany’s, so Breakfast At Tiffany’s is going up in value and the American one is now worth £2,500-£3,000, whereas eight years ago it was worth £150.”

A super speedy scan of the internet reveals that a Breakfast At Tiffany’s film poster, featuring Audrey Hepburn, would cost you exactly £8.50. Difference is, of course, it wouldn’t be original.

“What you’re buying here,” says Nourman, “is a poster that would have hung outside the cinema – the actual poster that advertised the film. By original we mean a studio-issued poster that would accompany films from city to city, whereas reproductions like you might buy in Forbidden Planet have been printed for the sole purpose of selling to the public.

“The original posters would go from one cinema to another with the movies and when the run was over everything would go back to to the studio and when the studio ran out of space the first thing they would destroy would be the posters because they’d served their purpose. The ones that survived – they were ones the projectionist took home, or somebody who worked at the printers may have liked one. Basically, the ones that survived were not supposed to survive which makes them very valuable.”

Which is why prices are so high for the Universal horror films of the 1930s, including the 1932 treatment of The Mummy starring Boris Karloff. During this period Universal was a bargain basement studio but a series of now-classic fright-fest movies put it on the map. Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy et all not only launched the careers of Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff, but also defined a new cinematic language – creaking doors, mad scientists, the avenging mob – that endures today. Because of Universal’s breadline status, posters advertising their movies were used over and over again, and nowadays are extremely hard to come by. Couple that with the fact that fans of the movies tend to be both rich and rabidly fanatical and the supply-and-demand ethos has pushed prices through the roof.

“The horror genre tends to crea the highest prices,” says Sarah Hodgson, head of  the popular entertainment department at Christie’s. “There are only two copies of The Mummy known to exist, and that rarity will drive prices up. We’ve sold a Casablanca for £53,000 which tends to be very sought after, but the market is driven by what people want.”

Even so, less than five per cent of posters in existence fetch Securicor amounts. After that, it’s simply a case of, yes, supply and demand – it’s just down to what collectors are collecting. And that can boil down to the genre of movie, its star, the country the poster was produced in, the poster’s designer…

“At the moment films from the 1960s and 1970s are very popular,” adds Sarah Hodgson.  “The James Bond films, Steve McQueen, Michael Caine in Get Carter and The Italian Job – cult films, basically. Art from the Eastern Bloc is very, very different to American and British artwork, so there are always people interested in collecting it, even though they’re not fetching high prices.”

“A great poster,” says Nourmand, “is one where the film great and the design is great and it’s hard to find. For example, Vertigo: great movie, it’s directed by Hitchcock, who’s collected, and the poster is designed by Saul Bass so that poster will always be worth more than, say, Bonjour Tristesse, which is only designed by Bass.”

Indeed, Vertigo would set you back at least £2,500. And it’s an example of several collector instincts meeting in one instance. But Nourmand’s quick to point out that the market is so new that buyers and dealers are still feeling their way. When the Reel Poster Gallery puts together a catalogue it’ll often be the first time people become aware of the artists involved, and only then will they become a collectible commodity. Saul Bass is a good example, and as people are being exposed to the dark, graphic work of artists in Poland, for instance, their artists too are becoming increasingly collectible. And that could well be the future direction for the market. Up to now old-time collectors have rather dutifully insisted on having the poster from the country of the film’s origin. But as newer films are more heavily marketed, their promotional poster will often be printed at the same time as ‘re-prints’ aimed at selling to Joe Public. It means that in the future telling apart your genuine Titanic from the one sold to a DiCaprio fan in HMV could prove a little difficult. There can be rules of thumb such as size, certain markings and George Lucas even introduced a watrermark system for Star Wars: Episode 1. But much of the time, newer material can only be authenticated with sharp eyes and the odd bit of detective work. The Rocky Horror Picture Show, once a staple fixture of every ‘studes’ wall, is a case in point. The original was used over and over again as the movie became a fixture of late-night showings, so eventually cinemas began using reprints for advertising. Meanwhile, fans had started pinning re-prints to their walls. “…And then it became old,’ says Nourman. “So unless you know what company printed the poster and what the exact difference is between that and an original, one of those repros from 20 years ago looks original now.”

‘Going foreign’ would therefore seem to be one answer if you want to collect newer films and keep it real. The other is to ensure your poster is double-sided, which means it will be printed on the reverse for using with back-lit lightboxes in cinemas.

Nevertheless, if contemporary movie marketing spells a a new approach to poster collecting, the market in older material will continue to thrive as long as interest keeps on growing. As long as Joe Bloggs reads about a record price fetched for Goldfinger then remembers he has a stack in his loft. And given that a mint condition original Goldfinger can fetch anything up to a grand, it may be worth braving the cobwebs yourself.

Web links:

www.christies.com

www.reelposter.com/

//boxhead// Getting started

//standfirst// Fancy dipping a toe in the waters…

  • Find a dealer. Tony Nourman’s Reel Poster Gallery, Vertigo Gallery, Chrisites, websites.
  • Don’t try and predict investments. Choose something you can afford, but most of all that you like. Says Nourman: “People who buy it for that reason you’re going to end up with something that’s worth a lot of money. Because if you feel passionate about it then someone else is going to feel the same way as you.”
  • Make sure it’s original. Clearly, buying from a reputable source takes out the gamble factor. Otherwise, remember there are no ‘fakes’ as such – the stakes are not high enough. The worst case scenario would be to get stuck with a repro, printed for public sale. So use your nous. Is it likely that obscure Greek musical film poster ever went on sale at Woolies? Nah.
  • Check the condition. These guys weren’t made to last. That’s part of their appeal. Nevertheless, your original Goldfinger won’t be worth as much with a third missing, especially when more come on the market.
  • Get it restored by an expert.

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