Over the past decades, classic and movie posters found their way from advertising pillars to elegant poster galleries and well-known auction houses. Collectors from all over the world increasingly value original posters, not only as an eye-catcher, but also as a long-term investment. Though, what influences the poster value?
There are significant price differences between posters, mainly depending on the poster artist, the motif featured on the poster, and the overall poster condition. Before buying a poster, you should understand the factors that drive the value of a poster.
If you want to buy an original poster, you are certainly wondering whether the price asked by the seller is appropriate for the given poster. Often it is tricky to estimate the poster value and various aspects must be considered.
Selling a poster may be easier: the value is the price for which you are willing to give the poster. Though, you might be losing money if you are not aware of the actual value of your precious poster.
Original, reprint, or reproduction: only original posters by the original poster artist are valuable. A poster is an original if it was printed in the first printing run. Later official reprints may also have some value, but typically they are significantly less worth than the original poster. Reproductions of a poster have no monetary value.
Condition: classic posters are graded from A to D. The better the condition, the more valuable is a poster. However, a very rare poster may achieve a high price even in poor condition. The condition of a poster can significantly impact its value and the difference can easily be several thousand dollars.
Rarity: the rarity of a poster is an important, though hard to assess factor. For most posters, no one really knows how many originals still exist. Posters printed with the process of stone lithography were mostly printed in runs of up to 3,000, most of which were destroyed when torn from the wall. Furthermore, museums and collectors may permanently take away a poster from the market, making most classic posters even rarer over time.
Printing method: old vintage posters were printed using the process of stone lithography. Stone lithography is a very difficult, time and work intense process resulting in vibrant colors. After World War II, offset and silkscreen printing replaced the stone lithography. Typically, older posters printed by using the stone lithography process are of higher value than the newer posters. Though, there are also some offset or silkscreen posters achieving high prices.
Poster artist: posters of the most famous poster artists, such as Toulouse-Lautrec, Mucha, Cappiello, AM Cassandre, etc., almost always have a high poster value and achieve notable prices in auctions.
Poster subject: the subject has a significant impact on the demand for a given poster. Travel, winter sports, automobile, and ocean liner posters are typically very popular and, therefore, are often more valuable.
Conservation: posters on the market today are mostly mounted on linen or rice paper for conservation purposes. Conservation must not harm the original poster and must be fully reversible. Non-conservation techniques or restoration that is not reversible may significantly impact the value of an original poster. Therefore, it is indispensable that all restoration and conservation work is being performed by a reputable conservation atelier. Museums and serious collectors often prefer posters that are in original condition and not mounted on linen or rice paper.
If you have a poster and want to determine the indicative poster value, refer to Poster Auctions International’s comprehensive price guide. It indexes the cumulative sales results of more than fifty auctions, encompassing prices realized for over 30,000 posters. Access to the large data base is free; you just need to register with your email address.
For film posters, the value is also determined by a combination of factors, the most important factor being the title of the film. The most coveted posters are those from the most popular films such as Wizard of Oz, Casablanca or Dracula. The Dracula poster from 1931 was sold for USD 525,800 in November 2017.
Movie posters from the early 1910s to the 1950s usually have the highest value. Some posters from the 1960s also achieve good prices, but the value of posters from the 1970s to the present is drastically impacted by the much larger print runs making them easier to find and lesser of a rarity. Another important factor is that movie posters were rarelly collected until the 1970s. From the beginnings to the 1960s, most of the posters were simply thrown away after the film was no longer shown in the theaters.
The top horror and science fiction film titles have always achieved the highest prices and continue to do so today. Other genres and stars of high value include Film Noir, the Marx Brothers, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, Douglas Fairbanks, early Walt Disney cartoons and other classic animations, and Alfred Hitchcock.
For all original posters the condition is of great importance for the value. Restorations or tears are generally only acceptable in marginal areas. The motif itself should always be fully intact. The rarer a poster, the more compromises regarding the condition are often made by collectors. A poster should never be mounted on cardboard or canvas, otherwise, it is generally worthless.
The most common defects of a poster are bleed-throughs, creases, fading, holes, marks, see-throughs, stains, tape, tears, trimming, and wrinkles. Be aware that assessing the condition of a poster can be very subjective and different people may come to a deviating conclusion when determining the condition of a poster.
There are different grading systems used by dealers and collectors to determine the condition of a poster (6 Grade, 9 Grade, and 10 Grade System). In addition, the grade systems are often not consistently applied, which can make it difficult for a beginner to understand the condition of a poster without having seen it.
Often, auction houses use a symplified alphabetical systems from Grade A to Grade D. In order to better differentiate the grades, they may add “+” or “-” to the alphabetical grades (e.g. “A-” or “B+”).
Condition A: Excellent – The poster is overall in excellent condition and may only have the tiniest of flaws that were corrected through restoration. The poster was carefully stored and is in a very well preserved state. Serious collectors and investors are looking for condition A posters, unless they are hunting a particularly rare poster so that they may be willing to make a compromise with respect to the condition. If you are looking for investment quality, go for condition A posters.
Condition B: Very good – The poster can have some restoration on the edges and folded areas, and very slight restoration in other areas. That is, there can be minor border repairs, edge tears, stains, or other signs of average use. However, the main part of the image should be in very good condition and not affected by the flaws. In summary, condition B posters are not necessarily investment grade posters (unless the poster is very rare), but certainly good collectibles to put on the empty wall in your living room.
Condition C: Below average: The poster typically has significant overall restoration, e.g. large tears affecting the main image. There may be major flaws that required extensive restoration. The main image of condition C posters is often affected by the defects; however, the poster may still be suitable for display in your house or apartment.
Condition D: Poor – The poster is typically heavily damaged and worn. Keep your hands away from condition D posters, unless you were looking for this specific poster for decades and you don’t mind putting it on the wall even with missing pieces.
Prices for poster classics are significantly higher. Even though the supply of first-class preserved items is becoming increasingly thin, collectors should invest primarily in top quality, which significantly drives the price for the poster.
If the most iconic classic posters are not within your budget, there are also newer posters which are affordable and may see an increase in value over time. Razzia posters may be mentioned as an example. Most Razzia posters are available for around USD 500, sometimes even cheaper.
First of all, if you intend to invest in poster art, you should look for poster designs you want to hang on your walls. This is certainly much more fun than just buying posters, putting them into a drawer and waiting for an (anticipated) increase in value.
Typically, investments in original vintage posters do not result in a short-term return; prices rather increase slowly over time, depending on the demand for a specific poster. Aside from this fact, posters should not only be acquired to generate a profit, but mostly to enjoy the fantastic designs created by the poster artists. If the poster finally turns out to be a good investment, even better.
As poster collectors we are mostly concerned about the pleasure of getting our desired posters. We are often looking for a specific poster for quite some time since it’s not an easy task to find iconic posters at a reasonable price. Overall, the posters should at least preserve the investment value, or hopefully see an increase in value over time (though, there are some posters we are not going to sell, regardless of the price).
In terms of value increase, the most promising posters are often the pioneers and classics of the genre. Consequently, some iconic posters designed by the greatest poster artists almost always achieve high prices in galleries and at auction events.
Among the pioneers of poster art are French Belle Époque artists from the 1890s, such as Jules Chéret and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec as well as the art nouveau pioneer Alphonse Mucha. Their artistic approach to the emerging process of lithography resulted in the evolution of the poster to an art form of its own.
Their frivolously, playful announcements of events (Moulin Rouge) and their artists (Aristide Bruant or Mistinguett) dominated the street scene on Parisian boulevards of that time. Whereas in the seventies collectors paid around USD 1,000 for such a classic poster, today USD 30,000+ are not uncommon. For Cassandre posters, prices can also exceed USD 250,000.
The demand for posters also depends on market trends. Today, Art Deco posters with simplified designs are highly sought after; the interest for playful motifs may have cooled off somewhat in recent years. However, Toulouse-Lautrec posters, including Toulouse-Lautrec’s Moulin Rouge, are still very high on most collector’s poster list. Henri Toulouse-Lautrec’s works in the upper price segment almost always find its buyers. The same holds true for Alphonse Mucha posters.
On 29 May 1935, the cruising ship Normandie started its maiden voyage from Le Havre to New York. It was the most elegant, largest and fastest luxury liner of its era. For its voyage across the Atlantic, which took four days, three hours and two minutes, the dream liner was awarded the Blue Ribbon, the most coveted prize in seafaring at the time.
In the same year, the French graphic artist A.M. Cassandre (Adolphe Jean-Marie Mouron) immortalized the legendary journey by his fabulous poster design. The monumental, geometrically strongly reduced image of the gigantic ocean liner is considered one of the most iconic posters of the Art Deco style of the 1930s and 1940s.
In the nineties, collectors paid less than USD 10,000 for a top-notch copy at auctions, today, the costs for the Normandie poster are typically many times higher. The poster value of Cassandre’s railroad motifs, such as Étoile du Nord, Nord-Express and Wagons-Lits show a similar increase.
In November 2014, Van Sabben Auctions sold “L’Intransigeant”, an original Cassandre Art Deco poster, for a whooping EUR 210,000 (approximately USD 260,000), which is an remarkable poster value. This record price was rather unexpected. The high estimate for the poster was EUR 50,000 (USD 60,000), and the poster achieved four times the high estimate. However, price hikes à la Cassandre are rather an exception than standard in the poster market. Typically, the poster value rather increases slowly over time.
Leonetto Cappiello is also in high demand. The Italian caricaturist and graphic artist (1875-1942) abandoned the attention to detail of Art Nouveau and founded modern product advertising with his simple but eye-catching motifs.
His Bitter Campari advertisement is one of the most iconic poster designs. For those who are looking for this famous poster: prices dropped to as low as USD 4,000 (from a poster value of USD 10,000+ in the past) on ebay due to an increased number of offers on the market. If you bought it for more than USD 10,000, then hopefully because you liked the design and not only to make an investment. There is also a later printing from the 1950s available, which sells for around USD 500.
Cappiello’s funny designs for Cinzano, Maurin Quina or Cognac Monnet are just as fantastic as the Bitter-Campari poster. If you are interested in Cappiello posters, browse through the catalogs of the upcoming auction events to see what is available on the market. In addition, check out the offerings of the poster galleries close to you.
Tourism posters, especially winter sports destinations, are even more in favor of collectors than product advertising posters. Swiss graphic artists such as Emil Cardinaux, Otto Baumberger, Martin Peikert or Alex Diggelmann and mountain motifs from the Matterhorn to the Jungfrau are leading the way here.
The poster value for Swiss mountain posters can go as high as USD 25,000 at poster auctions. But don’t despair, if this price tag exceeds your budget, there are always wonderful winter sport and ski posters available at more affordable prices. These posters undoubtedly make a great addition to your walls, especially in a charming chalet in the mountains.
Typically, Swiss ski posters in top quality go for prices in the range of USD 2,000-8,000. Are you interested in Swiss travel and mountain posters? Browse the poster galleries and dealers on aproposter. They have a great selection of the most iconic Swiss posters.
In the 1950s and ‘60s, movie stars and other celebrities often flew TWA, which helped fill their seats with other passengers. The TWA advertising posters (find out more about TWA posters in this article) echoed the glitzy airline’s reputation. They captured the allure of traveling in a single enticing scene, inspiring dreams of adventure in distant locales.
Some of the best TWA travel posters from the 1950s and ‘60s were created by artist David Klein (1918-2005). One of the most popular Klein designs is his 1956 New York Times Square poster, characterized by bright colors and geometric patterns. First printings displaying the constellation airplane in the upper part of the poster go for approximately USD 10,000 at auctions, and the poster value significantly increased in recent years. The smaller version of the later printing would often cost around USD 800-1,200 (some dealers will ask USD 2,000-3,000 for the smaller version) and the larger version about USD 4,000-5,000.
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