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Our "Collecting 101" section offers some background on the hobby.
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Movie posters have been around for quite some time...in fact, the first known poster was purportedly printed in 1896 for the French film, "L'Arroseur arrosé" (loosely translated "The Sprinkled Water"). As more motion pictures began popping up, the competition to attract patrons grew, and poster advertising was the perfect way to do that.
Movie posters come in multiple sizes and shapes, and here we will mainly discuss the most common sizes. When people think of a movie poster, they think of a "one-sheet". One-sheets have historically (in the U.S.) measured 27" x 41", although since the mid '80's, they are now most often 27" x 40". In some cases, several variations of the one-sheet were often printed, with some styles being used weeks ahead of a film's release (often referred to as "advance" or "teasers"), and some used for display while the film was actually playing in the theater. The alternate styles could be significantly different in their graphics, or might have differed only by having wording such as "Coming Soon" on the poster.
You wouldn't put a mustache on the Mona Lisa, so why would you fold a piece of art, like a movie poster? The fact remains that movie posters were originally distributed as simple advertisements that would get pinned to a wall, and then either thrown out or returned to the distributor to be destroyed. As collectors, we simply accept the fact that all vintage posters are folded, and assuming there is no damage, the folds do not diminish their value. Starting in the 1980's, posters were typically rolled, and shipped in tubes, which is why more current posters are unfolded.
Although 27" x 41" seems to be a "non-standard" size, it was driven by the realities of the maximum physical size of paper that most printers/lithographers could easily print on their equipment. The term "one-sheet" became somewhat the ruler by which most other poster sizes were measured.
Although the math doesn't quite add up, "half-sheets", which were not as popular as their big brother, come in at 22" x 28". In most cases, two versions of the half-sheet were produced, each featuring its own unique graphics/artwork. Typically referred to as an "A" style (which most often was a larger version of the title lobby card) or a "B" style, they were printed on card stock paper, making them much thicker/stronger than other posters.
"Three-sheet" posters are exactly that...three one-sheets laid side by side, creating a poster measuring 41" x 81". Three sheets are typically printed on thinner stock than their one sheet counterparts, and usually come in two or three sections, which need to be assembled (jigsaw puzzle style), to create the final poster image.
Next up, we have "six-sheets", which, at 81" x 81" are the size of six one sheets laid together. Six-sheets regularly came in four separate pieces, which the theatre would piece together for display, most often outdoors. Six sheets were printed in smaller quantities than other poster sizes, so as a result, are much rarer to come across than others. "Rarer" doesn't necessarily mean more valuable, which is the case for six sheets. Due to their rather large size (almost seven feet square!), six sheets can be difficult to display for many collectors, due to the amount of wall space they take require. For this reason, six sheets seldom demand the price of other posters....unless they are for top classic films.
For billboard displays, studios released "twenty-four" sheets which were 246" x 108". Most often made in 12 sections, these posters were glued to an outdoor display and exposed to the elements. Finding one now is quite rare. The normal school of thought "the rarer things are, the more valuable they are" doesn't pertain to these larger posters. Given the reality of their size, and the space required to display them, the value of and market for these posters is quite limited.
The odd man out here is the "insert". Inserts measure 14" x 36", and like half sheets, are printed on card stock. The graphics on inserts are usually quite different than other posters. In many cases, different is a good thing, and the artwork on inserts can be more attractive than on other posters. For this reason, coupled with their smaller size, they are highly desirable to many collectors.
Less common sizes of U.S. posters are 20" x 60" (called "door panels"), 30" x 40", 40"x 60", and "banners", which come in various sizes.
Since their humble beginnings, advertising for a film of a man watering his garden, movie posters have evolved with the film industry. Many modern posters are now printed double sided, with the back side being a mirror image of the front. Two-sided posters are designed primarily to be displayed in backlit boxes (light boxes), which gives the posters more depth than their single-sided counterparts.
In order to give even more depth to a poster, advertisers occasionally produce lenticular versions of a poster. Quite rare and typically quite hard to find, lenticular posters are highly sought-after...and quite pricier than their one-dimensional counterparts. Unlike holographic images, lenticular images do not require any special lighting in order to see the effect.
Although the word "lenticular" may not be all that familiar, most people have seen examples of it without knowing what they were looking at. Lenticular posters, trading cards, etc., give viewers the illusion of motion, transformation, or depth. These posters can be printed on regular paper. When viewed from different angles, the lenticular portion will appear to move, or transform/morph from one image to another. Other versions of these posters are made on a heavier semi-transparent paper (almost plastic) that when backlit, give an incredible sense of three-dimensional depth and/or movement.
Although modern technology has crept into poster making, the timeless, non-gimmicky, classic single-sided posters have only increased in popularity with collectors over the years.
More details on other items including "lobby cards" and non-U.S. advertising…coming soon to a (computer) screen near you!