In this article we will cover the documented movie poster discoveries that have been made in recent years. We have seen some major discoveries, featuring never before seen images from some of the world most notable actors. Through the article we will cover how they were found and what happened to them once discovered.
Early Movie Posters
As Bruce Hershenson explained in his article History of Movie Posters, for many movies there is no known movie poster to exist, and for many others only lobby cards, stills or window cards are known.
I know of at least ten occasions where someone has been remodelling their house in the 1990s and discovered posters in the walls or under the floor.
It is very unusual to find a pre-1938 movie posters from a major studio where more than ten copies of a US one-sheet are known to exist. Of those that we have seen discovered they were used within walls for cavity insulation and floors for underlay.
In the 1910s and 1920s (and to a lesser extent in the 1930s), builders would often look for material to put within the walls of buildings (or under the floors) to serve as insulation.
In the 1910s and 1920s (and to a lesser extent in the 1930s), builders would often look for material to put within the walls of buildings (or under the floors) to serve as insulation. Some enterprising builders hooked up with poster exchanges to take large amounts of outdated posters and put them in the walls of their new homes. I know of at least ten occasions where someone has been remodelling their house in the 1990s and discovered posters in the walls or under the floor. Sometimes they are mouldy and mildewed and require large amounts of restoration, but sometimes they are so tightly pressed together that they survive in relatively excellent condition.
The vast majority of pre-1938 posters known were found in one of the above ways. Very rarely a theatre owner (such as the legendary Charles Dyas, who started collecting in 1922, and whose remarkable collection was auctioned by Bruce Hershenson in 1990 and 1991) might order extra posters to keep, or someone who had access to posters might keep a particular poster as a keepsake, but by and large absolutely everybody who handled posters viewed them as disposable advertising, much like newspapers.
Movie Posters Discoveries
In the United States, you had the Cozy Theatre Collection found in Los Angeles. This was a theatre that maintained its own exchange of posters from the early 1930s to the 1950s for distribution to Los Angeles theatres. In 1968 the theatre owner offered his entire collection of movie posters (containing tens of thousands of posters and lobby cards and hundreds of thousands of stills) for sale for $25,000, and believe it or not, it was hard to find a buyer! At today’s prices, that particular collection would sell for millions of dollars.
In 1999, a collection of Universal Pictures half sheets were discovered under the floor of a house being renovated in Wellington, New Zealand and featured some of the most desired Universal horror titles including The Bride of Frankenstein (1935). They were in a great condition and had been preserved with the majority of them being rated in a very fine to mint condition.
Horror posters are the most collected type of movie poster on the market.
The collection included 5 copies of The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), 5 copies of The Raven (1935), 3 copies of The Invisible Ray (1936) and 7 copies of Dracula’s Daughter (1936). One of the copies of The Raven was sold by Heritage Auctions on 30th March 2007 where it achieved $50,787.50.
Bruce Marchant, who owns and founded The Reel Poster Gallery in 1991, explains “Horror posters are the most collected type of movie poster on the market”, who himself owns the pieces as a movie poster collector.
Some 60 years later the children of the printer found it, and not knowing what it was, sent it to auction where it fetched in excess of $30,000.
He tells another unusual tale about an extremely rare US movie poster for The Devil is the Woman (1935) starring Marlene Dietrich. At first, he was suspicious of the movie poster because it had been rolled and not folded. Although his initial suspicions receded as he explained, “It turns out, the poster had come directly from its printer – a gentleman who had loved the design so much he rolled it away and stored it safe from harm,” he says. “Some 60 years later the children of the printer found it, and not knowing what it was, sent it to auction where it fetched in excess of $30,000.”
The same movie title was sold by Heritage Auctions in November 2011 where it achieved a price of $26,290.00. The poster was in a remarkably good condition considering its age and prior to the sale was linen backed with repairs made to a tear in the right border, cross fold separations, and a small hole in the bottom border.
Here are some other movie posters that have been found through the years.
4th San Francisco Film Festival (1960)
Outstanding and rare original poster by legendary poster artist Saul Bass (1920 – 1996)
A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935)
German release poster with art by Moje Aslund (dates unknown); there are fewer than five known surviving examples known
Cabin in the Sky (1943)
Original American release poster with art by Albert Hirschfeld (1903 – 2003); the piece is one of fewer than 20 examples remaining today and is signed by the artist
Citizen Kane (1941)
Rare Swedish poster promoting Orson Welles’s debut film which he wrote, starred in, and directed; this piece is the only example the gallery has ever seen
One of fewer than four surviving examples, this Swedish poster is one of the last remaining relics of Theda Bara as Cleopatra – the film itself was destroyed under the Hays Code in the 1930s due to erotic imagery
Fistful of Dollars (1964)
Rare advance poster capturing Clint Eastwood before the star was famous; this film also marked the dawn of the Spaghetti Western era
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
Believed to be the only surviving British release poster of this enduringly iconic film
To Have and Have Not (1948)
Original Italian release poster with art by Luigi Martinati (1893 – 1984); believed to be the only surviving example on the market today
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