x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Vintage movie posters: A buyer's guide

Classic film posters are an easy way to add something original and personal to your walls. Here's what you should know before making the investment.

Andrew Martin in DIFC Gate Village is sells posters from the past few decades of cinema. Courtesy of Andrew Martin
Andrew Martin in DIFC Gate Village is sells posters from the past few decades of cinema. Courtesy of Andrew Martin

Given the film's dark portrayal of class divisions, it's probably not something the Austrian director Fritz Lang had in mind when he was making his 1927 masterpiece. But some 85 years on, apparently ignoring Metropolis's message about the dangers of wide chasms between rich and poor, one of the film's four surviving three-sheet posters - created by Heinz Schulz-Neudamm and featuring the era-defining image of the robotic Maria - has been put up for sale for $850,000 (Dh3.1 million).

If the seller, the US-based website movieposterexchange.com, finds a buyer, it would be the world's most expensive movie poster, beating the $690,000 paid in 2005 for one of the film's other surviving originals. The rumoured purchaser then: one Leonardo DiCaprio.

More than three quarters of a million dollars might be a bit much for most out there, but it's clear that classic movie posters - just like comics and film props - are big business.

If you're looking for something original, unique and a little bit personal to put on your walls, a classic movie poster could be just the thing. There is an incredible array of options on offer; whether you're a Star Wars fanatic, a fan of classic French cinema or a James Bond buff, there's something out there for you. There are countless reputable websites dealing in vintage movie posters, making it easy to find interesting works online. And, assuming you buy wisely, your new purchase will appreciate in value even as it sits on your wall.

If you are hoping to make a serious investment, there are distinct themes to watch for. With the exception of Metropolis, the most highly sought out posters have been for 1930s Universal horror films, particularly those starring Boris Karloff or Bela Lugosi, such as The Mummy, The Black Cat and The Bride of Frankenstein. But while the rare one-sheet originals can fetch well over $100,000, the films' re-releases in the 1940s and 1950s mean posters can be picked up for under $5,000.

Other major draws are Saul Bass originals. His unmistakably minimalist work for the likes of Alfred Hitchcock (his swirling image for Vertigo is about as legendary as movie posters go) regularly shift for around $4,000 to $8,000. Posters of his lesser-known films, however, can be found for just a few hundred dollars and are worth hanging on to.

If your tastes are towards the more contemporary, Andrew Martin in Dubai International Financial Centre's Gate Village is now selling specialist-sourced one-print options from the past few decades of cinema. Titles on sale include 1983's 007 outing, Octopussy, for Dh6,250 and Mad Max for Dh7,050, and the market for these more mainstream titles is just as buoyant.

"Over the last several years we have seen values of film posters go up, as many people who grew up in the Seventies and Eighties can relate to specific movies from a certain time," says Andrew Martin's Isam Dahmash.

"Like all things rare, original posters tend to go up in value as more of them are sold to private collectors, especially when you consider that these were mostly destroyed after the movie was out of the theatre. As with all types of antiques and vintage items, markets go up and down, but the demand for posters looks likely to stay for a while. They are seen as fashionable pieces of art that capture an era."

Prices are dependent on a number of factors, including condition and current popularity, with an emphasis on rarity and artistic quality. When it comes to investing, Dahmash's advice is to buy what you like and spend as much as you can on the best example.

"Buy something that brings a flood of memories to you with a single glance, something that pleases you and something with a wow factor," he says. "Many dealers in this field are internet based, and though some are quite established, you must be 100 per cent sure your dealer is one of them. But like all art, it's something you need to see with the naked eye and up close to truly evaluate and appreciate."

Developments in digital photography have meant the artistic touches on older posters, such as hand-colouring and rendering, have been sidelined on most modern film posters. But one US company is changing that, commissioning artists to give their own take on contemporary titles. The Texas-based Mondo (www.mondotees.com) has reinvented posters for numerous films, with frantic hand-drawn collages for Star Wars and more subtle, minimalist approaches to cult favourites such as Bonnie and Clyde and Dirty Harry. These limited-release prints are snapped up online in seconds, and have become high value collectables. The set of three Stars Wars posters was listed on eBay last year for $7,500. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recently added Mondo's library to its collection, a move that is only likely to reinforce the posters' appreciation.

If you're after something more regional, www.egyptianmovieposter.com has an impressive archive, with several pieces topping $100,000. For $15,000, pay homage to the legendary musician Mohamed Abdel Waheb with an original from his classic 1930s musical The White Rose. Or for $2,500 you can celebrate the pre-Lawrence Omar Sharif, with a two-sheet original from his 1958 romance, Hidden Shore.

Whether it's 1930s vintages or more recent reimaginations from the likes of Mondo, there are numerous options for budding movie poster collectors. Whichever route you choose and however much you want to spend, its clear that having that ubiquitous Scarface print on your wall will no longer do the trick.

Before you buy:

• Do your homework. If you want to invest in classic movie posters, some basic understanding of colour lithography, poster design eras and major artists will be useful.

• Jules Cheret, Henri Toulouse- Lautrec and Leonetto Cappiello are among the most respected poster artists, but their popularity is reflected in the price of their work.

• Your poster may not be in mint condition but when it comes to touch-ups, the experts agree that it's best to interfere as little as possible.

• Keep your poster out of direct sunlight and avoid temperature extremes. Never use heat or adhesive mounting on posters.

• Make sure that if you are paying for an original, you are getting an original. "Be careful when a poster is described as vintage," warns the International Vintage Poster Dealers Association.

"It is important to clarify that the poster is an original, old vintage poster. Sometimes sellers use the term 'vintage' incorrectly, when they actually are describing the poster's style, not its age. A vintage style poster is not collectable; it is not an investment. It is just a copy of an original vintage poster. Typically a vintage style poster can be reproduced inexpensively, in an unlimited number."

• Buy it because you love it, and because you are happy to look at it every day. There's no point having a great investment if it doesn't bring you joy.

Where to find it

Andrew Martin

DIFC Gate Village, Dubai

Heritage Auction Galleries


Reel Poster


Egyptian Movie Poster




Vintage Movie Posters