History of Movie Posters
History of Vintage Movie PostersOriginal vintage movie posters and movie memorabilia have become increasingly desirable by collectors, movie buffs and aficionados of movie poster art over the past 25 years. Most people don't realize vintage movie posters are available to the general public . They were only to be loaned to theatre owners and then returned thereafter thereby never produced for the collector market. Vintage movie posters even have a studio notation on the bottom stating “Property of National Screen Service Licensed for Display Purposed Only, Must Be Returned”. Before the monopolization of the movie theatre industry, movie posters were also used throughout the community to promote upcoming films. The barber shop, drug store and local hardware store displayed movie poster “inserts” and “window cards”. Today, only the “one sheet” movie poster is produced and displayed in the theatre lobbies.
In 1933, one of the darkest years of the Great Depression, a theater owner might receive a 15-cent credit for returning a movie poster to his regional exchange. Compare this figure with the cost of a gallon of gas (18 cents) or a loaf of bread (12 cents) and it’s easy to understand why very few movie posters survived from this period. If the austerity of the times and the frugality of theater owners was not enough to keep movie posters out of the hands of the general public, the sweeping paper drives of the war years also did their part to help keep movie memorabilia out of general circulation. So it’s no surprise that movie posters from the years of 1930 through 1945 are quite scarce.
In fact, it is estimated that fewer than 20 copies of movie posters exist from most films made during the period of 1930 through 1945. For many landmark films of the era (e.g., "Frankenstein", "Dracula",“The Grapes of Wrath”, “Casablanca", “The Wizard of Oz”, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs”, “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes”, “Flash Gordon”) it is believed that less than a dozen examples have survived of any particular poster.
Over the years original vintage movie posters have been produced in various shapes and sizes. Before the 1980’s and the demise of the small town movie theatres (as a result of the monopolization of the industry by companies like Showcase cinemas) also meant the extinction of all the breath-taking movie posters such as the lobby cards, window cards, insert, half sheets and the traffic-stopping 3, 6 and 24 sheets. The primary movie poster that survives today is the standard one sheet. Below is a glossary of the most popular vintage movie posters that once played a major role in the promotion and exhilarating anticipation of upcoming movie events.
One Sheets & Half Sheet Movie Posters:
These have always been the primary advertising posters used by theatres since the early 1900’s. The one sheet (27x41”) is still used today in the lobbies of the major movie theatres. However, the half sheets (22x28”) became extinct around 1980. Vintage one sheets of major classics from pre 1960 are highly sought after by collectors sometimes paying over $1,000,000 for such gems as Frankenstein or Metropolis.
Three and Six Sheet Movie Posters:
The Three and Six Sheet movie posters were the “traffic stopping” posters that often were displayed in major venues like Time Square or Los Angeles. The 3 sheet size is 41x81” and the 6 sheet is 81x81” making them larger than life size. In my area I notice that even some showcase cinemas have vintage six sheets displayed in their lobby. These larger than life posters are highly desirable in particular for the superior artwork of certain posters. They are also much rarer than the standard one sheet because very few were made. And, because of their large size, survival from handling damage is rare. To see examples of these spectacular poster see our Larger Than Life 3 and 6 Sheet Collection Page