Blockbusters of cinema's arthouse

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

A Chicago property developer amassed the world's biggest movie poster collection. And now it's up for sale. Rob Hastings hears why

Looking over some of the 11,000 treasured pieces of paper that have consumed his life for 34 years, Dwight Cleveland readily admits that he is out of the ordinary. "I do believe that there is a genetic aberration among people who are collectors, and I definitely have that," he says with a laugh.

Since he took up his hobby as a 17-year-old high school student, the now 52-year-old Chicago real estate developer has amassed an unrivalled assortment of posters worth $3.5m (£2.1m). Now, however, he has decided enough is enough; by the end of the month he hopes to have a buyer for the largest privately owned mass of film ads in the world.

"There just isn't that much out there that I haven't seen, so it's getting a little stale," he says. "Plus the burden of owning so many posters is becoming overwhelming. There are posters everywhere; stacks and stacks of them. Even though everything is catalogued and databased, it is still too heavy for my shoulders."

Mr Cleveland was not a movie buff when his eyes first lit up at the sight of a poster. It was, he explains, the art work that first attracted him.

"The art teacher at my high school was a collector of these posters, and we all made fun of him because of his crazy hobby. Once, the home of a poster dealer in Boston burned down and he went down there in the middle of the night to go through the rubble and salvage some posters. He brought some back to show us, cradling them like a little baby because he was very proud of this hunt, and one of them was a lobby card for a film called Wolf Song from 1927 starring Gary Cooper. It had an art deco design that was very striking... I felt I had to own that poster."

Anything can become collectable, as long as there is someone out there willing to hunt it down and hoard it, but for Mr Cleveland movie posters are the best items a fanatic could wish to be obsessed by.

"The stuff is so damn difficult to find, it's a lot harder than baseball cards or comic books, because those were manufactured and advertised and distributed so you could go out and buy them – the question was just who could save them in a condition that was worthwhile?

"Movie posters were only distributed to cinema owners, and the old ones would either get pasted over by the next week's posters, or the guy who pushed the broom around would be instructed to take them down and throw them out. So not only were they in low distribution to begin with, but their chances of survival over decades would be pretty remote even in normal circumstances. In World War I and World War II, they would go into theatres and cinemas and take away posters for recycling, so stuff from the 1920s and 1930s is particularly rare."

His purchases have included a 1933 King Kong poster from Sweden for $25,000 – the most valuable item in his collection and now, he says worth double that figure – and 48 separate designs for Chinatown ads. The internet has helped him hugely, but he has also been as far afield as Auckland, Vienna, Paris, Cairo and Havana in search of elusive finds.

"I've been to flea markets on pretty much every continent, turning up at 5.30 in the morning with my flashlight, checking things out while people are unloading them from the back of a truck. I love that aspect of collecting."

Though his wife and three children will probably be glad for him to go into collecting retirement, it is uncertain if he has fully come to terms with the scale of what he is giving up – he bought another poster just last week. But with less than a month to go and still no buyer found, it might just be that his collection carries on growing for a little while longer yet.













Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'