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
Kathy (Sally Lindsay) in Ordinary Lies
tvReview: The seemingly dull Kathy proves her life is anything but a snoozefest
Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

    War with Isis

    Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
    Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

    A spring in your step?

    Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

    Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
    Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

    Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

    For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
    Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

    Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

    As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
    The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

    UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

    Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

    Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
    Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

    Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

    If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
    10 best compact cameras

    A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

    If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
    Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

    Paul Scholes column

    Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
    Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
    Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?