Film posters draw the collectors

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The Independent Online
FILM POSTERS sell films. But some of those for old movies now have a blockbuster value of their own. Collectors who paid pounds 12 for an original poster of the 1935 film The 39 Steps in 1978 could now sell it for pounds 7,500. That has to be classed a good investment.

But the secret of collecting, whether posters, postage stamps, or garden gnomes, is to do it for love, not money. If, however, you take the right advice and make yourself an expert, there is a better chance of making money as well as enjoying yourself.

The film poster market has been on the up, but has yet to reach its peak, according to collectors, dealers and auctioneers. Although prices have risen dramatically in recent years for original posters of American films, especially those featuring Marilyn Monroe or James Dean, European film posters have yet to match them. European posters of American movies, particularly if well designed, have recently begun to sell strongly. One of only four known surviving original posters of the 1931 version of Frankenstein racked up a world record price of pounds 125,000 two years ago. It would probably sell for more today.

The big prices are at auctions, with Christie's holding the main events in New York and London. Phillips, the fine art auctioneers, no longer sells film posters, but some small auction houses do. Christie's produces a catalogue, and its customers are unlikely to fall into the trap of a buyer at an auction last month, who paid pounds 600 for an Athena reprint of a Casablanca poster.

Confusing original posters with reprints is easy. But the experienced collector can usually tell the difference, even though reprints are often exact copies. "A lot of copies were not licensed, [although] done from the original posters," says Paul Belchamber, the retail sales director of the Vintage Magazine Shop. "It is just experience, and knowing what has been reprinted over the years. Good reprints of Rebel Without a Cause were done 12 years ago - and if they were not treated too well they will now look an original."

But, he said, professional collectors and dealers could normally tell whether a poster was an original from the paper quality. Vintage has thousands of posters in stock, ranging in price from pounds 10 to one for No Business Like Show Business selling for pounds 1,000.

Tony Nourmand is possibly Britain's keenest film poster collector, and on Thursday opens Europe's first gallery dedicated to the subject. "I have been seriously collecting for seven years, but I have been buying them since I was a kid," he says. "There are about 20 I own that I really consider special.

"I have an original poster for The Outlaw with Jane Russell, the 1943 release which ran for a week before it was closed by the censor. It is the only poster known for this release, and I love it."

Mr Nourmand's Reel Poster Gallery will stock around 2,000 posters, and he claims it will be able to obtain all but the rarest. "If you buy good material it always sells," says Mr Nourmand, who has been Christie's British adviser for several years. "Also, cult items from the 1950s and 1960s, even the 1970s. James Bond posters are very collectable. Most of the posters, especially pre-war, were destroyed systematically, which is why prices go up."

There are still comparatively few collectors, but once more people become interested, the lack of supply will lead to a big price jump, Mr Nourmand predicts; although he adds, more cautiously: "I don't like to sell to people saying they are a good investment, because I am not a fortune- reader. If you like it, somebody else will too. But make sure you are buying at a good market price."

Dealers make some of their best buys at film fairs, which are advertised in Empire and Premiere, the film magazines, but it can be difficult for the amateur to tell good buys from bad.

Other opportunities can crop up in unusual circumstances. One dealer, combining business with pleasure, drove across the US and visited an Oregon butcher who also ran the local cinema. He found him wrapping meat in posters worth thousands of dollars.

It can be difficult to predict trends. Posters for films made by Ed Wood, the B-movie king, suddenly became collectable last year after a new film about his life was released. Japanese posters are becoming more widely bought and sold, requiring dealers to learn some Japanese to authenticate them. And while posters of the work of Satyajit Ray, the Indian film director, are in great demand, those for other films made in Bombay, the biggest film industry in the world, are not.

One collector, Edward Johnson, amassed thousands of Indian film posters, but when he recently sold his collection he had trouble finding buyers in Britain. Mr Johnson says that his collection of songbooks from the films sold for more.

Collectors will now pay a lot for things that used to be free. The British Film Institute, which has a stills and posters archive, is unhappy about this because it is having to compete for material that it used to be given. But it is a trend that has already made some people a lot of money.

q The Reel Poster Gallery is at 22 Great Marlborough Street, London, on 0171-734 4303; the Vintage Magazine Shop is at 39 Brewer Street, London, on 0171-439 8525; the British Film Institute, on 0171-255 1444, exchanges posters; the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television is on 01274 732277.