Personal finance: Film posters hit the big time

How Nourmand and Marsh are helping investors add value to poster- film collections By John Windsor
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The Independent Online
The rise and rise of the market for film posters continues with the publication on 1 October of Tony Nourmand and Graham Marsh's Film Posters of the 70s. This is no ordinary coffee-table book. When they published Film Posters of the 60s 18 months ago, prices for the posters featured in the book shot up.

Both books are a must for collectors and investors. They are subtitled "the essential movies of the decade" and this is the clue to their market- making power. It is posters of the essential movies - "the classics", as Nourmand calls them - that command the highest prices. And once a poster has received the imprimatur of "classic", by featuring in Nourmand and Marsh, its value is assured. The Sixties book has sold 30,000 copies worldwide and is in its third print. The Seventies book will have an initial print run of 20,000.

Other ground-breaking guide books on collectables - on fishing tackle, Whitefriars glass, blue-and-white china - have become market-makers, but none has boosted prices so high and so quickly as Nourmand's Sixties book. A mint-condition British quad-size (30in by 40in) poster for the 1964 James Bond film Goldfinger, for example, was worth pounds 300 retail before the book. It now commands pounds 1,000.

A copy in Christie's South Kensington's next film poster sale, on 22 September, carries the deliberately tantalising estimate of pounds 500-pounds 700. During the same short period, the American one-sheet (41in by 27in) of the stylish Bullitt (1968), starring Steve McQueen, has risen from pounds 200 to pounds 500. And the alternative "B-style" poster for the cult classic Barbarella (1968) has doubled to pounds 600.

Marsh is a magazine art director and illustrator and author of a famous series of books on record-album-cover art. Nourmand is a king-pin of the international film-poster market, an Iranian with an American accent acquired through excessive movie-watching as a child. He is Christie's South Kensington's film poster consultant and his London gallery, co-owned with the collector- dealer Bruce Marchant and set to reopen in Westbourne Grove next month, is the world's only art gallery dedicated to film posters. If you doubt its uniqueness, a visit to New York's 10th-floor rooms and basement dives, where film posters are sold, should convince you.

The Seventies was the decade of blockbusters (Star Wars), cult movies (Cabaret) and disco dancing (Saturday Night Fever). Nourmand and Marsh's Seventies book includes the British version of the poster for the gangster- cult-classic The Godfather (1972). Unlike the American version, which shows only a puppeteer's hand, it has Marlon Brando's deeply-shadowed face in red. Although the one-sheet size (41in by 27in) is already worth pounds 500 retail, which is double the American price, it is not as well known. But its value will soar when collectors see it in the book.

Like most dealers, Nourmand looks sideways at speculators. They spell trouble of the boom-and-bust kind. He prefers to sell to seasoned collectors or film enthusiasts who want to display a single framed poster of their favourite film in their sitting room - a poster they genuinely love and can live with. But the market is so buoyant that, when a buyer with cash problems asked him to buy back the French poster for Godard's A Bout de Souffle (1959), that he had bought from him only six months previously, he was able to refund the full pounds 450 purchase price.

French posters? Does that mean the collector-investor must do hours of research into art-cinema films? Not at all. The beauty of film posters is that values are highest for timeless, box-office classics, and are likely to remain so. Why else would the world-record price for any poster (including Toulouse Lautrec's) be the $453,500 (pounds 283,500) paid at Sotheby's New York last year for one of only two known posters for Boris Karloff's film The Mummy (1933)?

Decide whether you like the look of a poster, then use your gut instinct. Cult titles, big stars, and relative rarity - Sixties posters are scarcer than Seventies - mean safe investment, at the right price. Go for the popular - Hepburn, Bogart, McQueen and Travolta. Avoid Spencer Tracy. Nobody wants him.

The Seventies, as the book shows, was the decade of big stars and big directors. Add value for Scorsese, Coppola, Lucas and Spielberg.

If you wish to exercise greater discrimination, take the status of poster artists into account. Many are still unidentified, so research could pay off. The designer of The Mummy poster is now known to have been the Karoly Grosz of Hungary. Three or four years ago, few had heard of him. The year after The Mummy, he designed the poster for The Invisible Man, which had the same director, James Whale, and made a star of Claude Rains. That is why an Invisible Man poster has the bullish estimate of pounds 30,000-pounds 50,000 in South Ken's sale next month.

The Seventies book identifies more poster designers than the Sixties one. Among the names rising in the estimation of collectors is the American designer of the Fifties, Saul Bass. The posters for Otto Preminger's films The Man With the Golden Arm (1955) and Anatomy of a Murder (1959) are his. So is the poster for Vertigo (1958), which, coupled with the name of its "A-list" director, Alfred Hitchcock, gives it double appeal - and an estimate of between pounds 1,000 and pounds 1,500 at South Ken's next month.

Prices for arty French and Italian poster designs for popular American films are outstripping the American versions. So are avant-garde eastern- European versions such as the Surrealistic Polish poster for Cabaret (1972), featured in the book and currently worth pounds 900 retail in mint condition.

And who designed the suicide poster for The Deer Hunter, starring Robert De Niro (1978), made scarce by its hasty withdrawal? Featured in the Seventies book, it is currently worth pounds 300-pounds 400 compared with the approved version's pounds 50-pounds 75. Publication will boost its price - and so will any collector who can put a name to the artwork.

Highly tipped emerging genre of the Seventies: "Blaxploitation". Young whites as well as middle-class blacks are collecting it. The four posters in the book, for Shaft, Foxy Brown, Super Fly and Trouble Man are estimated at pounds 250-pounds 400 each in South Ken's forthcoming sale.

`Film Posters of the Seventies', priced at pounds 14.95, is to be published by Aurum Press. `Film Posters of the Sixties' also is available from Aurum Press at pounds 14.95. Tony Nourmand's Reel Poster Gallery re-opens in mid-September at 72 Westbourne Grove, London W2 (0171-727 4488). Christie's South Kensington's sale of Vintage Film Posters is on 22 September (1pm) at 85 Old Brompton Road, London SW7 (0171-581 7611). There are James Bond posters in South Ken's sale of James Bond 007 on 17 September (11am). Sotheby's sale of Film Posters and Memorabilia is on 17 September (10.30am) at 34-35 New Bond Street (0171-293 5000)