How to Start Collecting Movie Posters

Collecting movie posters is a great way to own a little piece of film history. And, it’s fun! Whether you’re a Harry Potter fan or Dirty Harry fan, movie poster collecting can fuel your passion. It’s easy to get started and the sky’s the limit.

Movie Poster Sizes
Before you get started building that fabulous collection, it’s important to understand the basic formats. Movie posters come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Here’s a breakdown of the most common formats.

One Sheet (27″x41″) – This is your classic movie poster size. These posters are distributed to the movie theaters for display in the lobby during a film’s run.

Double-Sided One Sheet (27″x41″) – The popularity of backlit display boxes in the 1980s brought about the double-sided poster. It’s basically a one sheet with the mirror image on the reverse side.

Insert (14″x36″) – Older inserts were on heavier card stock. These long thin posters often have even better graphics and images than one sheets and can be quite collectible.

Half-Sheet (28″x22″) – Like inserts the older half-sheets were printed on heavier card stock and often have very desirable images.

Window Card (14″x22″) – Printed on thick, cardboard-like card stock, window cards were used for advertisement outside the theater. A section at the top of the card was left blank for the theater to advertise their showings. Some cards come with this banner portion trimmed.

Three Sheets (41″x81″) and Six Sheets (81″x81″) – These are large display posters that come in multiple pieces. While you can find some three sheets for sale, they’re nearly impossible to display. Six sheets are hard to come by for older films.

Lobby Cards (14″x11″) – Usually printed in sets of 8, sets sometimes come in sets of 4, 10 or 12. These cards depict scenes from the film. The better the image (stars, importance of the scene, graphic beauty) the more collectible they are. Lobby Cards are a great way to get into collecting. They’re easily stored and displayed.

Title Cards (14″x11″) – This is the most desirable part of a lobby card set. It’s a mini-poster with the title of the film prominently displayed.

Just to make things more interesting, nearly every country that produces movie posters has their own sizing conventions. Australian inserts are 14″x36, British Quads are 30″x40″, and so on. To see all of the various sizes for international posters, click here.

Understanding Poster Grades
Like all collectibles, movie posters are graded on their condition from Mint to Poor. In the world of serious collecting each grade has very specific criteria. What follows is a basic overview for the collector just starting out.

Mint – Never used. Practically perfect.

Near Mint – Only very minor defects like small pinholes or a tiny flaw.

Excellent – No major defects, but can have several small issues like a 1/8″ tear or border chip. Some signs of wear are acceptable, including yellowing of the paper, but it shouldn’t be brown.

Very Good – Your average used poster. Posters at this grade can have a little damage, but should still look good displayed.

Good – Small tears and even a small missing piece are okay in this grade.

Fair – It’s getting dicey now. Fair posters are mostly intact, but need restoration to be displayable.

Poor – Just a shadow of its former self. Poor posters are falling apart. They have writing, tears, water stains and other damage.

For more detailed information on grades, go here.

Note: Many older posters were stored folded. Don’t be shocked if they don’t come to you rolled in a tube. It’s best to keep the stored the way they started.

What Does That (R) Mean?
As you start looking for posters to add to your collection, you may see something like “Rebel Without a Cause 1955 (R70s)” or a some variation. The R stands for re-release. This is still considered an original movie poster, but it’s not from the original release of the film. Buying one is often an affordable way to have a piece of that classic masterpiece. You probably can’t afford (or find) an original It’s A Wonderful Life poster, but you might be able to find one of the re-releases.

What to Collect
Now that you’ve got a basic understanding of the available formats, it’s time to decide what you want to collect. Are you a completist? Do you want a variety? Do you have a favorite film, actor or director? Maybe you want to collect Western movie posters or Musical. Whatever it is, find the thing that makes you happiest and start collecting that.

While movie poster collecting can be a great investment, the best way to start a collection is by finding things you love. The value of the item is in the pleasure it brings you. Any resale value has to be secondary or you might as well just go to Las Vegas.

How to Buy Movie Posters
So, you’ve found your niche. It’s time to start shopping. Before you plunk down your hard earned money, a word of warning; because movie poster collecting is such a huge business, there are plenty of counterfeits out there. Two basic rules of thumb apply. If it looks too good to be true, it usually is. Only buy from reputable dealers.

If you find the rare and coveted Star Wars: Revenge of the Jedi poster (the original title for the Star Wars: Return of the Jedi) for just a few hundred dollars, odds are it’s a fake. Don’t let your avarice get the better of your common sense.

Happily, there are quite a few reputable movie poster sellers that have a wide variety waiting just for you. Here’s a short list to get you started:

http://www.emovieposter.com/ – A world renown expert, Bruce Hershenson has been selling movie posters for decades. His site offers a huge array of poster for sale and up for auction. His site also has a wonderful image gallery and past sales search function. Make sure you block out some time, you won’t want to leave this site!

http://www.cinemasterpieces.com/default.htm – A great site with everything from Hitchcock to James Bond.

http://www.filmposters.com/ – Over 10,000 original and vintage posters are waiting for you!

You can also find movie posters for auction at eBay and Heritage Auctions. Be careful on eBay, and be sure to read your seller’s feedback before bidding.

You’ve got the basics now and it’s time to start that collection. Take your time and enjoy the hunt. Movie poster collectors are a social lot. They love to share their latest finds and will be happy to help guide a newcomer. Don’t be afraid to post to discussion groups and ask questions or just to show off your collection. Have fun and happy collecting!