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A Collectors Journey: Part Two
Someone once said if there were two of anything, someone would collect them. The collecting bug bit me in the early 1970s when I became hooked on assembling a small library of 16mm films, back in the day before home video. (see part 1) Like a pebble in a stream, the ripple effect was evident. I next became interested in obtaining original movie posters. One weekend in the early 1970s, I met someone in New York who was a movie poster collector. I had already had a collection of original 16mm prints, and it was no stretch to add movie posters to my collecting habit. Anyway, he had about fifty one sheets that he had bought in the 60s. He had a special hinged frame so he could alternate posters when he felt like a change. The day I was invited to his apartment, the poster for Gilda was on display. I remember the impact the image of that poster had on me. It was, in its own way, as wonderful as the movie itself. The poster shows a full length Rita Hayworth dragging a fur coat in one hand with a lit cigarette in the other. She is wearing a silver gown which reflects greens and blues against a black background. The effect is stunning. Those little wheels in my head began spinning again. As with all things, there is a learning process. He had bought all his posters from Movie Poster Service in Oklahoma. Such poster exchanges were located throughout the country and were set up by the movie studios for the purpose of distributing movie posters to the theaters where the film was going to be shown. Afterwards, the posters were to be returned to the poster exchanges. In some case, the movie theaters did not bother to return them and stored them or destroyed them. No one seemed too concerned that time about preserving film history. In fact, during WWII, posters were used in the war effort in scrap drives. This destruction of posters would be responsible to contributing to their increased value as the demand for movie posters in the 1970s far exceed the supply. When he first started collecting, he was paying 25 cents per poster. Shockingly, he stopped buying posters when the price went up to 50 cents! By the time I got started, the price for a one-sheet was $4.00 and lobby cards were around $1.00. I was happy to pay that amount. However, the problem was that the supply had been somewhat exhausted and there was nothing available from the 1930s and most of the great titles of the 1940s and 1950s were gone. I was able to buy posters such as Blue Skies (Bing Crosby & Fred Astaire), Dark Waters (Merle Oberon), Strange Love Of Martha Ivers (Barbara Stanwyck), State Fair (Jeanne Crain), Dark Corner (Mark Stevens & Lucille Ball), Somewhere In The Night (John Hodiak), Born To Kill (Claire Trevor), The Dolly Sisters (Betty Grable & June Haver), Mother Wore Tights (Betty Grable & Dan Dailey), Prince Who Was A Thief (Tony Curtis), Million Dollar Mermaid (Esther Williams), Caged (Eleanor Parker), White Christmas (Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney), Notorious (Cary Grant & Ingrid Bergman), Sinbad The Sailor (Maureen O'Hara), Spanish Main (Paul Henried & Maureen O'Hara), The Band Wagon (Fred Astaire), Singing In The Rain (Gene Kelly) and hundreds more. It was an exciting time. Every week was like Christmas when the postman arrived! This might be a good time to describe various poster sizes: a standard one-sheet is 27” x 41”, a half-sheet is 22” x 28”, an insert is 14” x 36', a window card is 14” x 22” and lobby cards are 11” x 14” and come eight cards to a set. In a set, there is usually a title card and seven scene cards from the movie. There were other sources for posters as well…monthly newspapers: The Big Reel specialized in 16mm while Movie Collector's World catered to the poster hobby with ads for the buyer and the seller. My first purchase in one of these papers was a one sheet for Cobra Woman with Maria Montez for $18.00 plus shipping. Another source for posters were the Antique shows and the higher-end flea markets, which opened the doors to collecting all sorts of related and unrelated items: movie magazines (Photoplay, Screen Guide, Motion Picture, Movie Story, Modern Screen, etc.), Disney cookie jars, wooden & ceramic toys & dolls (Howdy Doody, Pinocchio, Betty Boop, Felix the Cat, Charlie McCarthy, Popeye, etc,) fiestaware, theater posters (Follies, Guys And Dolls, Gypsy, Hello Dolly, Gin Game, Chorus Line, etc.), sheet music of the movies, comic books (Superman, Batman, Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman, Mad comics, Nancy, Little Lulu, etc.), TV Guides with covers by famous artists like Al Hirschfeld, Charles Addams, Andy Warhol, Salvadore Dali, Norman Rockwell and Richard Amsel & Bob Peake (both noted for their movie poster artwork), Jack Davis (of Mad comics). Most of these collectibles have increased in value. For instance, a movie magazine purchased in 1975 for a dollar or two could be sold today for $25 to $50 or more, depending upon the year of the magazine, the star(s) on the cover and, of course, the condition. In the 1980s, auction houses in Los Angeles and New York were offering rare and beautiful posters. I believe this is the direct result of collectors throughout the country wanting to cash in on the new demand which could bring them amazing sums…The Mummy sold for over $453,000, while Metropolis brought in more than $350,000 followed by King Kong selling for $244,500 and Frankenstein sold for $198,000 Believe it or not, a Three Stooges poster, Men In Black actually sold for $109,750! Obviously, movie posters are a far better investment than 16mm films, but you should think of it as a hobby first and an investment second. I will mention from time to time the amount I paid for a poster to give you an idea of the value in today's market. The price of a poster depends on several factors: the title of the film, the cast, the release date, the condition and the artwork and graphics. I believe you should never buy a poster in the hopes that it may increase in value. You would be wiser buying a poster because you love the movie, the star and /or the artwork (very important to me). Most studios released posters with two different styles for the same movie which can often be confusing to the buyer. For instance, the poster for The Razor's Edge, with artwork by Norman Rockwell is much more desirable and more costly than the other style. The style of Wabash Avenue showing a leggy, full length Betty Grable in a skimpy shimmy outfit is worth more than ten times the value of the other style. Around this time, I turned down many posters due to poor condition. That was about to become less of a problem as experts in the field of poster restoration became available with the ability to restore almost any poster no matter the condition. The cost of restoration can be fairly expensive, but only a fraction of the value of the poster. Therefore, posters with holes, bad folds & creases, stains, missing pieces etc., were no longer a problem for the collector. When I left Philadelphia for San Francisco in 1981, I had a large poster collection but there were really not very many important classic titles. At that time, the best poster may have been In Old Chicago with Tyrone Power and Alice Faye. That was about to change… When I arrived in San Franciso, I had semi-retired from architecture and was spending a lot of time at Cine-Monde, a movie poster shop. Eventually, I began to work there and that's where I gained most of my knowledge about posters and collecting. It was at this time that I purchased a one-sheet to It Happened one Night from a co-worker who had bought it for $50.00 and sold it to me a few days later for $1,350.00. I sold the poster a few years ago for $32,000.00. Amazing! All collectors fantasize about finding a treasure-trove of posters in the attic or behind a wall in the garage. Such situations exist and have become part of the collector's dream stories. There is a case where movie posters had been used as insulation in a home and were discovered one day by accident. Most of them were still in excellent condition. I was lucky enough to stumble into a fortuitous situation of a different kind…One day, I received a phone call from a woman who had gotten my name from a mutual friend. She and her husband had purchased a hundred original posters for the purpose of reproducing them (I need to mention at this point that there are reproductions on the market, so be aware). We made arrangements to meet. She and her husband were divorced and she wanted to sell the entire collection which she has assessed to be valued at $20,000.00 (or $200.00 each). She was willing to take $10,000.00 for all hundred posters. I made a list of all the titles and made her a counter offer of $3,000.00 for thirty posters. She countered with $5,000.00 for the entire collection. I took a day to think about it and decide to go for it. That was probably one of the best decision of my life. I am a lucky guy. The collection had some wonderful posters: Charlie Chaplin in Cruel Cruel Love, a beautiful Mary Pickford entitled Johanna Enlists, a Rin Tin Tin poster, Casablanca (Bogart & Bacall), Citizen Kane (Orson Welles), Beau Geste (Gary Cooper), This Gun For Hire (a beautiful reissue with Ladd & Lake), San Francisco (Clark Gable & Jeanette MacDonald), Of Human Bondage (Bette Davis), Blood And Sand (Tyrone Power & Rita Hayworth) and At The Circus (Marx Bros. half sheet), King Of The Underworld (Bogart insert) and Babes On Broadway (Rooney & Garland insert), Gone With The Wind (Gable & Leigh), Gene Autry in Singing Cowboy, Saratoga (Gable & Harlow) and 84 others. Within a few months, I had sold off a handful of the posters and got my initial investment back. I kept some and used others in trade. As time went by, my collection had become very impressive by most standards: Casablanca (I later sold it for $30,000), GWTW (sold for $8,500), Hound Of The Baskervilles (I recently sold it for $10,000). These remain in the collection: Gilda, Mark Of Zorro, Jezabel, Adventures Of Robin Hood, Crime School, Sunset Boulevard, I'm No Angel, Queen Christina, The Women, This Gun For Hire, Out Of The Past, Double Indemnity, Laura, Moon Over Miami Vargas and the other style as well), Betty Boop and Pudgy the Watchman, Pinocchio, Snow White, Popeye, Forbidden Planet, The Day The Earth Stood Still, Creature From The Black Lagoon, War Of The Worlds, Mighty Joe Young, The Great Ziegfeld, Wizard Of Oz, Stowaway, Gaslight, My Darling Clementine, Razor's Edge (Norman Rockwell style), Rebecca, Spellbound, Lifeboat, Wild One, Rebel Without A Cause, Roberta, Footlight Parade, Blue Dahlia, Postman Always Rings Twice and too many more to mention. In closing, I urge every collector not to procrastinate. If you see something you want, and you can afford it, buy it. If you hesitate, I assure you, in most cases, the next time you see the item, it will have a higher price tag – even worse, you may never come across it again. I can site many examples, but these two should serve the purpose: I passed on a Howdy Doody puppet at a flea market. When I went back to buy it, it had been sold..I was now determined to find one, which I did at an antiques show the very next day, and paid almost twice as much for one in lesser condition. When I first starting going to flea markets and antiques fairs, I spotted an original 1946 Wurlizter juke box with a hefty price tag of around $5,000.00. Years later, I paid $12,000.00, but it remains my favorite collectable. Several years ago, I decided to sell a large portion of my various collections for others to enjoy. Many of these items can now be found on my web site:
Collect what you love and love what you collect. Good luck on your journey. I hope it will be as Interesting and as fruitful as mine has been.

John Malanga



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