ATTACK OF THE B-MOVIE POSTERS

By Jayson Spirtos

I have this thing for cheesy science fiction/horror movies of the '40s, '50s and '60s. I don't know if it's bizarre titles like, I Married a Monster from Outer Space, or the fantastic Technicolor art of creatures destroying everything in their path that draws me in the most. There was so much of a P. T. Barnum/Willaim Castle sense of flare in B-movie cinema that's rarely seen today. Filmmakers were determined to conjure up whatever they could, whatever it would take, to get you into those theaters. Of course, WWII and the scare of The Bomb might have helped in filling those seats as well.

I'm not wishing for those "Real Life Extravaganzas" to come back-even though I feel cheated seeing Hollywood blockbusters of today. Where did all the 3D glasses go? What happened to posters that promised the impossible? Whatever happened to the gimmicks of time past? You don't know what I would give for a show with rigged shock seats!

You might think, "They're so bad, how can you stand to watch 'em, let alone want to show off their posters?" Or, "It would be in bad taste to have one of those THINGS thrown up on my wall! Frankenstein fighting the Wolfman in my living room? Please!"

My answer to all this is: of course they're loud and in bad taste, ya' silly goose! That's what makes them so exciting, so fun! If you look closely, there was great time and effort thrown into those posters. Not all art was intended to match your couch!

I was once told that there are only two categories of cinema: films and movies. With a film, you sit down with full attention to appreciate a great epic.

You're overwhelmed by original direction, magnificent camera work, years of vigilant writing, and performances that will someday earn an Oscar. An experience that takes you to another place and time. In some cases, a chance to see the world again with child-like innocence and maybe at the same time allowing you to rediscover something about yourself. You know, the overall art of film, as seen in the masterpiece Citizen Kane.

In a movie, you eat your over-priced popcorn you had to mortgage your house for as you watch the impossible become possible. Witnessing plot holes you could drive a Mac truck through while loving every minute of it. Hanging off the edge of your seat, covering your eyes, as characters die horrific deaths you wouldn't wish on your worst enemy. Laughing from poorly written dialogue, atrocious acting and less than sturdy cardboard sets.

Now I'm not saying that movies are better than films-though you do have to admit that there are times when you just want to see a three-headed, bug-eyed monster carry off a beautiful woman over it's shoulder. Or you have an itching to see the earth burst into flames while a small, one-manned rocket escapes the horrific explosion (only if that was in Citizen Kane!).

This is why I love these movies and their posters that promised your imagination the impossible.

There are some great classics posters, such as Forbidden Planet, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and one of my favorites, The War of the Worlds. If you're unfamiliar with these titles, I urge you to rent these movies. I promise you that you'll never see their like again.

If you are a kindred spirit and want to start collecting, here is some information that should prove helpful.

Sizing Them Up
The NSS (National Screen Service Corporation) produced movie posters in a series of standard sizes, derived from lithographic beds and plates used in the printing process. Sometimes a studio would prepare different artwork for each poster size. Just as often, they would print similar variations using a wide range of color schemes. Here's a list of the most common poster sizes you will find today.

Lobby Card 11" x 14" (standard), 8" x 10" (mini), 14" x 17" (jumbo). Printed on card stock, these mini's came in two basic types: Title Cards and Scene Cards. Title Cards reproduced the same artwork that would appear on the film's Half-Sheet. While Scene Cards (usually in sets of eight) featured photos from the film, '50's Lobby Cards were generally black and white shots that were crudely tinted in color.

Window Card 14" x 22" (standard), 10" x 18" (mini), 22" x 28" (jumbo). These were designed for local grocery store displays. For this reason, Window Cards were given a blank field. This would be later filled in with the neighborhood theater's information. Annoying to most collectors, it is not uncommon to find this space trimmed off from the top or bottom.

Insert 14" x 36" (standard). These tall, narrow posters were usually printed on the same stock as Half-Sheets, giving the same outstanding quality. Usually, the art on an Insert was a squeezed version of what you would find on a One-Sheet. Inserts were typically folded three times, though rolled inserts are not uncommon.

One-Sheet 27" x 41" (standard). Your standard theatrical poster-virtually the only poster used in theaters today. One-Sheets are probably the most popular to collect, although they are less rare than other sizes. One-Sheets of the '50's were often printed on flimsy paper stock, sometimes making the colors less vivid than those on other sizes. One-Sheets typically were delivered to theaters folded, so a rolled One-Sheet is almost unheard of.

Half-Sheet 28" x 22" (standard). Any poster that is roughly half the size of a One-Sheet, hence the name. Half-Sheets were printed on heavier stock than One-Sheets and usually featured more vibrant colors. During the '50's, the NSS often printed two different Half-Sheets for each film, known as A and B styles. Rolled Half-Sheets are uncommon, but do exist.

Quad 40" x 30" (standard). Unfortunately, I really don't know much about these posters. I can only gather that they were mostly British and were normally seen in subway tunnels and city centers... but this is pure speculation.

Three-Sheet 41" x 81" (standard). These were posters printed three times the size of a One-Sheet. Usually, they came in two pieces, though I have seen them printed as a full sheet.

Six-Sheet 81" x 81" (standard). These were posters printed six times the size of a One-Sheet, usually coming in four pieces. I've never seen a full sheet, but have been told that they do exist.

Twenty Four-Sheet 41' x 27' (standard). As you might have guessed, these are 24 times bigger than your average One-Sheet. These are billboard posters (as big as a small house), and yes, people collect them. Why? I have no idea.

Judging Condition

There are many ways of judging the condition of a poster, although the best is using common sense. If your find is not up to your expectations, then simply don't buy it. No matter if it's the Forbidden Planet One-Sheet you've spent three years in search of. If it looks like someone used it as a painter's rag, then save your money! Patience will keep you from financial starvation. I've seen many collectors instantly become pack rats, with their collections consisting of numerous duplicates exhibiting different stages of wear and tear. Don't fall into this trap! Remember... if you found it once, then there's a good chance that you'll find it again.

Bruce Lanier Wright, author of Today's Tomorrow, has written the best translation on poster condition so far. Most collectors have adopted these standards.

Mint. A poster that looks as if it were just printed. In the case of a 40-year-old poster, mint condition is like true love or perfect virtue-an ideal rather than an everyday fact.

Near-mint. The real-world equivalent of mint. As good a specimen as you're likely to find; bright colors, no fading or browning, no tears, tape stains, ink stains, pinholes, fold damage, etc. Nearly as rare as mint. As unfolded ("rolled") One-Sheets are virtually unknown, folding alone should not eliminate a One-Sheet from NM status. Rolled Half-Sheet, Inserts and Window Cards are more common, and in these cases folding probably should be considered unacceptable.

Fine . Still a very nice specimen, with a bright, clean image and no significant fading, browning, tears, tape stains, ink stains, pinholes or fold damage or wear. Deciding what constitutes "significant" damage, of course, could be a source of arguments for years to come.

Very Good. A poster which is still brightly colored and presentable. It probably looks very nice in a frame, but has some undeniable problems of the types cited above.

Good. A damaged but presentable poster, probably a well-used and frequently folded specimen with noticeable fading and browning.

Fair. A worn poster with considerable damage; possibly a few chunks of the image are missing.

Poor. A rag, but a possible candidate for restoration if it's an exceptionally rare or valuable piece.

How to Spot Re-Issues

In the early '40s, movie studios began giving the responsibility of printing and distributing to the National Screen Service Corporation, a company that specialized in posters, promotional materials, and theatrical trailers. By the late 50's, almost all American movie posters were produced by the NSS. The great thing for collectors is that the NSS had to devise a way to keep track of their prints. These posters bear a simple dating system in fine print, sometimes handwritten, and usually located at the bottom-right corner. For example, I have a Them Window Card that is numbered 54/310, meaning this was the 310th title released by NSS in 1954.

'R' is for Re-Issue

Re-issued Horror & Sci/Fi posters are rare, though they do exist. If a film was being prepared for re-release, the NSS would sometimes print new posters from the original plates. An "R' would be added to signify a re-issued work, for example R54/310. This may be the only way to tell if you're looking at a re-issue or an original print. ollectors should be cautious but not discouraged from purchasing re-issued posters. Different color schemes were sometimes used in printing, making these posters more vibrant than their original counterparts.

Originality of Foreign Posters

During the '70s, there was a boom in French and Belgian reprints. These reprints were intended as cheap art posters (dorm decor, I guess) and not as counterfeits for inexperienced collectors. Unfortunately, some have sold these reprints as US originals for top dollar... and there's no easy way to tell the difference between reprints and originals.

The problem is that European posters of the '50s weren't dated by their printers. The reprints are the same size as the originals and were usually struck from the same plates. French reprints were made on a slicker stock than that used during the '50s, while Belgian posters were issued a Tax Stamp. Belgian authorities required a Tax Stamp (resembling a postage stamp mark) on posters displayed in and outside theaters. Not all originals carry this stamp, although the ones that do are 100% authentic. I've found this to be true with Canadian posters as well, with the downside being that you're left with an ugly discolored stamp.

I'm a big fan of foreign posters (I think they have more style), so I'm not trying to warn you away from making a purchase. But never shell out the big bucks unless you know for certain that you're getting the real deal.

Before you buy. Now before you start cracking open that piggy bank, there are a few resources you should be aware of.

Movie Poster Service. No website, but the country's first independent poster exchange (established in 1926) and the largest collection of vintage movie posters in the world (over 1 million items!); call or write P.O. Box 517, Canton, OK 73724; 405-886-2248 or 405-886-2981.

Bruce Hershenson Vintage Film Posters. He's published several books and auctions hundreds of posters weekly on his eBay site. Lots of high-quality images and helpful advice; e-mail him at mail@brucehershenson.com and subscribe to his weekly newsletter to get all kinds of insight about collecting and restoring posters; vintage only.

Online Auctions. eBay is one of my main tools in discovering great finds. My last bid was for a original Three-Sheet of Children of the Damned. I thought I had it, but at the last minute I was outbid by only 50. The auction closed at a mere $45.50. (I've seen this one go for $250-$400 in collector's shops).

Always remember to never start a search by entering the words poster, movie poster or film poster-unless you want to go through over 3,000 listing. eBay now carries a classic 1940-1960 poster category (http://listings.ebay. com/aw/listings/list/ category2321/i ndex.html), which works well though you do find more than the occasional re-issues. I usually type in 1sht, 1-sht, or one sht and tell the page to sort by highest priced auctions. This is a good start, but of course, if you're looking for certain titles, it's best to throw in their names as well.

Hints on bidding...
1) Before you sign up, become familiar with eBay's rules and policies.
2) Before you bid, ask the dealer as many questions as possible.
3) Never bid on a poster without a picture; ask if close-ups are available.
4) Always get the NSS (National Screen Service) number off the poster.
5) Be cautious of the originality of foreign posters (non-numbered reprints).
6) Read up on the item before you bid on it.
7) When in doubt of a dealer's honesty, read their feedback.


Jayson Spirtos is the creator of http://www.a50ftws.com/ ("a 50-foot website") where you can see hundreds of beautiful movie posters from some wonderful (and some wonderfully cheesy) sci-fi and horror movies.

(All photos courtesy Jayson Spirtos, http://www.a50ftws.com/)










 

 

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