ATTACK OF THE B-MOVIE POSTERS
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
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
This is why I love these
movies and their posters that promised your imagination the
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
damaged but presentable poster, probably a well-used and frequently
folded specimen with noticeable fading and browning.
worn poster with considerable damage; possibly a few chunks of the
image are missing.
rag, but a possible candidate for restoration if it's an
exceptionally rare or valuable piece.
How to Spot
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-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
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
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
buy. Now before you start cracking open that piggy bank,
there are a few resources you should be aware of.
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
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 email@example.com
and subscribe to his weekly newsletter to get all kinds of insight
about collecting and restoring posters; vintage only.
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
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
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
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