Recently the original of the poster for the classic Carry-on film Carry on Cleo was offered for sale at an anticipated four-figure sum. This caught my eye more for its anticipated price as for anything. Of course, the film, was memorable for Kenneth Williams as Caesar’s wonderful line, ‘Infamy, infamy – they’ve all got it in for me!’ and for us historians, the appearance of Hengist and Horsa (Kenneth Connor & Jim Dale, two ‘Britons’) was hilarious, these semi-legendary Saxon freebooters appearing 500 years ahead of their time!
The idea was inspired by the 20th Century Fox Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton Cleopatra epic of 1963 and the intention was to use the costumes and sets of the Hollywood epic film made at Pinewood Studios in England before that production moved to Rome and built new sets there. Carry On Cleo was therefore a glorious send-up of the epic.
Of course, Hollywood is famous for its leaden sense of humour (to put a positive spin on it), especially where commercial interests were at stake. The original poster (the one for sale in June) by artist Tom Chantrell directly parodied the Hollywood version but was withdrawn from circulation after 20th Century Fox successfully brought a copyright infringement case against the distributor. This version was thus swiftly pulped leaving only a few originals out there, although you can get a reprint for a tenner. The second (replacement) version was not nearly so good, either.
An original of the Hollywood Cleopatra will set you back between £80 and £100 retail, the parody can go as high as £595 retail, whereas the revised Carry On Cleo poster comes in at £15, all of which sums up the range of prices cinema posters tend to command, although the fame or notoriety of the film counts, too as does the age. The standard later 20th century size is 27 x 40 inches.
Intentional or not, many of the items being sold today as original posters, particularly through online auctions, do not meet the criteria used by most collectors to be deemed a collectable item. Often the word ‘original’ is misunderstood to mean ‘collectable’; however, there is a big difference.
Posters strictly speaking are promotional aids produced by film studios for distribution directly to cinemas or distribution centres are considered to be legitimate ‘movie art’. They are generally printed domestically to where the film is released. They are designed, produced and distributed solely as advertising materials. Once they have been used for the purpose of advertising they are then returned or destroyed. This makes them harder to find, once a film has departed from the cinema, thus creating a very limited supply.
Less collectable are posters deliberately printed for sale to collectors (nice paradox!), reprinted posters – £10-15 usually – and anniversary issues or limited editions released officially; I shall ignore TV and video posters, which are rather different again.
Another complicating factor is that particularly ‘iconic’ (grossly overworked cliché) films had multiple releases, like Gone with the Wind released in 1939 which, since its original release, has been re-released in 1940, 1941, 1947, 1953, 1954, 1961, 1967, 1968, 1970, 1974, 1980 and 1998, each time with newer versions of the poster sometimes featured new or up-dated images.
Thus a 1939 one recently went for £4,150 whereas a 1954 one made £120 and a 1998 one £15.
Posters vary in size (numerous small ones could be posted up on one billboard) and were usually delivered folded. Rolled up ones tend to be reproductions although even repros. themselves can be quite venerable! Collectors grade them from mint through near mint, very good, good, fair and poor. As with coins, only experience can enable you to grade them accurately. To provide an example: an original poster for the enjoyable spaghetti western The Good, The Bad & The Ugly (1966) 40 x 30 folded, mint, was sold recently for £390 retail; the re-release (1971) poster near mint £245 and the same, only fair £65.
When you bear in mind the sheer number of films ever released to an unsuspecting public, you realise that there must be a lot of original poster out there, despite the return clause imposed by the studios on cinemas. Thus your favourite films are probably going to be the more popular ones, and thus with the added burden of demand, more expensive, yet going after niche ones and obscurities is a good idea.
But then, you might want to buy an old film poster just to put on the wall to brighten up your room, flat, apartment or house. In this case, a reprint should be fine and £20 or less should be about right. Serious collectors do not frame their specimens up, but keep them in map cabinets, or if folded in filing cabinets.
The other day a pile of folded original came through Bamfords estimated at £40-60, but not including any very memorable titles, yet at a Jaguar antique fair at the former Railway School of Transport we saw another folded pile all at £30 each. Therein, of course the essential difference between auction and dealer prices. Nevertheless, original artwork usually goes via auctions as well as original of ‘iconic’ titles. The place not to buy, unless you’re looking at very modest prices for posters of dubious authenticity, is on-line.
With cinema posters, seeing for yourself and handling them is essential if you are after the real McCoy.