DIRECTOR OF VINTAGE POSTERS GREY SMITH REVEALS THE TALES BEHIND THESE 7 TREASURES
I discovered this hobby as a child, at a time when vintage posters were not seen as valuable. That’s why I’m excited that Heritage Auctions has helped bring the hobby to a far wider audience. There are numerous enjoyable aspects of this job, which includes meeting collectors and discovering their interests, as well as connecting with people who’ve inherited unique treasures. It’s a thrill to educate them about what they own and, in turn, educate myself. The excitement of discovering an unknown poster is what the real enjoyment is all about.
The discovery of this previously unknown survivor from Hollywood’s Golden Age is one of my favorites. Found by a teenager in an old, boarded-up theater attic 45 years ago, it sat in his home until we received a call. He told me his wife had suggested he throw it away, but he felt it might have some value. He was right. After careful and meticulous restoration, this original poster to the granddaddy of horror films sold for $385,500 in our March 2015 auction.
London After Midnight
I received a call from a man who told me his grandfather had collected a few posters from the career of Lon Chaney. I asked if he could tell me the titles and he said he couldn’t remember as he hadn’t seen them in a number of years. Two days later, he emailed me images of 10 posters, including this fabulous piece. It is the only-known copy from this lost film and it broke the world’s record for a movie poster in auction, selling for $478,000 in November 2014.
Halloween by Robert Gleason
This painting was brought to me by a client who wanted to place it in auction. I looked it over and was skeptical, initially, that it was the painting used to produce the famous 1978 poster for the slasher classic as there were some subtle differences. I was able to reach the artist Robert Gleason by phone. He looked the painting over via email and said it was absolutely his original painting, but there was some overpainting through the years. He received the painting back and restored it to its original state. It sold for $83,650 in March 2016.
The Maltese Falcon
This fabulous poster was brought to us by a family whose grandfather owned and operated theaters in the 1930s through the 1960s. It is the only-known large format six sheet to one of my favorite films and classic film noir. Collectors knew of the poster from the movie’s press book, which showed all related posters and allowed exhibitors to buy those which they could use to promote the film. This poster is one of only two poster styles from the film that show Humphrey Bogart as he appeared in the role of Sam Spade! (Other posters used an image of Bogart from his role in High Sierra.) Most of these larger format posters, of which fewer were produced, have been lost to time. This poster sold for $191,200 in March 2015.
The Pride of the Clan
This gorgeous, never-seen-before large-format poster was a great find for us. We received a call from a gentleman who said he had unpacked an old trunk he had discovered in his grandparents’ attic and found the poster folded underneath some items. We had it meticulously restored. Mary Pickford, known as “America’s Sweetheart,” was immensely popular when this film was released and she would go on to be one of the most powerful women in film. The piece sold for $53,775 in November 2007.
The Bell Boy
This wonderful image of a young Buster Keaton in a supporting role to Fatty Arbuckle is from a more recent and wonderful find. Found in a turn-of-the-century building which had been converted from a theater to another use in the early 1920s, this and many other silent-era posters were uncovered behind a false tin ceiling in the building. The property owners made use of the posters as insulation and they remained there for almost 100 years until the building underwent renovation. This wonderful stone litho image, never seen by modern collectors, was one of those found. It sold in July 2016 for $35,850.
This gorgeous poster from one of the first Academy Award-winning films was found in a small home, glued to a board with other 1930s-era posters. The boards had been exhibited outside of a theater, we believe, in freestanding sandwich-board fashion, with one poster glued on top of another as films came and went. The boards were sold at a small community auction and made their way to us. When I received them, I could tell they were a treasure trove and began steaming each poster off one by one. Many were classic titles, with some never seen in modern times. This poster sold for $101,575 in March 2012.
GREY SMITH can be reached at GreySm@HA.com.