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The Guardian (04/Sep/1999) - The collector's cut

(c) The Guardian (04/Sep/1999)

The collector's cut

In the year of Alfred Hitchcock's centenary, posters for vintage films are showing spectacular rises in value, says Stewart Dalby

For the benefit of anyone who has been on Mars or any other remote spot: this year is the centenary of the birth of film director Alfred Hitchcock.

There have been yards of newsprint and umpteen television programmes devoted to the event, so it was probably inevitable that the London auction houses, in their unceasing attempts to find new sales areas, would get in on the act.

Posters from Hitchcock's films will lead the sale of vintage film posters at Christie's, South Kensington on September 13. In the past five years posters generally, but film posters in particular, have shown some spectacular price rises and apart from their intrinsic decorative value make very good investments.

Like other fields of collecting they have their peculiarities. Tony Nourmand, who runs The Reel Poster Gallery in London's Westbourne Grove and is a consultant at Christie's, says: "Poster collecting is normally based on actors, although well known designers like Saul Bass, who was responsible for "The Man With The Golden Arm" and "Anatomy Of A Murder", are collected. But some collectors are odd. "For example, Spencer Tracy was one of the greatest actors this century but I have never known anyone come in and ask for a poster of any of his films. By contrast, Boris Karloff, who was probably not as talented, is actively pursued."

Indeed, a poster of a Boris Karloff film, "The Mummy" made in 1932 by Universal, holds the record for a poster sale - £283,000. These old posters are valued so highly because although thousands, even millions, were made they were considered perishable, disposable goods. Only two copies of "The Mummy" poster are known to be in existence.

Mr Nourmand says: "Although the field is actor-led, there are three directors I am constantly being asked for. They are Orson Welles, Stanley Kubrick and Hitchcock. Hitchcock has always been popular."

The late Alfred Hitchcock directed his first film in 1925, and gradually became recognised for the intricacy of his plots and his talent for suspense.

His great period is thought to be from the 50s stretching into the 60s. In this sale there are original posters from this era such as "Rear Window" (1954), "Vertigo" (1958), "North By Northwest" (1959), and "Dial M for Murder" (1954). Prices start at several hundreds of pounds and go up to above the £1,000 mark. They are good value at this level. For example, several posters for the picture Rear Window, in which the late James Stewart plays a magazine photographer stranded in his apartment by an injury, are estimated to fetch £1,200 to £1,800 each.

Mr Nourmand says: "At the first Christie's sale here in London in 1995, a "Rear Window" just like these sold for £600." So they have tripled in value in five years. Later Hitchcock film posters can be bought more cheaply. "Marnie", which was made in the 60s, is estimated at £200 to £300.

According to Mr Nourmand, the general rule of thumb is that if a film is popular then the poster will be popular too. At the sale a James Bond poster from the film "From Russia with Love" is estimated at £1,200 to £1,500.

In 1994 exactly the same poster could be bought for £50 to £75. Other popular posters on offer include those for the films "Breakfast at Tiffany's", "Casablanca" and "The Adventures of Robin Hood".

Mr Nourmand reckons the increasingly popularity of film posters is due to the fact that the realisation that they are available and collectable is a relatively recent phenomenon.

He says: "Ninety per cent of the people who come to my shop every week are new customers. That is an awful lot."

I myself am keen on the movies but for decorating my own walls I think I prefer a different kind of poster, British travel posters. These are also increasingly in demand and prices are rising steadily, if not as spectacularly as for film posters.

On September 23, again at Christie's, South Kensington, there is an auction of British and Irish travel posters.

The reason for preferring these,in my case, is pure nostalgia. I grew up in the 50s and 60s, when summer holidays were spent in seaside resorts by the whole family. It was before the mass defections to holidays in the sun - in countries like Spain and Greece - and before everyone owned a motor car. Travel was by train.

The individual railway companies before 1948, and then, after nationalisation in that year, the newly created British Railways, commissioned well-known artists like Frank Mason, Fred Taylor and Frank Sherwin to design appealing posters.

At the sale there is a series of four yachting posters produced in the 50s for British Railways by Frank Mason advertising the East Coast resorts Pinmill, Southend-on Sea, Burnham-on-Crouch and Brightlingsea. These are estimated at £500 to £700.

Another 1955 poster by VL Danvers showing two golfers walking towards the beach advertising Southport as a summer destination, is on offer at £400 to £600.

Nicollette White at Christie's says: "They are constantly going up in value partly because those in good condition are increasingly rare. They were not built to last, either being torn down or pasted over."