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The condition of movie paper–and how it affects prices

by Allan Maurer (09/04/08).



Let’s start with the absolute basics: all serious collectors desire items that are as near perfect as possible, and the closer to perfect an item is, the higher the price it can command.

On the other hand, movie paper in all conditions sells. Internet auctions of movie paper routinely sell (clearly labeled) lesser condition items with fading, tears, foxing, water stains, pin holes and a variety of other defects. Many of the worst defects on movie posters, lobby cards, inserts, and stills are along the edges where they can be hidden by mats or frames if desired primarily as a display item.Some dealers even note in their ads that they buy movie paper in “any condition.”

Factors affecting movie paper prices

It is important to note that factors other than condition affect movie paper prices. Many films were reissued with new art over the years. A serious collector checks to make sure whether the art is from the first run or a reissue.

Reissue movie paper may still bring considerable prices for very popular films. The easiest way to tell a reissue from an original is by comparing the copyright date of the paper to the initial release date. We’ll cover that in more detail in another paper.

Reproductions are usually worthless as collector’s items, although they may dress up a wall display of movie art.

The older movie paper is, the more you should expect some defects, particularly with photographs.

Common movie paper defects

Here’s a list of common movie paper defects:

Bleed-throughs – Writing, stamps, tape, stains or other marks on the back of the paper visible on the front. Such marks on borders do not affect value so much as those on prominent parts of the item.

Creases – Lines from folding, crumpling, or crimping the item. Their affect on value depends on how many creases exist and where they are. Creases, which may be deep enough to damage the item enough to crack through the color, leaving a white space, should not be confused with wrinkles, which are surface defects.

Fading – Loss of color and detail caused by exposure to sunlight or age leades to considerable loss of value in movie paper. It is less of a problem on the edges than on principal artwork.

Pin holes, drill holes, staple holes – All holes in movie paper affect its value, but those on edges and not torn generally won’t lower value nearly as much as those more visible. Drill holes were used to “mark” posters once used on building walls by placing them on a stack and drilling a hole top center.

Writing marks – Many exhibitors marked up movie paper for a variety of reasons, but not a few bored movie staffers handling the art occasionally doodled mustaches on stars, among other defacements. Obviously, the extent and type of marking will seriously affect a poster’s value. Actual marks off the art by exhibitors (With Bugs Bunny Cartoon Saturday!) bother some collectors less.

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