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Lon Chaney Collectible Poster Turns Up In Sub Shop

by Allan Maurer (09/04/08).
Another view of the Phantom poster
One view of the Phantom poster

It’s not unusual to discover movie poster collectibles in unlikely locations. This time, the Phantom was hanging out in a sub shop.

Movie paper from Chaney’s films is rare and highly prized, regardless of type. The linen-backed six-sheet shown above from the original silent “Phantom of the Opera,” (1925) starring the legendary Lon Chaney, Sr. hung on the wall of an Italian restaurant, “The Classic Sub Shop,” in Philadelphia, PA, from 1963 to 1974. A Christie’s auction catalog from 1995 offered it for sale at $60,000 to $80,000. It sold at $57, 500.

Why the poster was valuable

Why was it so valuable? For one thing, it is the only known copy of the poster. A six-sheet is 81 inches by 81 inches. Linen-backing generally increases the value of movie posters, helping to preserve them and making them easier to frame properly. It is itself an expensive process and an exception to the general rule that collector’s want unrestored items.

Meanwhile, a one-sheet from Chaney’s “Phantom” in fine condition sold for $24,000 plus in 1993. A single still from the film sold for $290 in 2007.

Although Chaney is best remembered for his handful of horror films, he turned in numerous performances as a character actor in a variety of genres, including a role as a tough Marine drill sergeant and several turns as a gangster.

Chaney collectibles becoming more valuable

The Turner Classic Movie Channel has gone a long way to restoring recognition to this master of make-up known as “The Man of A Thousand Faces,” with its retrospective showing of his films and a documentary about him. Chaney’s work as a makeup artist led to him writing the article about it for the 11th Edition of the Encyclopedia Brittanica.

James Cagney starred in a biopic (a movie biography) about Chaney (“A Man of A Thousand Faces”) that took great liberties with his story. The poster, which of course sells for much less than originals from Lon’s films, includes sketches of Cagney re-enacting Lon’s most famous parts, such as the “Phantom” and “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”

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