The Berwick Discovery of Lost Movie Posters a trove of 33 classic and incredibly rare posters dating back as far as 1930 many examples of which were thought to be lost for all time, ranging in value from $500+ to $200,000+, will debut at Heritage Auctions
on March 23 as part of the companys Vintage Movie Poster Auction.
The posters were found in a small country auction in Berwick, PA, in several lots stuck together with wallpaper paste. When the consignor saw the posters, they immediately picked up the phone and called Grey Smith, Director of Movie Posters at Heritage.
"When he described what he was looking at, I knew this was a huge discovery and that poster collectors around the country would want to own these, said Smith. What's even more amazing is that the posters were found in the attic of house and had apparently been unsuspectingly used as insulation.
The jewel of the collection is a 1931 Style F one sheet for the Universal horror classic Dracula (estimate: $200,000+), only the fourth Style F poster from the film ever uncovered. A Style F Dracula poster sold at Heritage for $310,000+ in 2009. Also included are the only known copies of movie posters for the 1931 films The Public Enemy, 1931(estimate: $25,000+) and Little Caesar, 1931 (estimate: $20,000+). The entire Berwick Discovery is estimated at $250,000+.
These posters, including some of the most important titles in Hollywood history, were pasted to boards and used to promote original releases in late 1930 and early 1931, said Grey Smith, Director of Heritage Vintage Movie Poster Auctions. When a new release came to town the exhibitor simply plastered the new poster over the previous one.
Eventually, after an entire stack of posters was built up, they were at some point removed from the boards. From there they made their way into a home attic possibly to be used as insulation and were later offered in the small estate auction where the anonymous consignor purchased them for what will likely be pennies on the dollar.
Smith and his staff personally and painstakingly separated the movie posters over the course of several weeks, marveling at the continued emergence of cinematic history.
It was, literally, like removing wallpaper, Smith said, only the wallpaper in this case was extremely valuable. After carefully moistening the top layer, we used steam to melt the glue and very gently remove one poster from another. Each new layer revealed treasures beyond our wildest expectations.
The rare B-style one sheet for Warner Brothers 1931 seminal gangster film, Little Caesar the Style A and Style B one sheets for The Public Enemy, both from 1931, were the ones that really caught Smiths eye.
These posters are among the rarest, most sought after Holy Grail pieces, said Smith. The Public Enemy one sheet picturing James Cagney and Jean Harlow is particularly stunning and has never been offered at auction and the Little Caesar one sheet is one of only two known copies, making this a potentially once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the right collector.
Also in the discovery is the only known copy of a one sheet for Warner Brothers 1931 adaptation of Dashiell Hammetts classic mystery, The Maltese Falcon (estimate: $10,000+), with Ricardo Cortez portraying private eye Sam Spade, along with the one sheet for RKOs 1931 Cimarron (estimate: $12,000+), the first Western to garner a Best Picture Academy Award and the very definition of scarce.
This marks, to the best of our knowledge, the first and only time collectors have had a chance to add this stunning beauty to their collection, Smith said of the Maltese Falcon.
Other finds include one sheets for The Front Page (1931), The Bat Whispers (1930), Ten Cents a Dance (1931), one of Barbara Stanwycks earliest roles, and two different style one sheets each for Seed (1931), an early Bette Davis picture, The Criminal Code (1931), and Dishonored(1931), featuring Marlene Dietrich.