Here's looking at you, Rick and Ilsa.
Over two days in late November, Heritage Auctions held its most successful Vintage Posters event ever in terms of both quality and prices realized. Look no further than the Casablanca six-sheet that sold Saturday for $384,000, an enormous, gorgeous poster so seldom seen in public only once before had it passed through the Dallas-based auction house's doors.
"A shining example of a classic poster for a classic film," says Grey Smith, Heritage Auctions
' Director of Vintage Posters. In other words: Worth every penny.
Yet that six-sheet was only one of seven posters to sell Saturday in the six figures, helping push the final tally for the Nov. 21-22 Vintage Posters event past the $3.9 million mark, with almost 1,800 bidders participating in the auction. No previous poster sale at Heritage had ever before cracked $3 million.
And not far behind Bogart and Bergman was King Kong: A three-sheet for the 1933 beauty-and-the-beast tale sold Saturday for $336,000. "A pleasant surprise," says Smith, whose high estimate for the poster pre-auction was $250,000. And Kong wasn't alone in surpassing expectations.
The only known copy of a one-sheet for the 1938reissue of Dracula, discovered in 2003, realized $312,000 more than four times its estimate. A three-sheet for 1921's silent-movie masterpiece The Kid, Charlie Chaplin's feature-length debut as director and star, sold for $228,000 more than two times its high estimate of $100,000. A Son of Frankenstein half-sheet realized $180,000 three times its high estimate.
And, perhaps most remarkable, a one-sheet for 1926's The Son of the Sheik went to the highest bidder at $120,000. That, too, was several times over estimate, a recurring theme throughout the event that spanned the history of cinema, from silent films to Star Wars and far beyond.
Says Smith, "I've been after that Son of the Sheik poster for 40 years. There are only a few out there. This one arrived clean, nice. I wasn't terribly surprised it sold that high. I valued it reasonably, but thought it was the best Rudolph Valentino poster."
Its sale price, along with that for The Kid, is perhaps most notable because Smith has been told countless times over the last 40 years that silent-era posters won't sell, that there isn't much of a market for advertisements for movies modern-day audiences didn't see in theaters. The November event proved otherwise, especially when a poster is as rare as the three-sheet for the Marx Brothers' 1933 chef-d'oeuvre Duck Soup, a one-of-a-kind that sold Saturday for $114,000 (again, nearly twice its high estimate).
"This has been going on for 40 years or more," Smith says. "People would say, 'Well, they're pretty, but nobody is going to care.' They said the same thing about the early post-sound material, too. People said buyers would only want posters from science fiction movies from the 1950s or more contemporary films, because they saw those on TV. I don't think anything could be further from the truth."
Indeed, 19 of the 20 top lots in the auction were for films made in 1942 or earlier. The most modern offering in the Top 20 was for 1982's Creepshow: Artist Joann Daley's original artwork for the horror anthology realized $50,400.
"When it comes to posters, there's the historical factor, of course," Smith says. "The silent era only lasted 20 to 25 years, and that paper has to be scarce because when sound came in, all of the poster exchanges went in and took those posters and trashed them because they thought they would never go out again. That's why it's rare. The Son of the Sheik is beautiful, too, because it's stone lithograph. It knocks your eyes out."
The same could be said of most every offering among the 860 posters sold in the Nov. 21-22 event.
"Classic titles, great images and rarity is just the perfect combination," Smith says. "And the auction proved just that."