Poster Flaws

The posters for sale here are all originals. In the vast majority of cases, they have been displayed outside a cinema, and used to entice patrons to pay to see the films they advertise. Therefore they exhibit the sort of wear and tear commensurate with being pinned up and displayed, folded and stored or posted back to National Screen Service, then redelivered to another cinema for another showing. Border tears and dinks? Well, that's what borders are for, to absorb the brunt of any ill-treatment and leave the artwork in as good a state as possible! Hence the look of full-bleed posters (where the artwork extends to the very edge of the paper) can suffer more than those with borders.

This sort of handling wear is more commonplace with posters for low budget films and small distributors. A major title would play in big cinemas with a considerable advertising budget and a high print run of associated posters, banners, stills and flyers. A low budget film would have to suffice with a pressbook for the cinema manager, a poster and a set of stills. Inevitably, the same posters were sent out time and time again and often received more wear and tear than bigger titles.

It’s the fact that these posters have had a life that makes them so enthralling, for they were never meant to fall into the hands of collectors. Unlike today, when excess posters are deliberately printed in order to satisfy the fan market, these original posters were professional advertising aids, economically produced in print runs appropriate to the film’s distribution. Therefore they are ‘used’, but in a way that heightens their appeal: to utilize a Toy Story 2 analogy, they are the ‘Woodys’. Perfect posters direct from the printer (or set aside by projectionists at first run cinemas before display) are ‘Stinky Petes’.

However, there are still flaws and defects that you should be appraised of, in order to determine whether the condition of a poster is satisfactory for your collection. The severity of any particular defect is the gauge by which you must decide whether the poster is the one you want, weighing up its rarity and desirability against its condition.


In general, the film’s title is written on the reverse of the poster for easy location when folded. When this is written in heavy dark ink, it can print through to the image on the other side. Sometimes it is unnoticeable within the artwork but when it is blatant - showing through in white areas for example - it can be considered a major flaw. Similarly, if there is handwritten information (show times, for example) within the picture area of the poster, or heavy smudges this can detract from the attraction of the poster. On occasion, a film’s certificate is inked out (for a later showing when the certificate has changed, or in Ireland, which didn’t use the X certificate) and if this is done carefully, tends not to detract too much from the poster’s value or look.


This is the generic term to indicate that a poster has experienced minor wear and tear during its working life. Pinholes were the chief method of suspending the posters, so this in itself, is not regarded as a flaw. However, tears, or worse, missing paper around the holes caused by careless removal, can be more serious.


Most original film posters issued before 1985 were folded, and this is regarded as normal. It was not always the case that posters were delivered already folded – even in the early sixties, posters would arrive at first run cinemas rolled – it was during storage or posting that they would be folded. On other occasions, printer’s tests were stored or taken home; therefore, although far more rare, it is still possible to come across unfolded pre-1970 posters. Another method was tri-folding, where there is no horizontal fold but two vertical ones, dividing the poster into three long sections or around 15" x 30". Posters like these are sent rolled for delivery.


When posters have been folded and unfolded many times over the years, the lines along the folds become more worn than the surrounding paper. If the fold wear is particularly noticeable, where a significant amount of white shows through at the fold, this can be considered a major flaw. Again, even slight fold wear shows up more strongly on later glossy paper stock, than it does on the matt paper used pre-1980s.


Tears can occur along the fold line of a poster. When confined to the poster edges, this is thought to be a minor flaw, unless it is a long tear. Small edge or border tears are usually acceptable, although if the artwork extends to the outer edge, it may detract from the image. Dinks are small creases or tiny nicks in the border area, which will generally be invisible after framing, and are the most common evidence of a used poster.


Paper turns brown with age, particularly noticeable in whites and borders, and certain paper types are more prone to fading than others. Even so, some older posters, if kept flat and in an airless condition, can retain strong and clean whites. Since posters were displayed out of doors, it is possible that posters may show sunlight fading from when they were exhibited. In addition, any framed poster displayed for any length of time is likely to exhibit fading, unless behind UV conservation glass.


The amount by which these flaws are present determine whether they are considered to be major or minor flaws. In the same way that books can exhibit 'foxing' (the age-related process of deterioration that causes spots and browning on old paper documents), these flaws are often a testament to the age and authenticity of a poster, rather than a flaw.


Creases in addition to the regulated folds are undesirable, especially if they encroach into the picture areas, or scuffs are very visible in the blacks. Glossy paper posters are particularly prone to highlighting these flaws.


Tends to be caused by storage conditions, where temperature or humidity changes frequently. Linen backing, or even careful rolling generally eradicates this problem. Wrinkling can also be caused by additional paper material (a change to the title or cast list) being glued over the top of the original poster (see Snipe.) The difference between the natural shrinkage of the two types of paper causes the wrinkling.


The aforementioned sticker placed on the original poster, sometimes containing reviews, ratings, song plugs or a hastily added title to make up a double bill etc. Positioning and size will determine if it's a flaw, or whether it simply fits in with the life of the poster. Tape at the corners (rather than pinholes) sometimes indicates private ownership and display (as does evidence of Blutack on the reverse) and tends to diminish the poster’s value. Tape used on the reverse to strengthen folds and prevent separation is likely to be yellowed with age, (however sometimes more secure non-staining and removable archival joins are used) but is usually acceptable, except where the adhesive on the tape has soaked into the paper, and becomes visible through the artwork. If the marks are confined to the borders, this can be tolerable.


Belgian posters carry tax stamps, which are not considered flaws, but proof of authenticity. Certainly lobby cards or posters displayed in, for instance Malta or Quebec province, almost always have a censor’s seal, often indiscriminately stamped on. US posters sometimes have a little additional coverage if nudity threatens, when the film plays in more conservative areas. The Irish Censor frequently added total matt-painted blackouts to cleavage, or anything considered risqué, including taglines. The damage to the poster can be considerable, although the very fact of such censorship has a certain collector’s appeal.


Some collectors regard this as a positive flaw, in that it helps to confirm a poster’s authenticity, but such poor handling tends to detract from a poster, and if it’s a large section of paper that’s missing, it’s really only acceptable in a very rare example, due for restoration.