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Movie Poster Mysteries…Solved!

New Orleans After Dark Poster         I bought my
first movie still when I was 12 years old at a used bookstore in Hackensack,
New Jersey. It was a nice shot of Buster Keaton that cost 25 cents, which was
exactly what I could afford. Then I saw a classified ad in The 8mm Collector offering pressbooks. I didn’t know what they
were, so I asked the man who placed the ad and he patiently answered me. (This
was all accomplished by snail mail in those primitive days before the
Internet.) That got me interested in those oversized, advertising-packed
journals for theater owners. I only started acquiring posters and lobby cards
as an afterthought. My main source was a fantastic outfit in Canton, Oklahoma
called Movie Poster Service run by two brothers who’d been servicing regional
movie theaters for years. Stills cost 25 cents and one-sheet posters were $1.75
each. I bought odd and obscure items that happened to interest me. If I’d
stocked up on mainstream posters I’d be wealthy today; I was more interested in
stills. Oh, well…

I was lucky enough to find and marry a woman who not only
shared my love of movies but fell in love with posters. Alice encouraged me to
buy and sometimes trade for images we liked, and although prices had risen
considerably by this time they were still affordable. This was before the
coming of high-end auctions.

In the Sweet Pie and Pie

No one knew much about the origins of posters or stills, how
they were commissioned and identified, who designed or drew them, etc. The
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has made great strides in this area
in recent years and savvy dealers have provided useful information, but there
are still many gaps in our collective knowledge.

Enter Ed and Susan Poole, longtime collectors who decided to
conduct serious research and share their findings with the world through their
website, LAMP (Learn About Movie Posters) and an ongoing series of invaluable research books. Their first effort, Collecting Movie Posters, was published
in 1997 by McFarland and has been followed by eighteen reference books
including Learn About International Movie
Posters, Movie Trailer Identification Codes,
and The Silent Studio Directory.

Columbia Movie Still Code

If you’ve ever examined vintage movie stills, you’ll
recognize the number and letter coding in the lower corner. These are often the
only clue as to the title of a film. If you want a decoder, you needn’t contact
Little Orphan Annie: LAMP has done the work for you. Their research encompasses
over 50,000 codes!  Click HERE. They have done the same for codes on movie
posters and other theater accessories. Access to these databases require a fee,
as they should, but LAMP also provides thousands of images for free on their
site.

The Pooles are also proud of Louisiana’s role in movie
history and have published books (beginning with Hollywood on the Bayou) and mounted exhibitions and lectures on the
subject, which is near and dear to them. Although Louisiana is now the #1 state
in the union for film and television production, there doesn’t seem to be
commensurate interest in education and preservation of the state’s historical
involvement with the entertainment world. Ed and Susan are determined to change
that by launching a research foundation. If anyone can pull that off, they are
surely the ones.

Ed and Susan Poole

Meanwhile, if you want to know anything about movie
memorabilia, or see what various dealers, auction houses, and restoration
experts are up to, sign up for LAMP’s free monthly e-mail blast.

Ed and Susan have been collecting for forty years and have
just celebrated the 20th anniversary of LAMP…but they show no signs
of slowing down. Their next big project is a directory of movie poster artists,
an especially ambitious undertaking. I can hardly wait for the finished
product.

7 comments

  1. Joseph T. Porter says:

    Thank you for this important article Mr. M. I acquired my first poster in 1972 when I was 16. It’s a one sheet poster of The Godfather. It was the only poster I wanted but when The Godfather Part II came out a few years later, obviously, I had to have that one. That’s when I became addicted.

    I’m still collecting.

  2. Norm says:

    Awesome, anither great resource for film/memorabilia aficianados…Provides a great connection to fond memories…nice LM.

  3. Eugene Fråga says:

    Mr.Maltin, I am a devoted fan of yours and posters collector.
    However, as a young student in Stockholm, I worked hard to buy all your exceptional books (and many of the prolific James R.Parish).
    They were very expensive in Sweden in those ancient, pre-Internet times. Today they are untraceable collector ítems in Europe. I also have a dozen Editions of the Movie Guide, which your faithful flock sorely miss. Thanks for a lifetime of wonderful Memories. God Bless you.

  4. Eugene Fråga says:

    We have different letters. This is my name. Congrats for this useful article.

  5. EUGENE FRAGA says:

    Many Thanks.

  6. Gary Meyer says:

    Ahhhhh– the Smith Brothers in Canton.They were a poster exchange where mostly second run theaters could trade in their posters, pressbooks, stills and even trailers after they played a movie and get credit towards materials for upcoming attractions rather than trashing paper.

    I paid as little as 50cents for most posters and as a teen in the early 1960s I would take my weekend job earnings and send a list to MPS asking them to send as many as my money could buy. One month it would be John Huston, the next Roger Corman, Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, Disney animation, 50’s science fiction, etc. I got some real gems but when cruising current auction sites I am surprised how little value there is in some of my favorites (I like the graphics). I stopped actively collecting long ago, before it became trendy. As for the Smiths, the story goes the brothers had a falling out and one took all the originals while the other made negatives of every poster and still to sell reproductions. I wonder what happened and who got the collections.

  7. Gary Meyer says:

    Another story. A poster dealer in San Francisco in the early 1970s was looking for a new source to buy in bulk for his inventory. I told him about Movie Poster Service. The next thing I know he had rented a large truck, drove to Oklahoma and offered to fill his truck with as much as he could fit from a warehouse with posters that had no been organized and put into stock. They agreed to $1000. Drving bakc to San Francsco was torture as he wanted to know what was in those boxes and he would stop and look through a bit when he needed gas, a meal or a nap. Finally home he started unloading and, he claimed, in the first day found and original King Kong three-sheet and an original Snow White one-sheet.
    I should have asked for a commission.

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