AMERICAN POSTERS Motion picture studios printed their movie posters in a number of different sizes from the 1910s through the 1980s. The bigger the release for the studio, the larger the number of poster sizes that were produced. From the beginning of the twentieth century when movies were just beginning to make an impact on society, the most common format for movie posters was the One Sheet. It was named this as this size was the common size of the lithographers press bed, 27″ X 41″. This was the same size that was previously used to print theater posters.
From the One Sheet size originated the terms used to denote the other larger size posters, such as the Three Sheet (Approx. 41″ X 79″) which was the size of three One Sheets placed side by side vertically. The next largest size was the Six Sheet (Approx. 81″ X 81″), a poster the size of two Three Sheets placed side by side vertically. And finally, the billboard-sized Twenty-Four Sheet, which is nine foot by twenty foot, or 106″ X 234″.
Below is a list of the terms used to describe most of the movie poster sizes that were produced up until around the 1980s. After that time, One Sheets (reduced in size to 27″ X 40″), were the only posters printed for U.S. release. International styles, printed in this country, but used for overseas distributing, continued on for a few more years for three sheets. Also, during the 1980s, studios began offering double-sided One Sheets, which were to be displayed in light boxes outside the theater.
All of the sizes below were printed on only one side, with the exception of the Herald and Glass Slide.
Lobby Card: (11″ X 14″) These cards were printed in sets of eight on card stock paper for display in theater lobbies. Some sets had a Title Lobby Card, which showed the production credits and poster artwork. The other seven cards were scenes from the film. These cards were usually produced in full color and have become very desirable collectibles.
Jumbo Lobby Card: (14″ X 17″) Printed prior to 1940, though some studios resumed producing them in the 1970s, and 80s, these sets were usually produced for the studio’s higher profile releases. Often printed on a linen or glossy stock, with no title card, these cards were produced in far fewer quantities than standard lobby cards, thus, they are more rare.
Window Card: (14″ X 22″) Produced on heavy cardboard stock, these cards were small posters used in shop windows to advertise the upcoming or currently-playing feature film. They all had a blank white imprint area of approximately four inches at the top of the card for the theater’s name and date of showing. These posters are of a size easy to frame and are attractive to collectors for that reason.
Jumbo Window Card: (22″ X 28″) These cards were oversized versions of the standard window card and were also printed on cardboard stock. They were produced in far fewer numbers and, therefore, are much more rare.
Midget or Mini Window Card: (8″ X 14″) Printed primarily before 1940, these cards were smaller versions of the standard window card. They had the same blank imprint area and were usually used in cigar or candy cases in shops or restaurants. These were printed in much smaller quantities, making them more rare than standard window cards.
Insert: (14″ X 36″) Printed on card stock paper, these posters were used in conjunction with One Sheets to promote a film. The artwork is usually done in a mix of photographic and artwork style as opposed to the all artwork one sheet. These cards are very popular among collectors.
Half Sheet or Display: (22″ X 28″) Printed on card stock paper, the studios often printed two styles of this size, one of which would sometimes be identical to the Title Lobby Card. The images for these posters were often a photographic and artwork combination and were displayed in the lobby of the theater. They were pictured in the pressbooks and called “Displays,” whereas the collectors have taken to calling them Half Sheets, as they are half the size of a One Sheet.
One Sheet: (27″ X 41″) This size is most recognizable as the standard movie poster and the size most popular among collectors. These posters were printed on a thin paper stock and were usually displayed in front of the theater or in the lobby. Almost always implemented by studio hired artists and illustrators, they would give a bold display of title, credits, and outstanding illustrations of star portraits or a graphic depiction of the film’s story line. The studios often printed several different styles of posters for one film, among which might include a “Teaser” or “Advance” styles that were issued prior to the release of the film in an attempt to attract audience attention. This size became popular in the early 1900s, and remained so until the size was shortened around 1985 to the typical 27″ X 40″. The One Sheet prior to the 1980s was almost always found folded in eighths with one vertical fold and two horizontal folds, but were sent to theaters rolled after 1980.
Three Sheet: (41″ X 79″) Printed on a thin paper stock, these posters were normally intended to be posted outside of the larger theaters, so fewer copies were printed than smaller sized posters. Three Sheets were printed in two or three panels that would need to be aligned at the time of display. For the bigger release films, there would sometimes be two different style Three Sheets printed. In the early 1970s, studios began to produce Three Sheets in one panel, but then phased out the printing of this poster size poster altogether by the early 1980s.
Six Sheet: (81″ X 81″) Typically printed on thin paper stock in four different panels, these posters were displayed outdoors as a small billboard. They were to be put together and aligned upon display and often featured artwork altogether different than the other posters. These posters were sent to theaters folded and were often displayed using wallpaper glue, rendering them unusable for future use. They were printed in far fewer numbers than almost any of the other posters, and far fewer of these posters have survived due to the display and use. Because of their large size, these posters are very impressive works of art.
Twenty-Four Sheet: (246″ X 108″) These huge posters were produced to be used as billboard art and usually came printed in twelve sections. They were printed on standard paper stock and were often destroyed after the display of the poster. Very few Twenty-Four Sheet posters have survived for any films and almost none for films produced before 1950. These are some of the rarest posters in the hobby.
40″ X 60″: Studios began printing these in the early 1930s, and they were usually rolled when sent to the theater. During the 1930s many of these posters were produced by the Hollywood Sign-Makers Union using a silk screen process, which was often done in strong, day-glow paints that resulted in very striking graphics. These craftsmen would often produce as many as ten to twenty paint screens to create these works of art. The other method for producing these larger size posters during this time was the photo-gelatin process, the same method used to produce 1930s Lobby Cards. These posters were most often photographic and were produced on a thinner paper stock that became brittle over time. The silk screen and photo-gelatin 40″ X 60″s are by far the rarest posters to find for any film from the 1930s. By the 1940’s, studios began producing their 40″ X 60″s on a heavy card stock, in off-set lithography and continued up until the poster’s discontinuation in the early 1980s. In the 1960s these posters became just larger copies of the one sheet, which could be put on an easel to display in large areas. 40″ X 60″ posters were printed in very limited numbers and few survived.
30″ X 40″: These posters, like the 40″ X 60″, were printed on a card stock and were normally sent rolled to the theaters. Studios began printing this size in the 1930’s, often instead of a One Sheet. This was the case with Disney Studios, who printed this format from 1935 through 1937. This size gained in popularity during the 1950s since theater owners found them more durable than One Sheets and the two formats would often share the same artwork.
Door Panels: (20″ X 60″) These posters were tall, vertical panels, printed on thin stock paper and most often sold in sets of four or six for the more prominent feature releases by the studios. They were to be displayed on the doors of the theater and featured their own unique artwork. More often than not, one panel would feature the title of the film and the other panels would be the stars or scenes from the film. These sets were rarely bought by theater owners, presumably due to expense, and are consequently very rare and very collectible.
Subway: (54″ X 41″) First made during the 1960s, these posters are printed on standard paper stock and are usually used in mass transit station displays. They will often feature a variation on the “Advance” poster art. Sometimes referred to as two sheets, they are printed in limited numbers and are very collectible for the earlier titles from the 1960s.
Banner: Posters which come in a variety of sizes ranging from 24″ to 30″ by 84″ to 120″. Studios began producing banners in the 1920s, often using gorgeous, full-color silk screen art on canvas or bookbinder’s cloth with grommets spaced along the edges. Beginning in the late 1930s the studios began to transition to a card stock material and used silk screening in a mono-tone color scheme with a photograph pasted to the banner. Today’s banners are printed on vinyl and come in a vast variety of sizes.
Photos: (8″ X 10″) or (11″ X 14″). Black and White glossy photos printed on photo paper have been around since the beginning. They were commonly sent to the press to promote the release of a film. The photos would sometimes have descriptive information typed on pieces of paper called studio snipes that were pasted to the back of the photo. In the early 1930s, the film’s title was often displayed in the lower border of the photo along with credits. In the early 1950s several studios began releasing color photos in sets of eight to twelve with the film’s title in the lower border. These sets of color glossy photos are very rarely found in full sets and are very desirable.
Heralds: These were small paper flyers that varied in size from 5″ X 7″ to 6″ X 9″ with printing on both sides. They might be just a single page or a fold-over of two pages. They were sold via the pressbook and bought in groups of thousands by theater owners to give away all over town in advance of the film’s opening. The theater and dates of the showing were usually printed on them by local printers. They were printed as early as the 1910s up to the early 1980s. As they were commonly given to the public, they do not hold as much value unless they feature some of the rarer titles from the late ‘20s and early ‘30s, such as Universal horror films.
Glass Slides: (3.5″ X 4″) Distributed from the early silent period up through the 1940s, glass slides were to be used just as transparencies are used today, except made of glass and used in the film projector. They advertised the upcoming feature, as well as local businesses. Often, they provided a blank area to write the play-date. Though they held little value in the past, they have come to be more widely collected of late, especially for the bigger titles of the day.
Programs: These are multi-page, hardbound or paperback booklets filled with scenes from the film and much background information on production. They were created for major movie releases and sold in lobbies of first run movie theatres.
Passbooks: Sent to theaters by the studio, these multi-page paperback booklets contained publicity material to be used in newspaper and magazine advertisements. They also included plot synopses, articles promoting the film and its actors, display campaigns, and, usually on the back pages, illustrations of all the film’s posters, lobby cards, etc.
How to Tell if a Vintage Movie Poster is Real Verifying the authenticity of a vintage poster is a complex process. That is because there is not one standard printing process. Here are some of the indicators we typically look for:
Movie posters often come in exact dimensions. So if a poster is supposed to be 27″x 40″, but actually has a different height or width, chances are the poster is a reproduction.
Poster Purchase Channel
Buying a poster from a reputable resource is a very effective way to reduce the likelihood of purchasing a fake. In eBay auctions, for instance, sellers can stay anonymous and fabricate positive review histories. In contrast to that, established movie vendors need to be very careful not to tarnish their reputation in order to protect their business model.
Does it have a GAU logo?
Typically US posters from the 1970s and 1980s will come with a GAU logo (the logo of the US printer’s union). Featuring a GAU logo does not definitely mean that a vintage poster is authentic as the GAU logo can also be reproduced in fake reprints. The absence of the GAU logo, however, is a clear indicator that a poster is not an original vintage movie poster.
Look for an NSS number
Most posters from the 1940s through to the 1980s that were distributed in the US will feature an NSS (National Screen Services) number. During this period the NSS was responsible for the distribution of movies and movie marketing collaterals for most major US studies. In order to better manage this task the NSS started printing unique identifiers (NSS numbers) on movie posters. So for vintage movie posters released by major US publishers that were released during this period, you should generally be able to find an NSS number on the poster. For posters from Europe or dating back to other periods this is not the case.
Does the Poster Look ‘Too Good’ given its Claimed Age?
A reality check is a simple but effective way to question your potential purchase: An original poster that was ‘in use’ will most definitely have signs of wear: cracks, pinholes and fold marks are the most common signs. If you come across a vintage poster in near perfect condition, be extra careful. This is not to say that there aren’t any vintage posters in near perfect condition. This is however rarely the case and can often only be achieved when extensive preservation work has been completed.