Vintage posters have a transportive quality that’s unlike any other artwork. When you look at an authentic French movie poster from the 1950s, for instance, you can imagine what it might have been like to pass by the cinema as you walk through the streets of mid-century Paris. It’s akin to wine — there’s a certain terroir-like quality to these surviving examples of advertising art. This might be why it’s rare to have someone stop at collecting just one vintage poster.
If you’ve been curious about starting your own collection, it can be overwhelming figuring out where to start. The biggest issue isn’t necessarily finding a vintage poster you love, but the question of whether or not it’s authentic. This is especially true if you’re buying online. If that’s the exact situation you’re in, here are a few tips for helping find out if the poster you love is the real deal or a likely reproduction:
Take a closer look at the photos. A close-up will often reveal a few common tells of reproductions, like blurry text in the margins or text in the margins that is in a language different from what’s pictured on the poster. Another possible sign of a reproduction is the presence of pixelation when viewed close up, particularly in posters dated pre-World War II. While you often can’t detect pixelation from a web image, you can often zoom in on a high-resolution image if the seller has one available.
Subject matter. This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, but popular subjects (like travel posters from Pan-Am airlines or a poster from Woodstock) tend to be reproduced more often than more obscure subjects (such as a foreign advertisement for cheese).
Signs of age. Though pristine vintage posters do occasionally go up for sale, it’s more likely to find at least minor evidence of age and wear. Fold lines, creases, spots, and discolorations often point to authentic vintage posters.
Paper quality. Reproductions are often printed on paper that has a glossy or shiny sheen.
Consider the source. Like other artworks where the value is in the authenticity, provenance is key. While some vintage posters have turned up in unlikely sources, it’s more likely that you’ll find an authentic poster when you shop at places that sell from collectors (and therefore know where the poster originally came from).