The Europa saleroom at Christie’s South Kensington (17.5/10% buyer’s premium) was packed to capacity for their film poster sale on March 4. It was standing room only for the international mix of collectors and dealers who had turned out to secure one of the 280 lots of posters promoting the attractions of various Westerns, horror and science fiction, James Bond, film noir and other
vintage and not-so-vintage movies from around the world.
Boosted by an influx of new buyers, the room, telephones and commissions snapped up virtually everything that was on offer, taking all but 21 lots, or 93 per cent, for a total of over £227,000.
And there was no doubt about the star attraction. Standing head and shoulders above anything else in this auction was the mammoth 6ft 9in (2.06m) square six-sheet poster for Howard Hughes’ 1943 film The Outlaw, pictured right showing the buxom Jane Russell on a haystack. A commission bidder and a telephone were both outstripped by a British collector standing at the back of the saleroom who went to no less than £45,000 to secure it, a full £39,000 more than anything else offered on the day.
As revealed by the Antiques Trade Gazette in issue 1579, March 8, there was a bizarre background to the sale of this poster. It was offered with a catalogue billing as the only copy known to exist but it later became clear that the vendors, Robert and Patricia League, had another version in their possession.
When contacted by the auction house, the Leagues provided a signed statement which said: “After initially discovering The Outlaw poster that was sent to Christie’s, a second complete poster was found.” The statement went on: “Having considered the various options open to us, we have made the determination that we would destroy the second copy and can confirm that this has been done. At the time of going to print with the catalogue, we had not made Christie’s aware of the existence of a second copy.”
Some of those in the film collecting fraternity who were aware of the background and the Leagues’ drastic action reacted with outrage, one collector likening it to destroying one of Van Gogh’s sunflower paintings to enhance rarity.
Those visiting Christie’s website or viewing the sale before the auction would have seen an announcement alerting them to the existence of a signed vendor statement “confirming that this six-sheet poster is the only copy in their possession” and pointing out that “a copy of the statement is available on request”.
A similar announcement was also read out from the rostrum by auctioneer Helen Bailey immediately before The Outlaw was offered for sale, pointing out that “the vendor has confirmed that this six-sheet poster is the only copy in their possession”.
However, none of this appeared in any way to affect the poster’s performance at the rostrum. The final price was getting on for four times the auctioneers’ estimate and the fall of the hammer was greeted by a round of applause.
The second highest price in the sale, £6000, was paid by a private buyer for one of the horror film posters – a 6ft 9in x 3ft 5in (2.06 x 1.05m) three-sheet for Universal’s Creature from the Black Lagoon of 1954.
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