Which probably explains why the great horror movie actor Boris Karloff, born in the now thoroughly unscary and middle-class south London suburb of East Dulwich, changed his name from William Henry Pratt when he turned to acting in North America.
It was a horribly successful career, and posters promoting Karloff’s early horror film appearances are some of the most sought-after by collectors and make high prices at auction.
This trend has been evident for quite a while now but shows no sign of ebbing. In 1997 an original poster for The Mummy (1932) starring Karloff sold for a premium-inclusive $453,500 at Sotheby’s New York, setting an auction record for a single film poster.
Twenty-one years later that same poster is back on offer at the same auction house and if the hefty estimate of $1m-1.5m is hit or exceeded then it will once again be the record holder – it was superseded first in 2014.
This stone lithograph is being offered in a single-lot online-only auction closing on October 31.
It was designed by Universal’s Karoly Grosz and is an superb example of Hollywood designs in the ‘golden age of horror’. Depicting Karloff in the title role and Zita Johann as the subject of the mummy’s affections, the poster was exclusively created for cinemas’ promotional purposes and never made available to the public.
As with all posters from this time, despite the original print runs, their fragile nature and the fact that most were pasted over or discarded after a film’s run make original survivors rare. This Mummy example is one of only three known to exist and remains in its original, unbacked state.
The current world record auction price for a film poster is the premium-exclusive $525,800 (£398,300) paid for a Dracula (1931) design at Heritage Auctions of Dallas in November last year. The movie starred Bela Lugosi in the title role.
When it comes to private deals, a poster for the film Metropolis (1926), considered by many to be the holy grail of science-fiction posters, was sold by London dealer The Reel Poster Gallery to a Californian private collector for $690,000 (£390,000) in 2005.
First film poster
This latest auction comes just two months after Sotheby’s sold another notable early film poster – in fact, the design advertising the first-ever public screening of a film, which took place in Paris in 1895.
Consigned from a private French collection where it was housed for over 40 years, the Cinématographe Lumière poster was designed by the artist Henri Brispot (1846-1928) for the 20-minute screening by the Lyon-based pioneers of cinema Louis and Auguste Lumière. The screening was held in the Salon Indien, the basement room of the Grand Cafe.
The Brispot poster easily surpassed its £40,000-60,000 estimate, with the final bid of £160,000 from an anonymous buyer made before the online auction closed on September 5. No buyer’s premium was charged.
Specialist Bruce Marchant, who set up The Reel Poster Gallery in 1991, acted as a consultant for the sale.
The price was the highest for a film poster sold by Sotheby’s, beating the £42,000 paid in September 2017 for a poster for King Kong.
If The Mummy poster sells as planned, that saleroom record will of course be shattered.