It seems simple, but often it isn't.
Make sure it's an original. We deal in original posters only. An original poster is defined as the first printing of a poster. In some cases, the printer or advertiser will authorize a reprint from the same maquette (original design) of the artist. These later printings are clearly indicated in the Price Guide when they exist, and on occasion have a small residual value. But for the most part, reprints have no real value and are not marketable among serious collectors.
An original poster can be identified in a number of ways.
Look at the small print. Printer information, dates, and other small markings can be matched up with the authenticated item in our archives.
Touch the printing; look at it closely. An original lithograph will have textures that identify it as an original, rather than a modern reprint.
If you're still in doubt, send us an image: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be sure you're looking at the right entry. Assuming you have an original poster, identify that it's the exact same poster in the listing. Check if there are two or more entries for the same poster. Many are printed in larger and smaller formats; with and without letters; in different language versions; etc. Some advertisers use the same text on all their posters, which can be confusing. Make sure to look at the description text below the title to zero in on salient characteristics.
With posters, condition is an important factor in setting a price. If a poster is old, the original poster is more than likely frayed and cracked if it was stored folded (and many were folded the minute they came off the printing press); the creases are probably quite noticeable.
For our auction purposes, we rate each poster's condition on a scale A to D:
Cond A: Designates a poster in very fine condition. The colors are fresh; no paper loss. There may be some slight blemish or tear, but this is very marginal and not noticeable. A+ is a flawless example of a poster seen in such find condition. A- indicates there may be some slight dirt, fold, tear or bubble or other minor restoration, but most unobtrusive.
Cond B: A poster in good condition. There might be some slight paper loss, but not in the image or in any crucial design area. If some restoration, it is not immediately evident. The lines and colors are good, although paper may have yellowed, or the color faded (light-stained). B+ designates a poster in very good condition; B- is one in fairly good condition. The latter determination may be caused by heavier than normal light-staining or one or two noticeable repairs.
Cond C: A poster in fair condition. The light-staining may be more pronounced, restorations, folds or flaking are more readily visible, and possibly some minor paper loss occurs. But the poster is otherwise intact, thre image clear, and the colors, though possibly faded, are still faithful to the artist's intent.
Cond D: A poster in bad condition. A good part of the poster may be missing, including some crucial image area; colors and lines so marred that a true appreciation of the artist's intent is difficult, if not impossible. We do not carry Condition D posters in our sales.
Condition has a definite bearing on the poster's value. By examining yours with a critical eye and matching its virtues and faults with our list of standards, you should get a good idea of the condition we would probably assign to it.
An example of the effect of condition on price can be seen in Cappiello's Champagne de Rochegré:
Though it may appear at first as if this poster lost its value between Auction XXIX, in 1999, and Auction XXXI, closer examination reveals that the poster sold in Auction XXXI was Cond B, one full grade below a pristine Cond A in Auction XXIX, in 2000. The next appearance of this poster, in Auction XXXII, in 2001, the condition was A- and the poster's value once again rose to its premium.
What this means: If you're looking at this item in C condition, you should probably expect to pay no more than $5,000-$6,000 at 2001 price levels; in B condition, probably $7,000-$8,000; an A condition sample will fetch $7,500-$8,500.
One final point about condition: Although it is an important element in price determination, it should not be the most important factor to the collector. If you are looking for a specific image and can find it in a condition that is good (B), then you should buy it. It may be so rare that you'll never find another copy in any condition. And if you find a better specimen, you can always trade up. In the meantime, you've had the satisfaction of living with an image that provides you that unique pleasure that only a fine poster image can. In all the years of conducting auctions, we have never heard anyone complain about a mistaken purchase—only, again and again, the bemoaning of the poster that was not pursued.
A single auction does not make a price. It takes only two fanatics to drive the price of a poster beyond all reasonable expectation. Alternatively, many fine images do not find their intended buyers on a given day. But when a trend covering three or more auctions for a single image is analyzed, some intelligent appraisal can be made. When your poster has a track record, you can see much more clearly what you can expect.
Take the example of Jules Chéret's poster for Librairie Sagot:
At first glance, it appears that the market for this beautiful two-sheet poster is somewhat uneven. And yet, on closer examination, it is clearly the condition that is the culprit: At its lowest condition rating (B–), it was sold for the lowest price ($1,870), and at its highest condition rating (A–) it was sold at its highest price ($7,475). From this one can gather that in today's market, a good (B to B+) version would sell for about $6,000-$7,000 and an excellent (A– to A) condition specimen would fetch about $8,000-$10,000. Parenthetically, it should be noted that this poster has become an exceedingly rare, dificult-to-locate design. The fact that we have not offered this image in many years would indicate that its present value probably exceeds these values.
By comparing conditions and prices over time, you will be better able to make savvy choices regarding which posters to sell or buy.