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Documenting the Movie Industry’s Paper Promotional Materials

September 27th, 2010 · 2 Comments


Illustrators are often the least known and most quickly forgotten members of the art world and as such, so many of their artistic creations are lost in our disposable society. Illustrators are the creative forces behind the images on everything from greeting cards to cereal boxes to advertising – including movie posters. All too often, the work of illustrators survives only because of the relationships between dealers who sell the ephemera and the collectors who drive the market. Scholarly information tends to be severely lacking, patchy, or extremely incomplete on movie poster ephemera. Often with collectibles, the best reference guides are written and compiled by collectors.

Ed and Susan Poole have been avid collectors of the movie industry’s “paper accessories” beginning with their first purchase in the mid-1970’s – a poster for one of Susan’s favorite movies: Gidget. Because of their decades long interest in the subject, the Pooles are regarded as experts in their field and have published several favorably reviewed books on movie posters. In addition, they maintain a website, Learn About Movie Posters (LAMP), where interested individuals can learn more about movie posters and buyers and sellers can connect to trade their wares. At the beginning of 2010, the Poole’s announced their commitment to developing an online archive of movie ephemera, Movie Poster Data Base. In early April, according to a posting to the Association of Moving Image Archivists listserv by Ed Poole, they already had developed a robust collection of information in their database including:

  • 3,000+ silent studios worldwide
  • 15,000+ NSS trailer numbers for identifying unknown trailers
  • 25,000+ production codes for identifying unknown stills
  • 30,000+ NSS poster and accessory numbers for identifying titles and reissues
  • 81,000 poster images online in our archive and cross referenced

Upon visiting both of these sites, their commercial status is apparent due to advertising and promoting sellers, however, there seems to be a strong commitment to compiling accurate information and making it accessible. Seemingly, there is a plethora of information available, but it is not always easy to find. There are several search options on the site. The basic search is the simplest. There are advanced searches with an accompanying manual instructing visitor in their use. Here, one is able to search movies, posters, dealers, and items for sale. It is slightly confusing because all of these features seem to be accessible through the results of a basic search, too. Serious scholars and collectors are encouraged to sign up for specialized members only access, though it does not appear to deliver any more information.

Testing the site with a search for Star Wars movie posters is an excellent indicator of the breadth of information available. After selecting the original release from 1977 search results are returned for more than 40 posters and lobby cards. Selecting one of these items from the list delivers a paragraph about the history, the dimensions, the name of the artist, the number of printings and variances between each printing, and the NSS (National Screen Service) number. There is even cautionary information regarding counterfeits. And, of course, there are links to Poole-approved, reputable dealers selling this particular poster. It is disappointing that the artist’s name is hyperlinked, but not to biographical information. The link leads to an alphabetical list of all the artists on record with LAMP. Clicking on a hyperlinked name from the list delivers all of the posters and paper goods created by a particular artist.

Browsing the site, copyright issues do leap to mind. There are many featured items old enough to be in the public domain; however, our Star Wars example is definitely protected by copyright law and Lucasfilm could be a vigilant enforcer. The Poole’s have a statement of ownership on each entry reading:

This section is for reference use. Images found on this site are property of LAMP and are for reference purposes only with NO rights implied or given. See LAMP Disclaimer.

The LAMP disclaimer is a vague interpretation of Fair Use citing educational purposes, but it does warn patrons to investigate ownership rights before distributing images.

Fortunately, increasing the breadth and scope of the site is in the works. The Poole’s intend to include artist biographies, studio logos and printing companies into their documentation. As to be expected, this is an incredibly laborious task. This endeavor is an important task because it will preserve relatively unknown information on an esoteric, culturally intrinsic medium. The current Movie Poster Data Base is comprehensive and useful and, as it evolves, it will prove even more so. Scholars and collectors may soon be able to locate accurate and comprehensive information on one website, rather than sifting through the internet and searching for out of print books. If the Poole’s would only team up with a librarian/archivist to help streamline the user interface, improve the web graphics and design, and organize the information.

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Category: Friday Fun Site · Preservation