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The 2011 “Berwick Discovery” of Rare 1930/1931 Movie Posters (including Dracula Style F and Public Enemy)

 

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As explained in the article “History of Movie Posters” by Bruce Hershenson, owner of the movie poster auction website Emovieposter.com, fewer than ten copies of most one sheets from pre-1938 movies have been found.  Remarkably, many survived only because they were used as insulation material!

The anonymous winner of all of the stacks re-consigned them to Heritage Auctions, a prominent  auctioneer of movie posters, and they were professionally restored. (The restorers used steam to melt the glue between the posters and separate them).  Here are “before and after” pictures of some of the restored posters (all pictures of restored posters are from Heritage Auctions):

According to reports, 33 of the 40 posters were restorable, seven were not. Not surprisingly, many of the posters found are extraordinarily rare and valuable. The most valuable poster in the “Berwick Discovery” is the Dracula Style F one sheet. (It is unknown whether the original auction winner knew the stacks included the Dracula Style F.)  Only three other original Style F one sheets previously been found (Metallica lead guitarist Kirk Hammett owns one original):

Heritage Auctions auctioned the 33 posters from the Berwick Discovery on March 25, 2012, for over five hundred thousand dollars. The Dracula Style F sold for $143,000 (somewhat below the estimate) and Cimarron sold for $100,000 (well above the estimate). The sale results made national headlines in the United States. Below is an article from the Washington Post:

In the 1910s and 1920s (and to a lesser extent in the 1930s), builders would often look for material to put within the walls of buildings (or under the floors) to serve as insulation (before asbestos became standard for this purpose). Some enterprising builders hooked up with poster exchanges to take large amounts of outdated posters and put them in the walls of their new homes. Most often they used thick window cards or kraftbacked large posters due to their greater thickness, which filled walls better. I [Bruce Hershenson] know of at least ten occasions where someone has been remodeling their house and discovered posters in the walls or under the floor. Sometimes they are moldy and mildewed and require large amounts of restoration, but sometimes they are so tightly pressed together that they survive in relatively excellent condition (in my experience this has only been true of window cards or kraftbacked posters).

As first revealed in a discussion thread on AllPosterForum.com, in the summer of 2011 six stacks of 40 pasted-together movie posters from 1930-1931 being used as insulation were found in an attic in a home in Berwick Pennsylvania.  The stacks presumably came from one of three nearby theaters.  When a new movie came to town, the exhibitor plastered the new poster over the old posters, which were displayed on a board.  Eventually the stack of posters was removed from the board.  These particular stacks were placed in an attic as insulation and were discovered when the owner of the house passed away in summer 20111. The finders (who are unknown to date) split one of the six original stacks and recognized that they were stacks of movie posters. Patriot Auction Center auctioned each stack separately on October 23, 2011, for a total of approximately $30,000.  Below are pictures of some of the seven (including the extra split stack) stacks in their original condition. (All pictures of the poster stacks and unrestored posters provided by Harry Caul from AllPosterForum.com)

Both the Style A (below left) and Style B (below right) one sheets from the Public Enemy were recovered from the stacks. The Style A is the ONLY original one sheet ever to have surfaced. (The Style A was significantly restored. Cagney’s image is original but most of Jean Harlow’s image was redrawn based on the pressbook image.)  Only one other original Style B previously had been found.

Below are some other fantastic restored posters from the “Berwick Discovery”:

The Royal Theater Discovery (1990)http://cinemasterpieces.com/cine_S.htm

The following is a condensed and edited version of a narrative written by Jon Warren:


*****


In a small town in Canada named Provost there once was a theater called The Royal Theater. The theater had been in the family since the 1920s but in the late 1980s it was sold to a new owner, who was renovating it into a video store.


In the process of tearing out walls,a closet was found with a door in the floor which led down into a long-lost basement. In the basement were piles upon piles of old movie posters, dating from about 1929 through 1950. From this time period, virtually every film that had been released was represented by multiple one sheets, lobby card sets, and mini window cards. Even more astounding was the condition of the posters. Because of the dark and dry and cool conditions, the posters were in superb condition. Pristine white borders without the slightest trace of yellowing. Brilliant colors that practically glowed. Stacks and stacks, multiple copies, mint sets of Casablanca, Hound of the Baskervilles, Adventures of Robin Hood, etc. Universal horror posters apparently were not represented at all. (Some have speculated that the Universal horror films were not shown in Canada due to censors.)


A long and complicated legal fight ultimately ensued over the ownership of the posters. Without knowing about the posters, the new owner of the theater told the workers to throw out all the “junk” from the old theater. However, the workers tried to sell the posters at a flea market.  A local TV station aired a story about the posters and “all hell broke loose.” The workers were arrested and the Canadian government ultimately auctioned many of the posters to a consortium of US dealers (including Jon Warren) for $300,000, which was significantly below their value (even in 1990!).  Ironically, the original owners of the theater received all the proceeds of the sale.


Here are some posters from the Royal Theater collection:

The Secret Bride (1934 one sheet)

Sweet Rosie O’Grady (1943 one sheet)

To Have And Have Not (1944 one sheet)

Yankee Doodle Dandy (1942 one sheet)

This Is My Affair (1937 one sheet)

Tales of Manhattan (1942 one sheet)