A rare 123-year-old poster which marked the birth of the movie industry is up for auction at Sotheby’s this month.
The poster was produced in 1896, to promote the Lumière brothers’ landmark screenings of their first short films at the Salon Indien of the Grand Cafe in Paris.
Described as “the ultimate collector’s poster and a true museum piece”, the poster is expected to fetch £40,000 – £60,000 ($50,000 – $76,000) in the online auction which opens for bidding on August 28.
Although the brothers had shown their short films to audiences before, this event was different: it was the first time members of the public had paid to attend a film screening, essentially marking the beginning of a global industry now worth $40 billion each year.
The first show took place on December 28, 1895, in front of less than 30 people, but what they saw that evening changed the course of the 20th century.
The brothers had hung a white sheet at the end of the room, with their patented cinématographe projector fixed atop a stepladder behind the rows of seats.
The screening featured 10 short films, none of which lasted longer than a minute. The titles included ‘Workers Leaving the Lumiere Factory’, ‘Fishing for Goldfish’, ‘Baby’s Breakfast’, ‘The Gardener’ (or ‘The Sprinkler Sprinkled’), ‘Cordeliers Square in Lyon—a street scene’, and ‘Bathing in the Sea’.
According to reports, members of the audience gasped with surprise, screamed and accused the brothers of outright trickery, unable to believe what they were seeing.
News of the event quickly spread throughout the city, and on January 1-2 1896 the brothers held a series of screening at which between 2,000 and 2,500 people each paid 1 franc to witness the cinématographe in action for themselves.
The poster promoting those initial screenings was the work of French artist H. Brispot, and depicts a throng of cinema goers queuing boisterously to enter the Salon Indien.
Surviving examples of Brispot’s poster rarely appear on the open market, and this copy remains remarkably preserved for a sheet of paper more than a century old.
Not only did the screenings mark the birth of the cinema industry as we know it; they also sparked the creation of an art form in its own right, as posters became the prime way of drawing audiences into theatres.
Today original film posters from the first half of the 20th century can fetch more than $500,000 at auction, with classics such as Dracula, King Kong and Casablanca seen as the ‘Holy Grails’ by collectors.
The world’s most valuable movie poster was produced in 1927, just 31 years after the first, to promote Fritz Lang’s science-fiction masterpiece Metropolis.
In the space of just over 30 years, the world of cinema had evolved from 45-second scenes of bathers at the seaside to an epic two-hour vision of the future involving towering sets and thousands of extras.
Just four copies of the international poster for the film are known to exist, and in November 2005 the Reel Poster Gallery in London sold a copy to a U.S collector for $690,000, setting a record price for a single movie poster which stands to this day.