This story first appeared in the Dec. 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Leonardo DiCaprio reportedly owns one. Another is in the Museum of Modern Art. A third is in the Austrian National Library museum.
Now just the fourth known surviving copy of the poster for Fritz Lang’s 1927 masterpiece Metropolis is set to be auctioned Dec. 13 at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in downtown Los Angeles in what will veteran collectors call the most important sale of the year.
The Metropolis poster is being sold with eight other pieces of vintage movie art, including rare King Kong and The Invisible Man posters, the original painting of Elvis Presley used in the Jailhouse Rock poster and an original drawing of the Addams Family house by artist Charles Addams.
The U.S. Bankruptcy Court seized the items in a messy case involving collector Kenneth Schacter, who defaulted on a loan used to buy the poster and then tried to evade a judgment to repay by surreptitiously selling. The last time the Metropolis poster changed hands in 2005, it sold for $690,000 (still the public record for a movie poster).
Experts say the King Kong and Invisible Man posters alone are estimated to be worth several hundred thousand dollars each.
East Coast collector Ralph DeLuca’s $700,000 cash offer for the nine items, the prize pieces from Schacter’s large collection, will be the floor bid. If no one offers more, then the posters will go to DeLuca, a well-known figure among poster collectors.
Other collectors consider the $700,000 figure (the equivalent of about a $1 million sale when considering the 30 percent auctioneers such as Christie’s or Heritage add to the gavel price) a "wholesale price," representing a fair but middle-of-the-road offer for the prized items.
Using a well-known auction house probably would attract more buyers and yield a higher final price but would take add time and fees.
The courthouse auction is quicker, says Marcus Tompkins, the attorney for the bankruptcy trustee John Menchaca. DeLuca insists he has “no immediate plans” to flip the posters if he’s winning the bidder.
DeLuca, who in 2009 bought Nicolas Cage's Dracula poster for $310,000, says a great piece of Hollywood art combines historical importance, beauty and rarity: "The Metropolis poster fulfills all three on the highest order."