'King Kong' 1933 Poster Expected to Fetch $60K at Auction

King Kong-Maltese-film auction-Publicity-Split-H 2019
Courtesy Sotheby's London

The sale of approximately 190 pieces of vintage film art includes posters from 'Lights of New York,' 'Gilda' and 'The Birds' and rare Walt Disney artwork.

Movie art has proved to be a highly coveted commodity over the years, and interest in vintage posters continues to grow, with the latest installment of Sotheby’s Original Film Posters Online auction, a series that started in 2017, open for bidding from Friday, Aug. 23, at 7 a.m. PT through Sept. 5. (The catalog is still in the process of being compiled so only limited pieces are currently featured on the site.) A selection of the approximately 190 posters and pieces of film art, dating from the '30s through the '60s, is currently on view at the London gallery Sotheby’s until Sept. 2.  

Bruce Marchant, Sotheby’s film posters consultant, says that the title of the film is typically what makes it so valuable. “Generally speaking, the more famous the film, the more valuable the corresponding poster will be,” he told The Hollywood Reporter. “Second is the design of the poster and if it’s been designed by a well-known poster artist. One also has to take into account the rarity of the piece, and finally the condition that it is in.” 

This current collection has been curated from several sources, including American, French, Italian, English and Japanese collectors, as well as pieces that were collected in India. French posters for King Kong (1933) and The Maltese Falcon (1941) are expected to fetch bids in the region of $60,000 and $30,000, respectively.

While most other King Kong posters depict Kong on the Empire State Building, artist Roland Coudon chose to capture him being presented to the public in a Broadway theater as the "Eighth Wonder of the World," a pinnacle moment of the landmark film. The Maltese Falcon (or Le Faucon Maltaise) was not released in France until after World War II, in 1947, and French designer Jacques Bonneaud placed images of the leading castmembers inside the ever-elusive falcon on the poster art.

Another film noir poster, an original style B poster for Charles Vidor's Gilda (1946), is also up for auction. Considered the most sought-after of all American film noir posters, and expected to draw in around $36,000, it depicts a full-length image of Rita Hayworth as the ultimate femme fatale with a hidden past.

An Alfred Hitchcock piece is another expected drawcard for this auction. “Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds is particularly interesting, as the poster has been signed by the leading lady, Tippi Hedren,” says Marchant. “It is exceptionally rare to find any The Birds posters signed, as the stars usually just signed photographs and not the posters themselves.”

Remarkable, too, are two original Disney artworks created for the 1940s re-release of Walt Disney’s first animated full-length feature, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. The film, which came out in 1937 over budget, saw Disney the man having to mortgage his home to help finance it, but went on to be one of the most successful films of the decade, helping to create the empire the world knows today.

“These pieces are exceptionally rare, as original artworks rarely surface,” says Marchant. “The majority were destroyed. Pieces on the classic Disney films are always highly prized. These original artworks only recently surfaced, and were previously owned by an English lady, who had been given them in the 1940s.”

Marchant says, prior to this discovery, no other artwork from posters or front-of-house stills for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or the 1940 film Pinocchio (of which there are also two up for auction) had been seen.

At the September 2018 Sotheby's auction of 164 rare original film posters, history was made when the 1896 poster advertising one of the first movie screenings, for the Lumière Brothers' Cinématographe Lumière, sold for $195,000. The poster was illustrated by French artist Henri Brispot.

“It was the ultimate collectors' poster and a true museum piece, as it was the inaugural poster designed for the first-ever public screening of a film in 1896,” says Marchant.

While it may not earn as much as Cinématographe Lumière, another poster of historical significance, from Bryan Foy's Lights of New York (the 1928 crime drama that was the first all-talking feature film, released by Warner Bros.), is up for sale in this collection. 

“Although The Jazz Singer (1927) is [sometimes] credited as being the first full-length talkie, technically it only featured partial sound sections; whereas this film, with its continuous dialogue, is truly the first all- talking picture," said Marchant. 

Let the bidding begin.