Movie Posters 101 | How to Grade Vintage Posters
May 3, 2018
So you have a vintage poster and don’t know where to start? Do not panic, you are not alone!
Unlike other ephemera such as comic books and sports cards, there is no standardized grading system for movie posters. Film poster collecting didn’t even really hit the masses until after Star Wars was released in 1977. And in fact, the very first movie poster price guide wasn’t published until 1985, by Jon R. Warren. In the very first edition of the Warren’s Movie Poster Price Guide, Jon pondered:
Will collecting movie posters ever become mainstream?
One of the problems facing the movie poster hobby is a lack of universally-accepted terminology about such things as rating condition of posters. We have a hobby that appeals to potentially millions of movie fans, i.e. the ability to own a momento from your favorite film. However, many would-be collectors are hesitant to jump in due to a lack of general information and consensus on such things as hobby terminology and standard grading terms. I propose that we adopt a ten-point rating scale similar to that used in coins, sports cards, and comic books.
And thus the 10-point Warren Scale (C1 to C10) was born. It is a very detailed scale and, if followed closely, will lead to very few condition disputes. It is also very wordy and not really structured to help end-users grade a poster. So while the attempt at standardization was generally adopted starting in the mid-1980s, in the intervening years most auction houses and dealers have developed their own systems. Today, there is a hodgepodge of different grading scales and it’s difficult to compare across them. I’ve attached the original Warren Scale at the bottom of this article for reference.
At Marquee Poster, we see no need to reinvent the wheel. We use the exact same tried and true Warren Scale first developed by Jon way back in 1985. What we did do was restructure the scale to be more user friendly, changing it from a grade-centric approach to a flaw-centric approach. To utilize the Warren Scale, you first have to have a complete understanding of all ten grades before you can get an idea of where your particular poster will fall on the scale. This is somewhat counter-intuitive as if you have a poster in your hand that needs grading, by definition you do not know which Warren grade to begin your comparison with. On the other hand, the flaws on the poster are probably very obvious so this is where we chose our starting point.
Introducing the new & improved vintage poster grading scale!
To use the Marquee Poster modified version of the Warren Grading Scale simply:
- Pick the most egregious flaw — determine the max C-grade possible for that particular flaw
- Then pick the next most egregious flaw… and repeat until all flaws are accounted for
- Then tally up the number of flaws and choose the appropriate grade.
How about an example?
Let’s use this Terminator UK quad (click images to see flaws in high resolution):
First, make a list of the most noticeable flaws:
- slight ink loss on folds
- corner crease in upper right
- slight mis-fold along left edge
- minor handling/surface wear
- slight foxing on verso
Now start looking them up 1-by-1 on the Grading Scale PDF. For the light ink loss along the original folds simply find the “fold wear” entry and go over until you get a match. In this case I would say C8 = “slight, some ink loss ok.” Already, we know the maximum grade possible is C8. Let’s see if we can narrow it further. Next let’s look up the corner crease in the upper right. If you follow the “corner crease” entry you will see “2 or less (1″ max)”. Unfortunately, our crease is a bit longer than 1″ so we go to the next match on C7 = “4 or less (3″ max)”. So only using 2 of our flaws we’ve already narrowed the grade to C7.
If you look up all the flaws you get:
- slight ink loss on folds –> C8 = “slight, some ink loss ok”
- corner crease in upper right –> C7 = “4 or less (3″ max)”
- slight mis-fold along left edge –> C7 = “slight, ink loss ok”
- minor handling/surface wear –> C7 = “minor”
- slight foxing on verso –> C8 = “slight, must be described”
I count (5) flaws rated at C7-or-higher, which is less than the maximum of (8) flaws for C7 (3rd row in the PDF). So in this case, the grade is simply C7.
Terminator UK quad = C7 (fine to very fine)
If there had been more than (8) C7-or-higher flaws then it would get bumped down to C6. Or if the flaws had been worse in nature the poster would end up with a lower grade — and so on and so forth.
Please enjoy with our compliments!
Using our revised grading scale it is now possible to trace a single flaw over a range of grades depending on the severity. Please note: the descriptions of the grades and flaws are identical to the Warren Scale, our only revision is to how they are presented and communicated. With these small tweaks, we hope collectors and non-collectors alike will be able to quickly and accurately grade nearly any vintage poster!
Here is a link to the original Warren Scale: https://www.iguide.net/learn-about/Article.aspx?id=3
Here is a PDF download of the original Warren Scale (in case of future dead links): The Warren 10-Point System for Grading Movie Posters