By David Daley
CALGARY – Moving-picture shows have captivated the buying public since they first started squeezing out vaudeville stage acts and filling local theatres in the early 1900s. These “photo plays” were silent, of course, but the piano (or organ) was there to fill the air with music and help the viewers get into the spirit of the film. Most of those movies are now lost to the ages, but the lively sheet music scores with their decorative covers remain for collectors to seek today.
Movie collectibles are now a massive consumer industry with some items going for millions of dollars, but you don’t have to be Richie Rich to take some of the silver screen magic home with you. Here’s the skinny, there’s all kinds of really cool stuff you can snag for a song — if you’ve got your wits about you. I mean serious film collectibles, not the mass-produced commercial crud. I’m talking about fascinating historical relics that you can sink your teeth into — the meaty, seedy underbelly of Hollywood Babylon, not the glut of mainstream dreck that the chumps lick up these days. Whether it’s storyboards, soundtrack records, 8 x 10” photo stills or the hard-copy movies in their various media formats, a trove of nifty knick-knacks awaits the discerning collector.
Visual art has long been trying to sell show tickets and movie posters, and are the seat-fillers of the film collectibles world. Sought for their genre categories, artistic quality and star appeal, these enduringly, hot what-nots range widely in price and availability. Few examples survived the scrap paper drives of World War II, but you can still acquire some remarkably cool movie posters without losing your shirt.
Collectors go gaga for the oversized prints destined for billboard paste-jobs at drive-ins. Meanwhile, lobby cards were smaller movie advertisements that came in sets of four, or eight, and were displayed in, you guessed it, theatre lobbies.
Cinema slides were popular from about 1905 to the mid-1920s, when “talkies” began to take over. These 3¼ x 4” glass-plate photographs were loaded into lantern-style projectors that cast images and text onto the screen before and after shows and during intermissions. Slides showcased coming features, told jokes or tried to peddle Shinola to a captive audience. Examples can be found in colour, or beautiful black white, and often have a space on them for the projectionist’s own notes. Starting at about $15 per plate on eBay, these glassy images are lot of fun to collect and learn about.
Ephemera such as ticket stubs are considered desirable to some, while others worship celebrity autographs. Naturally, there’s no shortage of demand for vintage “stag” reels and unique film-associated toys.
More specialized collecting interests are best explored through online markets and forums, but there’s also a fair amount of late 20th century movie swag that turns up at garage sales and flea markets. Collectors groups on social media are also an asset when hunting down merchandise and connecting with likeminded curators of cinema memorabilia. Cinememorablia?
Anyway, The Calgary VHS Tape Swap group on Facebook regularly posts the latest delectable movie camp — buying, selling and trading among members. Word to the wise, their swap-meet hoards are a rich source of horror titles for those looking to feed their analog addiction.
Calgary VHS Tape Swap: https://www.facebook.com/groups/CalgaryVHS/?fref=nfMovie Collectibles, The Collecting Detective