Life Home & Garden

Wednesday 24 April 2019

Treasures: The poster boy for investment

Ireland's fine arts, antiques and collectables column

An early Psycho poster showing Alfred Hitchcock
An early Psycho poster showing Alfred Hitchcock
The Dracula poster which made €441,036 at auction last November
Bottle Tower Rathfarnham by Harry Kernoff

Eleanor Flegg

When it comes to cinema poster collecting, horror is loved above all other genres and early 20th-century cult classics are at the top of the pile. In November 2017, a poster for the Universal Studios production of Dracula (1931), starring Bela Lugosi, sold at Heritage Auctions in Texas for $525,800 (€441,036). That's currently the world record price for a movie poster.

It has a beautiful design - the head of Lugosi, rouged and lugubrious, hovers balefully against a background of blue. For the Hungarian actor, Dracula was a pivotal role. As an unpaid intermediary for Universal Pictures, Lugosi negotiated directly with Bram Stoker's widow in an attempt to get her to lower the price of the filming rights for Dracula. Lugosi persuaded her to drop the price and this helped him to secure the title role.

The poster was a very rare example - one of only two known copies - and came from the collection of a Lt Col George J Mitchell Jr, an associate member of the American Society of Cinematographers, who had owned it since the 1950s.

"The reason my dad purchased the poster is because he loved horror films. He was drawn to the Bela Lugosi poster because it brought back childhood memories of seeing the film when it was first released," Mitchell's son explained.

The Dracula poster which made €441,036 at auction last November
The Dracula poster which made €441,036 at auction last November

Those were the days when horror still had the power to horrify. The witty Audrey Field, who worked for the British Board of Film Censors, commented on X the Unknown (Hammer, 1956): "Well, no one can say the customers won't have had their money's worth by now. In fact, someone will almost certainly have been sick."

Audrey Field was less enthusiastic about the script for Dracula (Hammer, 1958).

"The uncouth, uneducated, disgusting and vulgar style of [scriptwriter] Mr Jimmy Sangster cannot quite obscure the remnants of a good horror story, though they do give one the gravest misgivings about treatment," she wrote.

Hammer horror films, with their unique blend of sex and violence, pressed all the right buttons for poster design. The film was released with relatively low expectations and a luscious poster showing Christopher Lee as Count Dracula about to sink his fangs in Melissa Stribling's very lovely neck. Now, that poster is regarded as one of the most covetable.

There's one coming up for sale at Whyte's on February 3 with an estimate of between €6,000 and €8,000. Such posters were produced for cinema use only and arrived in the canister, along with the film. By the time the blood-soaked shocker hit the west of Ireland, Dracula was probably well established as a hit. The canny owner of a cinema in Co Galway may well have been aware of the poster's potential value and kept it almost 60 years.

The more limited the release, the fewer the number of posters in circulation and the more valuable any survivors will be.

Condition is also important. Where films have more than one poster made to advertise them, one of these may be worth more than the others. When Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) hit the screen, the director attempted to control production by instructing cinema managers not to let anyone in after the start. These early posters - one of which sold at Whyte's for €2,300 in 2014 - show Hitchcock pointing threateningly at his watch and are more valuable than those made later.

The Eclectic Collector auction at Whyte's takes place on February 3 at 11am. See and

In the Salerooms

Lev Mitchell

For rich pickings from the China Cabinet, check out the auction of the complete contents of Riverside House, China Shop and Warehouse, which takes place at Townley Hall, Drogheda, Co Louth on Monday at 12 noon.

Viewing is on the premises of Riverside House, Slane Road, Drogheda, this Saturday and Sunday (10am to 5pm); and on Monday (10am to 11.30am).

The sale will be conducted by Joe Lennon of Milltown County Auction Rooms in conjunction with Lev Mitchell & Sons, on behalf of the representative of the late Margaret Hoey, well known for running the China Cabinet in Drogheda. Expect Moorcroft, Charlotte Rhead, Lorna Bailey, Sylvac, Crown Devon, Anita Harris, Dorothy Ann, Carlton ware, Wedgwood, Beswick, and Royal Sutherland. See and


Not all jewellery carries the name of the designer but, if you like to know where your sparkles came from, there's plenty on offer at the next auction at O'Reilly's auction rooms, Francis Street, Dublin, on Wednesday at 1pm.

Items of interest include an Art Deco emerald and diamond ring by Raymond Yard (est €14,000 to €18,000); a Cartier sapphire and diamond turtle brooch (est €6,500 to €8,500); a pair of Tiffany cat brooches (est €3,000 to €5,000); and a pair of Tiffany & sunburst diamond drop earrings (est €1,500 to €2,000). Viewing is this Sunday, 12pm to 4 pm; Tuesday, 11am to 5pm, and before the sale from 10am.

John Weldon Auctioneers

"We have two large diamond solitaire rings; both are stunning diamonds. If you can't decide on which one to buy, then go for both of them! Think of the earrings they would make…"

That's the sales pitch from John Weldon whose next sale of Fine Jewellery & Silver takes place on Tuesday at 2pm. The rings in question are a platinum diamond solitaire ring (est €12,000 to €14,000) and a fine diamond solitaire ring (est €14,000 to €16,000). Other highlights of the sale include: a Tiffany gold diamond watch (est €2,500 to €3,500). Viewing is this Saturday and Sunday, 12 noon to 5pm; Monday from 11am to 5pm and on Tuesday, 10.30am to 12.30pm.

Morgan O'Driscoll

Bottle Tower Rathfarnham by Harry Kernoff

A painting of the Bottle Tower, Rathfarnham (1940, above) by Harry Kernoff will ring a bell for those who grew up in or around that part of Dublin.

It's coming up for auction at Morgan O'Driscoll's first Irish Art Online Auction of 2018 with an estimate of €2,000 to €3,000.

Interesting historic paintings in the sale include a watercolour portrait of John Fitzgerald Anster as a child by Sir Frederick William Burton (1816-1900) (est €4,000 to €6,000). Bidding continues until Monday between 6.30 and 9.30pm and viewing is in Morgan O'Driscoll's Skibbereen offices today (11am to 5pm) and on Monday (11am to 3pm).

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