To novices just starting to collect posters, there are general techniques to determine if a particular poster is a vintage original versus a later reproduction.
Purchasing a reproduction is fine if you love the image, and can save you hundreds if not thousands of dollars but avoid paying top dollar for a coveted poster only to find out it isn’t authentic. A reproduction will seldom have the look and feel of old paper and never appreciate in value.
Here are a few guidelines to help educate yourself and potentially avoid making an expensive mistake:
- Paper: If the poster was supposedly printed around the turn of the previous century, the paper should have a texture reminiscent of newsprint. If it feels or looks like paper from a glossy magazine, it is a more recent print.
- Issue date: Many posters are marked with a printing or date of issue, most commonly found in the lower margin. A reproduction poster, especially if sourced from a reputable printer that is not trying to deceive, might also display a more recent printing date or even state that it is a reprint.
- Printing process: Original lithographic posters will not look pixelated under a magnifying glass. However, for posters that incorporate photographic and more modern digital processes, seeing pixels is not always a way of determining authenticity. In that case, experts in the field will draw on their knowledge of commonly used printing techniques that were commonly available during the period, and what printing method would have made the most sense for the context of its publication.
- Dimensions of the original prints: Another step to assess originality is to measure the poster and compare its size to those of verified originals.
- Signs and smells of age: While not proof positive, many old-looking prints smell old and musty. Additionally, other signs of age may be present including fading, stains, dried out and brittle paper, and rusty staple or pin marks. Remember that at one time these posters weren’t valuable or coveted but just paper used to advertise an event or product.