Sunday, June 25, 2006


Sports Illustrated Poster History

Sports Poster Collecting

Remember those old sports posters you had on your wall as a kid? That special player that you looked up too and worshipped above all others? We’ll, go dig him out of your closet, garage or attic because he’s worth something! Sports posters have been around for quite some time, but the first foray into a standard line of posters geared toward consumers was launched by Sports Illustrated (SI) in 1968. They produced a number of Baseball and Football stars for mail order and limited store purchase. The era of Sports Poster was launched.

1968 Lance Alworth SI Poster

SI began to add other sports to their repertoire of posters including NHL Hockey and NBA Basketball in 1970. The posters were all sized at 24” by 36” with no border (termed “full bleed”) and photos varying from action shots to standard poses. SI posters were printed on a thick paper stock that was durable, but lacked the photo quality that we now have today. The result was often grainy and at times, a poorly focused picture. SI began to change the poster stock in approximately 1973. They switched to a lighter, high gloss stock that increased the richness and clarity of the photo, but simultaneously weakened the durability. SI then abruptly stopped producing these posters in 1973/74. I haven’t ascertained why, I’d assume that they had somehow lost the rights due to the fact that a new company, Studio One, began producing the same exact style of poster in the same year, 1974.

1976 Lydell Mitchell Studio One Poster

Studio One, out of Holmes, PA, began to produce sports posters under the same name. They picked up on the new SI style and began running advertisements in the standard sports periodicals including Baseball/Football Digest, SI, TSN, etc. But unlike SI, they were almost exclusively sold via mail order, thus making their product that much more scarce. This glossy, full bleed style of poster continued until 1977-78 when Studio One launched a new design utilizing a plain, white border. The white border poster became the standard design, superceding the full bleed style entirely. They continued to produce this design exclusively until 1978-79, when inexplicably, SI re-entered the sports poster market with the exact same white bordered design and all new photos.

1977 Ron Cey Studio One Poster

Soon SI re-established market dominance and reduced Studio One posters to a competitive “also ran” until finally, the Studio One sports poster brand ended in approximately 1984. Conversely, SI posters began to penetrate sports stores, retail chains and even shoe giants like The Foot Locker, with large poster inventories and displays. This, coupled with the large mail order business, SI became the standard. They continued to produce the same white border style poster until 1987. 1988 ushered in a new style as well as a myriad of new competitors. The white border style sports poster had endured for over 12 years with few changes or variations.

1978 Dave Casper SI Poster

Like most sports memorabilia produced in the 60s, 70s and 80s, production numbers were neither published nor well known. It’s hard to determine the true scarcity of an item without having these facts, but unlike sports cards, posters were made to be abused. What was the first thing you did when you obtained that poster? Put tape on the back, pinned the corners, trimmed the sides, anything to get that poster on your wall. Framing a $2 poster in $10 frame just didn’t make much sense to the average Joe. This, coupled with poor storage options, durability, limited distribution and general wear and tear, truly make classic sports posters a rare find. Studio One branded sports posters are easily the scarcest, simply due to the lack of retail penetration and eventually, competition. But many SI posters are still difficult to come by. I’ve collected sports posters since 1980, and it wasn’t until eBay, that classic sports posters became available in any number. Prior to eBay, finding a vintage sports poster in a memorabilia or antique shop was like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack. After six solid years of scouring eBay for posters, there are still a huge number I’ve never even seen.

1983 Tom Seaver SI Poster

In today’s world of collectibles, the use of player variations is not at all uncommon. In fact, it’s become a marketing coup for some hobbies i.e. sports figurines. Posters can also be added to that list. Since 1968, both SI and Studio One changed photos on occasion. This could be for different reasons, but what’s unusual about these changes is that the company continued to use the same stock number without noting a change. This makes it virtually impossible to know how many variations exist with particular players. I’ve tracked all of the variations that I’ve personally witnessed and likely still only know a portion of what’s out there. Variations are likely some of the rarest and most valuable sports posters in existence. Poster design variations also took place on a limited basis with SI. In the early 80’s they trimmed the white side and bottom borders completely off in order to satisfy “bin” size requirements of a particular distributor. This was abandoned shortly thereafter. In addition, SI began to put a colored line around/within the white border as well as add the team logo in the upper right corner of the poster. Both variations were incorporated in the final two years of the white border production. Design variations don’t seem to have any intrinsic value to poster collectors.

1978 Steve Garvey Rawlings Poster

I’ve been tracking poster prices on eBay since 1998. I’ve found that with many things, there’s certainly a lot of variation. But with eBay, we finally have a consistent source of information and intelligence on the subject. As with many collectibles, eBay has demystified the hobby by virtue of visibility. This has allowed those of us who collect posters a good foundation in variability, accessibility, condition and hence, value.

1980 Omar Moreno Brooks Ad Poster

Advertising Posters
Another type of poster that has been in existance for many years is the sports advertising poster. These have been used since the turn of the century, but the 1960's ushured in a new era of poster with the advent of the "Advisory Board" poster. Rawlings was one of the first companies to assemble a myriad of sports stars and use their images on posters for advertising in sporting goods stores. By the 1970's many sporting goods companies put out a number of these posters. These were released to retail outlets as point-of-sale, but not to the general public for purchase. Because of this, some of these posters are quite rare. What makes the collecting of these so difficult is that there is little information on number, types, players or release dates of the posters. I've included some sample pictures.

1976 Nolan Ryan Spalding Ad Poster

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