Vintage poster grading: What is excellent condition?
Grading systems for posters and memorabilia on auction
Bidding on vintage posters at live auctions, or making a bid online for art or collectible objects is always exciting. The experience of raising the paddle to make a bid against other bidders in a crowded room is just part of the excitement of collecting posters, memorabilia, collectibles and art.
The most important thing about bidding at an auction is to understand the condition of the object for sale. Most auctions have a viewing period before the sale so every items can be inspected by the participants. "Lot" numbers are used to identify each item, and sometimes a group or "mixed lot" of items. Seeing the object in person is the best way to understand the actual condition of the objects for sale.
Large auction houses often print a catalog with pictures and a written description of the objects in the auction sale. The written descriptions in these catalogs have the same purpose as listings for online auctions. Because seeing photographs of the items online is no substitute for the real thing, it is critical to know which grading system is being used to describe the condition of the auction item when you make bids online.
Grading posters and works of art on paper
Three ways to make the grade
Three grading systems are commonly used for vintage posters. Art gallery owners and major auction houses like Sotheby's or Christie's need to use only 5 conditions to describe high-quality art work. The 6 point system provides enough detail for online auction descriptions, and 10-point grading has been created as a new standard in the marketplace. The most important thing to remember is to know exactly which grading system is being used for any transaction.
Start your art collection - Very good beginner's guide
The Intrepid Art Collector: The Beginner's Guide to Finding, Buying, and Appreciating Art on a Budget
Most reviewers agree that this is a good book for beginners who are interested in buying contemporary art. The author covers fine-art prints, photography, vintage posters, native American art, African art, rugs and antiquities. A very good reference section is included with a glossary, reviews of major art fairs, price databases, art publications, and checklists to help evaluate artwork to buy.
Field experience from the cutting-edge of collecting
Ten point system
Poster grading with pinpoint detail
10-point poster grading was developed in recent years as a standardized way to precisely evaluate and grade posters of any kind. Basically, the best Condition C10 and C9 (Mint and Near Mint) are classified by what may not appear on the poster, with reference to the many defects to paper and image quality (see below), but there are a few surprises.
First, it's very rare to find a vintage poster in perfect Condition C10 (Mint condition) or even C9. One day, if a set of old posters is discovered in the basement of a defunct printing house, then they might be Mint. But most likely the elements would reach even the most secure cache of posters that are over 50 (vintage) or 100 years old (antique).
It may be surprising to learn that four very small pin holes in the corners of a poster is acceptable for Condition C9 (Near Mint) - if the rest of the poster is perfect. That's because it's easy to cover pin holes in the blank margin of a poster with matting board when the artwork is framed. Also, fold lines do not disqualify older posters from the highest ratings. Before 1980, most movie and music posters were folded by the printer into six or eight sections. So without any wear on the folds, these posters might qualify for Condition C9. Any other kinds of defects relegate the poster to Condition C8 (Excellent) and below.
10 point summary - The most detail
- C10 - Mint condition: for new merchandise. Rare for vintage posters.
- C9 - Near Mint condition: no defects except 4 pin holes at corners
- C8 - Excellent condition: 3 or 4 defects; no tape, bleed-throughs or paper loss
- C7 - 5 or 6 small defects max., creases and tape ok w/o bleed-throughs
- C6 - Very Good: Holes in corners, 1" tears, fold wear, wrinkles and fading is ok
- C5 - Tape and residue is acceptable, creases within image, writing on front
- C4 - Good condition: below average; image area may have damage
- C3 - Fair Condition: Complete but numerous problems
- C2 - Poor to Fair: Extensive restoration
- C1 - Poor: Paper falling apart, major stabilization and restoration
"Mint condition" posters eBay
These are current auctions for posters in the best condition, often vintage movie promotion posters and rock 'n' roll concert posters. See a list of popular poster collecting categories and learn more about collecting vintage posters.
Define excellent condition - What defines Condition C8?
Now it's just a matter of counting up the number of defects. Any more than three or four problems means the poster is less than excellent. These defects must be barely visible. Condition C8 is known as Excellent Condition, and also "Very Fine".
So what is allowed on a poster in Condition C8? Three or four minor defects are permitted, including marks on the back of the poster that do not bleed-through to affect the quality of the image. There can be no more than two small tears on the edges, less than a quarter inch long, or one minor hole through the original fold lines. Small creases and wrinkles in the margin are acceptable, and very minor damp stains, mildew, or foxing (for definitions, see below).
A poster will be down-graded to Condition C7 (Very Good), or less if there are any holes in the margin or any paper is torn off, or if the image is faded.
Original Rock 'n Roll posters
Original rock and roll posters are prized by collectors and major auction houses are now starting to carry this type of artwork as the value has increased. Bill Graham Presents is the name of the most famous series of posters created for concerts at the Filmore Auditorium in San Francisco starting in the late 1960s and beyond the "summer of love".
The auctions at eBay listed here are some of the most valuable posters - both old and new concert "gig" posters. Find the best-selling posters books about rock music posters and learn more about collecting rock music posters.
Collecting original rock 'n roll music posters
Looking for posters and memorabilia for your favorite rock band is easy, with dozens of online resources for poster auctions and conventions. If you know wh..., with dozens of online resources for poster auctions and conventions.
Six point poster grading
Poster condition for online auctions
The 6 point system is commonly used for auctions on eBay and other online auctions sites, and some live-auction galleries with showrooms. The grades are again defined by the amount of damage to the margin - the unprinted area around all four edges of the poster. Some posters are printed with "full-bleed" edges (when the image goes right to the edge), so any defects will affect the appearance of the image.
Mint condition is reserved for new posters that come directly from the artist or dealer with absolutely no visible defects. This is the same as Condition C10 in the 10 point system and nearly impossible for antique or vintage posters. Near Mint condition corresponds to Grade C9 for a nearly perfect poster with only trivial damage limited to the unprinted margin. Some sellers use Excellent condition for a poster with only 3 or 4 small defects along the edges. This is one of the vague, in-between grades like "Very Good to Near Mint" or "Good to Fair" condition. The remaining grades are somewhat loosely defined and can be prone to different interpretation. The 10 point grading system was developed to eliminate this confusion.
A poster in Very Good condition may have 6 or 7 imperfections that are close to the edges. Small tears and creases may be present, no more than one inch long, but overall a poster in this condition is still very desirable. A Good poster can have holes and tears, and even missing pieces of paper along the edges, but the majority of the poster is clean and flat. Once a poster reaches Fair or Poor condition, they are not often found in the collector's marketplace unless the subject matter is outstanding.
6 point summary - Be sure to describe defects in auction listings
It is much harder to dispute the condition of a poster after the sale if every defect is identified in the auction description, especially with detailed photographs. Complete candor and transparency about the strengths and defects of the auction item also promotes a climate of honesty that helps the seller establish a good reputation.
- Mint (C10) Flawless, original poster
- Near Mint (C9) No defects except 4 pin holes at corners
- Very Good (C6) Holes in corners acceptable, 1" tears, fold wear, edge wrinkles
- Good (C4) Damage within image area among other problems
- Fair (C3) Heavily worn but in one piece
- Poor (C1) Brittle and falling apart
Most popular poster art books - Movie and music posters
Five point system
Auction house grading
The five point system for evaluating the condition of posters is used by major auction houses where the quality of the merchandise is already at a high standard. These are the same as the grades on your school assignments, ranging from Grade A - F, with +plus and -minus for finer detail. These 5 grades roughly correspond to Condition C8 through C4 on the 10 point grading system, but you may see A+ for Condition 9 (Near Mint).
Grade A is the same as Condition C8 for vintage and antique posters, also known as "Above Average" condition, with only one or two very minor defects and minimal restoration work. Grade B is "Average" at these kind of auctions, in range of Very Good to Excellent. Grade C is "Below Average", like Very Good, which is usually the lowest category of artwork sold by major dealers and auction houses.
Posters in the last two categories of the five point system are not much to brag about. Grade D posters are similar to Grade C5 on the ten-point scale, or Good to Very Good, with several defects. These posters don't sell that well at auctions, but can be found at flea markets or uncovered in dusty barns. Condition F is used for posters that will need extensive art restoration and limited to rare and desirable topics.
Reference and resources - Poster condition and restoration
- Poster condition and grading
Quick guide to the 6-grade system to describe poster condition for auctions and appraisals.
- Talas || Professional Archival, Bookbinding, Conservation and Restoration Supplies
Simply my favorite store for high quality supplies for working with paper
Tips for starting your collection, and selling
Paper, parchment and papyrus
The simple fact is that many commercial posters are often printed on the lowest quality paper to be used for only a short time for advertising a product or service to a mass audience. On the other hand, fine-art posters are produced with great care in limited editions on high quality paper and sold directly to dealers and collectors.
But even before the days of the Ancient Library of Alexandria (accidentally destroyed in 48 BC by Julius Caesar) scholars and the faithful have cared for scrolls, papyrus, vellum and paper to protect their cultural heritage from the basic elements: fire, humidity, sunlight, pollution.
Poster glossary - paper defects and image quality
Visible blemishes and printing errors
Bleed-throughs - stains from tape or putty bleed into artwork
Poster stain (bleed-through): before and after poster restoration.
Creases - Tightly folded paper which breaks the surface
Chipping - Edges of brittle paper break off
Fading - Bleaching from exposure to light
Folds - Some posters were folded at the printer (pre-1980)
Foxing - Brown stains on old paper when wood pulp reacts to moisture
Holes - Minor pin holes and staples or big holes with paper loss
Paper loss - Corners, edges or holes missing
Registration - Offset printing colors don't align
Scratches - Narrow abrasions on the surface
Scuffs - Wide abrasions across image
Tape - Leaves residue and may cause bleed-throughs
Tears - Rips with no paper loss (repairable)
Trimming - Parts of the border removed (to be avoided)
Wrinkles - Crinkling at edges, less severe than Creases
Writing - Pen or pencil marks, on the front or back
See more information about poster condition and grading.
Contemporary art market - Recently published books
Grading system popularity poll - Three different degrees of accuracy
The ten point system is the new standard for vintage poster grading. Many people use the legacy grading systems with 6 or even 3 grades.
Which grading system do you like to use?
Paper preservation guidebooks
The Poster Series - Articles about collecting original posters
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