It belongs to Morris Everett Jr., who began collecting posters and lobby cards 53 years ago. He's parting with them on Dec. 17 at Profiles in History auction house in Calabasas, California.
"Ideally, I would love to be hired by whoever buys it to continue to collect for the collection because I probably know more collectors and dealers and stores worldwide than almost anyone," he said.
Everett, who lives in Cleveland, Ohio, and owns a New York City movie photo leasing company, said his collecting passion began as a student at the University of Virginia, sparked by a fellow student who had a "fabulous" small photo collection of such Hollywood's legends as Bette Davis and Myrna Loy. On spring break in 1961, Everett found himself buying two posters at Movie Star News, a New York City landmark of movie stills, posters and negatives that closed its doors two years ago.
He started small, focusing on 20 film stars including his favourite, Natalie Wood. Then he saw an ad in a collectors' magazine for 6,000 original movie photos from the 1920s and 1930s which he purchased for around $400. He continued to buy at conventions, auctions, from dealers and stores until he amassed a collection totalling 196,000 posters and lobby cards representing 44,000 titles for some of Hollywood's greatest films.
He said he's selling the poster collection because "it's time."
"I'll be 74 next month. ... To leave it to my family to do this, will they do it the way I want them to do it?" Everett said.
By consigning the collection himself, "I have the pleasure of hopefully seeing people fighting over it worldwide," he said with a laugh.
"Mr. Everett is the only individual in history to attempt collecting material on every film ever made," said Daniel Strebin, an independent consultant and expert in vintage film memorabilia.
The auction house has conservatively estimated the collection to sell for $6 million to $8 million, but Strebin said its real value was considerably higher.
Everett and Strebin said the single most valuable piece in the collection is a lobby card of the 1927 silent movie and science-fiction epic "Metropolis."
It's the only known lobby card of director Fritz Lang's movie to exist and worth between $50,000 to $75,000, said Strebin, who appraised the Everett collection for the auction house. Two original German posters for the film, of which six are known to exist, have recently sold for about $1.5 million each.
Nearly as valuable is a poster of Babe Ruth from the 1927 "Babe Comes Home." Other rarities include lobby cards or posters for "The Wizard of Oz," both the one from 1939 starring Judy Garland and a 1925 version with Oliver Hardy, and "King Kong." There are posters from early Marx Brothers and Charlie Chaplin movies and classics like "Gone With the Wind" and "Casablanca." The collection also contains near-complete career runs on major cinema icons Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy, Lon Chaney, Greta Garbo and countless others.
"It is the most extensive single-owner, privately-held collection on its subject," said Strebin. "Mr. Everett's collection is of a degree of quality and individual rarity that far exceeds any other film poster archive, private or public."
Likely buyers would be advanced genre collectors, historical institutions, well-informed dealers or other memorabilia auction houses, he said.
Barbara Miller, collection curator at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York, said the real value was in keeping the collection together as it "dates to the dawn of the narrative of American cinema, the birth of the feature film."
She declined to say if her museum would be participating in the auction but said: "It's an extraordinary record of how these films are promoted and touted to the public."
"It's a turnkey operation for anybody who wanted to do books or exhibits or whatever," said Everett. "I hope they will keep it intact."