Spotting Fakes

Apart from receiving no poster whatsoever, the worst thing that can happen on an auction site like Ebay is to pay good money for a fake poster. There may not be a huge number of fake posters out there - except for lobby cards and some big films like Star Wars - but taking some basic precautions can help. Checking out what the seller's feedback is, and what they've sold in the past is always one of the first things you should do. But on this page I'll hopefully be able to pass on a few tips on how to spot fakes (and reissues)

Common Sense

Common sense can be very handy when checking out a poster that you like the look of. The old adage applies here that "If something's too good to be true.. it probably is". For example if you saw an unfolded "original" one-sheet for sale for "Vertigo", alarm bells should be ringing since every one-sheet for such an old film would have been issued folded.

It's always worth trawling the internet before bidding or buying something, to find similar posters that have sold in the past. That way you can check for typical conditions and compare markings and prices etc.. Some good places to search are:

NSS Poster Markings

One of the easiest ways to realise whether a poster is real or not is to look for official markings, usually those of the NSS (National Screen Service) or that of the printer. While some forgers will fake these as well, they are quite rare. If you know anything about movie posters, you'll probably have heard of NSS numbers.

From the early 1940s to the late 1980s the NSS had almost total control of movie poster printing and distribution in the USA. In order to control this distribution the NSS started to stamp all their posters with a standard code that consisted of the year of exhibition and a number that indicated the order in which the movies were released that year. Before 1977 this had the format 56 / 100 (100th film released in 1956), but following that year the format changed slightly by removing the slash, to become 77100 (100th film released in 1977). Below are a few examples:

Pre-1977 NSS number Post-1977 NSS number

If the film on release was a re-release then the NSS number will have an 'R' in front of it, followed by the year of the re-release (not the year of the original).

NSS issued materials will also have a small blurb which basically laid out the responsibility of the cinema in terms of what could be done with the poster. Essentially the cinema had to either return the poster to the NSS, or destroy it. Hence the rarity of many older posters.

NSS statement

In the late 1980s however the NSS gradually lost control of poster printing and distribution, with the big studios regaining control. This meant that the NSS number was no longer a standard, which makes spotting fakes from the mid-1980s onwards much harder, especially as posters started to be issued rolled as standard (like most fakes).

For recent posters the best remaining method for verification is to measure the poster. Reproduction one-sheets are usually smaller than the real deal by a few inches on either side. Checkhere for poster sizes of original releases.

Other poster markings

For posters issued outside of the USA, the NSS system doesn't apply (except for international variations of posters printed in the US) and so you have to rely on other markings, such as the name of the printer. Original Uk Quads for example usually have the name of the printer at the bottom.

UK Quad printer marking


Posters I can't afford