Frankenstein Poster, Stored in a Closet for Decades, May Bring $100,000+ at Auction

DALLAS — When Keith Johnson’s one-of-a-kind 1931 Frankenstein insert movie poster (Universal, 1931), purchased by him when he was a teenager and stored in a closet for three decades, comes up for bid at Heritage Auctions in Dallas on July 27, it may well yield a more than $100,000 payday for its nearly 60-year-old owner.

It will also mark the first time that this legendary bit of cinematic history — known to have existed in 1931 when the landmark horror film was released, but only the stuff of collecting lore since — will have ever crossed the auction block.

Little could Johnson, a lifelong fan of the classic Universal horror classics, have known what his purchase would mean to cinematic history, or his family’s financial well-being, when he bought the poster from a long defunct antiques shop for just a few dollars in the 1960s.

“It was a long time ago, so I certainly don’t remember exactly how much I paid for it,” he said. “It couldn’t have been more than $5, though it was a lot of money to come up with at the time. I got it framed when I moved out of my parents’ house when I was 19. I had no idea of the value.”

The poster then travelled with Johnson through his life, as he married and raised a family, eventually being relegated to a closet as the poster no longer suited the décor of the homes he and his family moved into. It wasn’t until recently, when a friend — a collector of comics — went into the closet to get a bottle of wine, saw the poster and suggested Johnson get it appraised.

Johnson — himself a collector of stamps and artwork — quickly contacted Grey Smith, the Director of Movie Posters at Heritage Auctions.

“Collectors have been searching for the lost poster sizes on this immortal and legendary horror classic for decades,” said Smith. “Only a few one sheets, a single six sheet, a partial half sheet and lobby cards have surfaced. This is the only confirmed insert poster for the film. In collecting terms, it simply doesn’t get any better. After 82 years of lying dormant, the Monster has finally arrived in the form of this stunning insert.”

While Johnson may have caught the collecting bug as an adult, he truly had no idea that he was holding onto such a valuable treasure. It was, after all, bought purely out of love for the film and nothing else.

“Like many kids in the late 1950s, I became fascinated with old horror films — especially the classic Universal monster movies of the 1930s and 1940s,” Johnson said. “The funny thing is that I learned about the films mostly from two of my cousins and from Famous Monsters of Filmland Magazine, as the films were generally unavailable. In fact, the first time I saw Frankenstein was at 1 am on a school night, on WGN out of Chicago. Since it was so late, the station often left the middle reels out to leave more room for commercials. Years later I was amazed when I first saw Universal’s re-mastered releases at how beautifully nuanced these films really were.”

Johnson bought two or three other posters at the same time, though they are now lost in time and he cannot remember what films they were from. The Frankenstein insert, however, was not going anywhere.

“It was my pride and joy,” he said.

Now, as Johnson and his wife have decided that the time is right to find a new steward for such a rare and valuable poster, it will become the centerpiece of someone else’s collection.

“This is an extreme rarity, a real Holy Grail piece for advanced collectors,” said Smith. “There may never be another chance to acquire this poster again, so I imagine the top buyers are going to be very interested in this.”

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