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    Picturing The West

Will James Smoky posterTo Restore or Not to Restore – That’s the Big Western Movie Poster Question....

Growing up on the East Coast, my mind as a kid was completely consumed with a passion for the West — particularly the exciting world portrayed in the great black and white Western movies and TV series. Instead of walking to school alongside my buddies in Hartford (CT), just a small kid with curly hair, I was, in my head, on my way to one of the fantastic adventures in the Big Little Books or the 10 cent comics of Hopalong Cassidy, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and other Western stars. I was, unlike my friends, a cowboy, larger than life and a hero. I rode a horse with a real saddle. I became John Wayne in Red River taking my herd of cattle to the railhead.

But ultimately, it was the entire world of fine art in which I would spend my professional years. Earning an MS in Fine Art, I became the department head and professor of Art and Film at a local college for over 40 years. My personal life, however, creating, collecting, buying, and selling fine art and Western movie posters, has been a consistent passion of mine, integrating love of art and my cowboy self.

Through my 40+ years in the fine art biz, I became proficient and passionate about maintaining and preserving the integrity of the works I collected and sold. It’s here that I am honored to be able to share my knowledge and hopefully make you a better buyer and wiser collector of these amazing and very valuable works of movie poster art.

Over the course of my career, I have learned how to not only preserve the new but restore the old, restoring hundreds of oil paintings by de-acidifying and removing mold from etchings, engraving and much more.  I began to also understand how critical it is to preserve the integrity of the art by knowing how to properly archive each work so it endures the test of time. Mastering the complex archival process involves choosing the best acid free materials and glass and plexiglass that blocks 99% UV light. But lest I digress, it is my fervor to only represent the finest restored movie posters and here’s how the story unfolds.

One day many years ago, I came upon a western movie poster titled, “Gene Autry’s Sierra Sue.” It was folded, with tape, stamps, dates and writing in pencil on the back. The poster almost fell apart in my hands. I still have that poster and thus my journey of pursuing original Western posters began.

As I collected, I was constantly troubled by the condition of the early posters. I discovered linen backing, the process of mounting and preserving vintage movie posters originated in France during the 19th century. Posters are made of paper. Posters were meant to be returned or exchanged back to the film company but quite often they were merely discarded. This is what makes the earliest posters quite rare and valuable. Over time they become stained from the natural acid in the paper pulp, become brittle, torn from handling, and deteriorate due to the atmosphere. Tape is often used to repair tears and can be difficult to remove and can stain the poster. Dates, notes and stamps are often present on the back of the poster.

Professional linen backing will addresses all these issues including pin holes, water stains, mold, foxing, snipes (stickers) and missing paper. A properly restored linen-backed poster will reduce the impression of the original fold lines. As all posters were folded before the 1980s, you can tell if a poster is original if you can feel the fold lines on a poster created before that time.

The process of modern linen backing is water based and utilizes a variety of archival (acid free) materials, acid free water-based color restoration media, and matching vintage paper to fill in missing paper. A bleaching agent can be used when necessary to remove excessive staining. The process begins by removing any tape and markings from the poster. Using water based wheat paste, containing an acid buffer, the poster is then mounted onto Japanese unprimed linen paper. After, the drying process the linen will shrink and form a wrinkle free surface and stretch the fold lines. This process will stabilize the poster and provide a consistent ground for restoration. The end result being the poster is protected and stabilized. It can be handled, displayed and framed. Linen backing also enhances the visual appeal of the poster and can increase its value. Linen backed posters will sell more frequently then posters that are non-linen backed. As collectors, investors or just lovers of the art, I strongly suggest gravitating only toward linen backed posters.

In the world of fine vintage posters, professional restoration is key in enhancing and maintaining the value of the original. But ultimately the goal is to properly preserve their aesthetic appeal.

So when you purchase that eye catching, memory-loaded poster and have it properly cared for, keep in mind that your and my passion for the West lives on with them.

—Tony Cirone


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Mission Statement

Smoke Signals blows your way from High Noon Western Americana of Los Angeles, California, producers of the High Noon Antique Show & Auction for 25 years (1991-2014). Smoke Signals eMagazine was founded in 2010 from a desire to share thoughts and facts with the High Noon community and look at what is going on in the Western world while feeding our readers with great recipes and giving advertisers a chance to blow their own smoke.

And hopefully we educate along the way.

Linda Kohn Sherwood, Editor

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