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A detail from the original movie poster for the 1931 horror thriller Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi.

When actor Nicholas Cage auctioned a rare Dracula poster in April, Ralph DeLuca knew he would outbid whomever dared raise their auction paddles against him in an effort to capture a piece of movie history.

The 1931 poster, one of only three remaining from the movie's original run, sold for a stunning $310,700 (U.S.). Mr. DeLuca, who lives in New Jersey, insists that he landed himself a dependable investment.

"I got out of investment banking a couple of years ago and started investing in posters," he says. "The prices keep going up for the really rare things, and I'd rather put my money in something tangible than in stocks."

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Mr. Cage likely agrees - he bought the poster 10 years ago for $77,000. His 303-per-cent gain easily outpaced the minus-10-per-cent total return he would have earned on the S&P 500 over the same time period. British insurance broker Stackhouse Poland said posters have multiplied in value by up to 10 times over the past five years.

"Movie posters not only provide you with great artwork and enjoyment, but have also been a solid proven investment that way outperforms stocks and real estate," says Mr. DeLuca, who offers free appraisals to would-be collectors at ralphdeluca.com.

Replica v. Authentic

If you're only interested in some art for your bedroom wall, there's no need to shell out for an original that once hung in a theatre. The price difference can be considerable: At Toronto-based movieposter.com, an original Dark Knight poster featuring The Joker sells for $354. The replica version goes for $8.26.

The main difference is the original was created to hang in a light box, which means it is double-sided to allow the light to shine through and create a semi-3D effect. Replicas are printed on cheaper stock.

Anyone looking at posters as an investment had best stick with the originals, says Shelly Candle, who owns the Toronto store.

"What you'll see is people buy posters from the movies they love today, and there's a reasonable chance they will go up in value," she says. "They only print so many copies of each and then that's it, so it's your chance to get them at a fairly reasonable price."

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New collectors may also want to consider sticking with posters from movies whose box office success translated to the award's stage, Mr. DeLuca says.

"I always tell people they should start with award winners because at least then you know people will still be interested in those movies in the future," he says.

Buyer beware

The 1977 release of Star Wars changed everything, says Mr. DeLuca. Before then, only hardcore collectors sought out original posters. From that point on, he says, cheap imitations and forgeries have flooded the market to meet demand.

"That's why you have to deal with somebody reputable," he says. "I like to stick with the older stuff, when you can tell it's real just because of the way it looks and feels."

Auction houses are popular stops for aficionados, since they do all the quality control on their behalf - Christie's averages two movie poster auctions a year in London. Its most recent was in March, where a poster for the 1954 Humphrey Bogart/Audrey Hepburn film Sabrina netted $15,480 (U.S.). Experts had expected it to go for between $4,000 and $7,000.

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"There are various film genres which are always very popular with our buyers and collectors," vintage film posters specialist Rachel Reilly says. "These would be the early James Bond films featuring Sean Connery, Hitchcock movies, film noir, Disney animation, horror and science fiction. Box office hits from the Golden Age of Hollywood always command high prices, and film posters featuring cinematic icons are also quite collectible."

Golden Oldies

When it comes to movie posters, most collectors agree that things just ain't what they used to be. In the early 1900s, posters were hand-drawn works of art. Today, they are usually computerized images that offer little in the way of creativity.

"There are exceptions, of course," says Ms. Candle, citing E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and pretty much any James Bond movie as examples. "But mostly now what you see is a big close-up of somebody's face."

She offers a note of caution - just because a movie poster is an authentic original doesn't mean it was released the same year as the film. Movies were often re-released many times, since there were no VCRs to bring them into viewers' homes if they wanted to watch them again.

"The poster everyone thinks of for Gone With The Wind, where he's carrying her while Atlanta burns, that was actually a poster from the 1960s," she says of the 1939 film (the original was an artist's rendering of a woman dashing through the streets).

Once you have your poster, Ms. Candle says common sense should dictate how it's handled. They can be stored in tubes, or can be mounted on cloth in a process called linen-backing.

"It's not really a lot different than comic books or baseball cards," she says. "The cloth is best - it doesn't reduce the value, oddly enough, and collectors sort of expect a linen back on something that is quite old."

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