By now, Izzy and the Olympic rings have been splashed on all
manner of memorabilia, from T-shirts and pennants to key rings
and the ubiquitous pins. But if you're looking for a souvenir
with more lasting value, consider Olympic posters. A record 80
different official posters will be available for the Atlanta
Games, about half of them featuring photographs and half with
artwork. They will sell for $9 to $30 apiece.
The 1912 Stockholm Games were the first to have an official
poster. Like those for later Olympics, the first was printed in
several languages. The Japanese version of the 1912 poster might
sell today for more than $5,000.
Although three of the first four modern Olympics (the Games of
1896, 1904 and 1908) didn't have official posters, poster-sized
reproductions of the program covers from those Games were
printed later. "For the earlier Games you have to settle for
something that has a connection to those Olympics," says Robert
Christianson, of Brooklyn, who has one of the world's largest
collections of Olympic artwork. His collection includes a poster
of the 1896 program cover and period posters such as one from
the 1900 World Exhibition in Paris that shows a female fencer.
The World Exhibition poster doesn't even mention that year's
Paris Olympics, but the International Olympic Committee, which
makes its own judgments on what qualifies as Olympic
memorabilia, considers it a poster from those Games.
Posters from Christianson's collection will be on display at the
Merchandise Mart in downtown Atlanta during the Games. His
originals aren't for sale, but others will be at a special
auction there on July 30.
Until recent years few people bothered to hang on to their
Olympic posters. "The rarity has nothing to do with the number
that were initially printed," says Jack Rennert, a poster-art
dealer in New York City for 27 years. "In 1924, 10,000 copies of
the poster from the Paris Games were printed, but few were
saved." Of the more than 240,000 copies of the 1936 Berlin Games
poster--German artist Frantz Wurbel's design of a golden Adonis
with a chiseled jaw and steely eyes--most were discarded after
the Olympics or destroyed during World War II. Only 100 or so
remain, and they draw auction prices upwards of $10,000. "People
have a strange fascination with those Games," says Peter
Diamond, senior vice president of NBC's Olympic programming and
an avid collector of Olympic memorabilia. "There were great U.S.
athletes competing, and it was an incredible social setting."
One of the more unusual posters is from the 1956 Summer Olympics
in Stockholm. You might ask: Weren't the '56 Summer Games held
in Melbourne? Indeed they were, but the Australian government
would not allow animals into the country, so the equestrian
competition was held in Sweden. Even the dates on the poster,
June 10-17, were different from those of the Melbourne Games,
which took place in the Southern Hemisphere's spring, from late
November to early December. Forty thousand copies of the
Stockholm poster, bearing a design by Swedish artist John
Sjovard, were printed. Only a few remain, and each is worth up
The Japanese were the first to use photographs in official
Olympic posters. For the 1964 Tokyo Games, Japanese graphic
artist Yusaku Kamekura created three designs, using photos of a
torch bearer, a swimmer and a group of sprinters, respectively.
"The photos express the whole mystique of the Games," says
Rennert. Those three posters were so popular that Kamekura, now
81 and living in Tokyo, has only one copy left of each.
Olympic posters are a sound investment. "They increase in value
in a short time, which is unusual," Rennert says. "They are sure
to double in value within two years of the Games, so you can't
go wrong buying them." But beyond that, the posters are
"They are evocative of something that people like," says NBC's
Diamond. "For me, they are a way of looking at the Olympics
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: IOC ARCHIVES/OLYMPIC MUSEUM COLLECTION Posters from the Berlin and Stockholm Games sell for as much as $10,000 and $5,000 respectively. [Poster for 1936 Berlin Olympics]
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: POSTER PHOTO ARCHIVES, POSTERS PLEASE INC. [See caption above--poster for 1912 Stockholm Olympics]
COLOR ILLUSTRATION: POSTER PHOTO ARCHIVES, POSTERS PLEASE INC. Melbourne hosted the Games in '56, but equestrians competed in Stockholm; Kamekura's photos froze athletes in mid-stride in Tokyo. [Poster for 1956 Olympic equestrian events in Stockholm]
COLOR PHOTO: IOC ARCHIVES/OLYMPIC MUSEUM COLLECTION [See caption above--poster for 1954 Tokyo Olympics]