Movie lobby cards are similar to posters yet much smaller, usually about 11 x 14 inches. They are collectible and come in sets of 8, sometimes 4-6, and as many as 15 have been created. In the UK they were known as “Front of House” cards and were usually 8 x 10 inches.
They had their beginning around 1913. By the 1920s these initially simple photo sets evolved into a very advanced, decorative art form. Printing in color was not possible at this time so they were colored by hand. Many collect based on an actor (like Marilyn Monroe), a movie series (like James Bond), or even from a certain studio (like Hammer Horror).
The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University holds a collection of lobby cards from silent western films that date between 1910 and 1930. Private collectors buy and sell on eBay all of the time.
In the days before multiplexes, movie theaters generally only had one screen and one movie. To boost ticket sales, studios printed paper advertisements (Lobby Cards) for their films to entice potential audience members.
In the sets, following the title card were several “scene” cards, which featured still shots from the film. The first two or three scene cards generally promoted the major stars; the two or three after that usually showed minor actors. the last cards were usually of scenery, known as “dead” cards.
Lobby cards were phased out in the mid-1980s. They are still produced for foreign film markets, however, so some collectors obtain lobby cards for new films from abroad.
- Title cards are considered the most valuable, followed by those with major actors, those with minor actors, and finally the dead cards. Collectors generally only bother with dead cards when they are trying to complete a full set.