An original copy of the poster for 1932’s horror classic The Mummy could become the most expensive in the world after it goes up for auction at Sotheby’s, which expects the poster to fetch anywhere from $1 million to as much as $1.5 million. Just three original posters for The Mummy are believed to still exist. The other two are in the hands of private collectors, including one that’s owned by Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett.
A stone lithograph printed to promote the film’s debut in 1932, this exceptionally well-preserved poster is a seminal example of the graphic design pioneered by Hollywood studios at the time.
Designed by Karoly Grosz, Universal’s advertising art director, the poster is an early representation of the aesthetics that continue to influence poster design to this day: vivid, painterly splashes of color, a dynamic composition, and minimal white space.
Depicting Boris Karloff, in the title role that cemented his place as a film icon, and Zita Johann, the subject of his mummy’s desire, the poster was exclusively created for theaters’ promotional purposes and never made available to the public. Given the ephemeral nature of posters from this era — most were pasted over or discarded after a film’s run — this piece is incredibly rare: it is one of only three examples known to still exist and remains in its original, unbacked state. After setting the record for the highest price achieved for a film poster when sold by Sotheby’s in 1997 for $453,500, this piece was included in the Whitney Museum’s 1999 exhibition The American Century: Art and Culture 1900-2000.
Sotheby’s is displaying The Mummy poster at its New York galleries from Oct. 14-18.