Authenticating Concert Posters

by Andrea Williams

You’re scrolling through eBay or a similar site, and your eye lands on one of your Holy Grail posters. Glee is pouring out when you see it and you’re willing to pay anything to have it in your hands. You get it – hang it on your wall and show it off! Then you start to notice comments online saying… it’s a fake. Your stomach drops, and you look back at that poster that filled you with so much joy and now you’re filled with anguish. We want to share with you some tips on how the professionals are authenticating concert posters for you and me.

Why Authentication Matters

Concert posters have a unique way of taking people back in time to when they were throwing their fists in the air with their friends and hundreds of strangers. To many people, memories are priceless. Concert posters can replay those memories every time you walk past them. The last thing you want to happen is to pay too much money for something you thought was original… and it wasn’t. That’s why it’s important for collectors to educate themselves about authenticating concert posters.

It is easy to fall victim to fake concert posters. A quick eBay search will elicit hundreds of concert posters and some, unfortunately, are fakes. Paying top dollar for a coveted poster only to find out it isn’t authentic can be gut-wrenching. 

You can do the hours of research for each individual poster. Still, you will never truly know what you have unless you send it out to get graded or authenticated. To protect yourself from purchasing fake posters you should stick with buying pieces that are verified by CGC.

There isn’t enough we can write here that can substitute for hands-on years of collecting experience. If you are looking at a site that is well credited, a partner of CGC, or has a verification process, you should be safe. Our tips are for those who are hunting auction sites. You’ll still need to do some research, but at least you will know what to look for the next time YOU want to try your hand at authenticating concert posters!

1. Reproduction vs Scam

Woodstock-220x300 Authenticating Concert Posters

(c) Arnold Skolnick

When a concert poster is well received, or the concert has an anniversary of sorts, the band may make the decision to release a reproduction of the poster. This can be known as a second printing. These are still valuable, as they are typically still created in smaller batches, just not as valuable as an original. Some people like to get the reproduction of a poster for a band that they are going to see live. They’d then try to get autographs from the band on that poster. This would bring the value up slightly. 

Something that has become very common is for someone to represent a reproduction in a way that the consumer believes is an original. Classic Posters has both the original and reproduction of this Woodstock poster. With the original going for $3,500 – $4,500 and the reproduction going for $200 – $300, it’s no wonder why people forge this poster.  It is estimated that 99% of the “originals” you see are fake and are actually reprints. If you are interested in finding out more information on this poster specifically, Classic Posters points out many tricks for you here

2. Dimensions of Original Prints

Each poster has a set selection of prints. Concert posters can be in different sizes depending upon the era. The most common are 11″ X 17″, handbills, and 8.5″ x 11″. Knowing that the poster was only created in 19″ x 24″ makes the cheap 18″ x 24″ you saw on eBay a clear fake. Some places will obscure the exact sizing by using terms like approximately or roughly. If you know the exact measurement of the original, make sure to get the measurements from the seller to double-check. One huge red flag to look for – if the seller doesn’t offer a return policy.  

Often, the reprints (or reproductions) will be either the exact same dimensions with a border – or a different size altogether. They will also have numbers stamped on the back, top of the front, or bottom of the front to indicate a reprint. How do scammers get around that? Simple – scissors. They trim that number off wherever it is located. Any white border that the printer may have put on it to make it look as authentic as possible. So look out for trim lines. Trimmed reprints are worth NOTHING and are the easiest way to scam people. 

3. Rarity

What makes a poster rare? Many factors contribute to the rarity of a poster, including the number of posters printed, if the poster was signed by a now-deceased band member, and even the condition of the poster. If you see a “mint” condition poster from the early 50s, you may need to question it. Most posters from that era are not in mint condition. 

Grateful-Dead-1-180x300 Authenticating Concert Posters

(c) Rick Griffin

There are some posters, like the one shown here, that are extremely rare and fall under a lot of scrutinies when one is found and is for sale. Specifically, this poster is for a concert that never happened. Most of the originals were destroyed. Classic Posters estimates that only 20-25 exist, yet there are always multiple on eBay for auction. How? Reprints. In 1982, there was a second printing of this concert poster with different dimensions and a couple of other identifying indicators that confirm it is a second print rather than an original. 

4. Original Coloring

This is a difficult one. If you are looking at a poster on a computer or phone the colors can vary on the screen.  The older styles of concert posters were created using pressing plates and the fakes are printed. There will be obvious color differences in the ink in one that has been copied. You may need to ask the seller to see it in person. If it is encased and verified by a reliable company, like CGC, then you can rest assured that it is authentic. People can and will use stock images so you should always try to see the poster in person before paying for something you see online. For example, this Led Zeppelin poster has a high number of good-quality fakes out there.  Some are on eBay currently and are going for over $1,000 but they are fake. 

Screen-Shot-2020-06-11-at-1.54.22-PM-1024x356 Authenticating Concert Posters

(c) Randy Tuten & William Bostedt

The best way of determining a fake is by the coloring. In the sky above the ship, it’s a blue/purple mixture. In the fake, it’s a true black. The coloring of the headline is also off. You can see here that the line above the band name is almost non-existent. The original pops off the background a lot more. There are other key indicators, including the green on the bottom and the coloring of the ink in certain places. But once you see the differences it becomes very obvious that bottom images are the fakes.

5. History of THAT Poster

People who sell their posters do so for a reason. Maybe the poster no longer resonates with them. Maybe they have duplicates and they want to offer them to another collector. They could need the cash, or want to trade up for something on their Holy Grail list. The reason behind the sale can hint as to whether the poster is authentic or not. Either way – there is usually a story.

Wherever they decide to list their poster to sell, the description should tell the story of the poster. Not necessarily the content on it, but rather how the owner came to own it. Where did they purchase it? Did they find it? Were they the ones that took it off the wall it was originally hung on? Were they at the concert the poster is advertising? If the seller doesn’t have a story behind the piece, it might be that they printed it and don’t have a creative mind to make up a story. 

Like we said in the beginning, concert posters bring people together and transport them back in time. Collectors, especially, are very passionate about everything in their collection. If they make that decision to sell something they are going to have a story and they will want to tell it! Try to gain some information about the seller and the poster. It’s worth it, and you may get a collector contact you can share wins with.

6. Does the Poster Say the Year?

Most concert posters do not include the year – so if it’s there you should question its authenticity. This is known to many collectors as the most obvious scam. It’s also the first thing authenticators look for when authenticating concert posters. It makes sense if you think about it. When looking at a poster advertising performance for a band at a nearby location, it was obviously meant for the current year. Meaning there would be no reason to include the year on the poster.  Here’s a great example of a heavily scammed poster:

Screen-Shot-2020-06-11-at-4.04.11-PM-300x145 Authenticating Concert Posters

These 3 posters are for the same concert weekend, but for two separate dates. Can you spot the fake? It’s the one with the year on it! In fact, the concert on the 15th was only ever advertised as the listed poster along with the other performers. Only the performance on the 23rd had an individual poster with the date. Still, neither of the originals have the year, 1965.

There are some exceptions, obviously, and we don’t mean to say ALL posters with a year on it are faked. Most classic or vintage posters wouldn’t have a date on them. The more you know about authenticating concert posters, the better chance you have of avoiding scams.

Conclusion

These are some well-known tricks of the trade that should help you on your journey to becoming a well-versed concert poster collector. Scammers are lurking everywhere and they are hoping to find a novice collector to buy their fakes. Don’t be one of those people! Still unsure? Listen to your gut. If your head is thinking, this is too good to be true, it is. If you are on a verified professional website you should be fine. Keep an eye out for CGC graded products. If CGC graded the poster they would have verified it. 

Thanks for joining us in this discussion about authenticating concert posters! Remember, the more you educate yourself, the stronger will be your collecting game. See you next time!