The golden age of lobby artwork - the Gaston Collection of early double-sided movie poster art

The golden age of lobby artwork - the Gaston Collection of early double-sided movie poster art

The golden age of lobby artwork - the Gaston Collection of early double-sided movie poster art

Los Angeles - Bonhams is pleased to announce the June 24 auction of Entertainment Memorabilia in Los Angeles. The summer auction features a wide range of collectible items related to our popular culture and includes The Gaston Collection of original movie poster and lobby art. From Long Beach, CA, this collection, comprised of approximately 80 original works of movie display art, portrays such timeless stars as Fred Astaire, Lionel Barrymore, Charlie Chaplin, Claudette Colbert, Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Marlene Dietrich, Errol Flynn, Katharine Hepburn, William Powell, Ginger Rogers, Spencer Tracy and Mae West, among others.

The prevalence of original lobby artwork has largely been forgotten by today's classic movie audience, but in the early part of the 20th century, it was common for individual theatres to hire artists to produce vibrant, original advertising in order to compete not just with other movie houses, but with vaudeville and legitimate theatres as well. Original artwork was significantly more expensive than the studio-issued posters available to theatre owners, but was well worth the extra cost. Vivid, streamlined, and colourful, original lobby artwork drew in crowds as the lithographed poster could not. Unfortunately for modern scholars, most of the lobby artwork produced in the first half of the 20th century, like much advertising ephemera, was either recycled or destroyed.

During the height of the Great Depression, the Gaston brothers--Jerome, Norton and Edward--ran a commercial art business out of a studio located in the basement of the Fox Theatre in Long Beach, CA. Using magazine images and black and white photographs of movie stars supplied by film studios such as Columbia and RKO, the brothers created large "show signs," primarily using gouache on board, that were larger or more vivid--or more closely tuned to what the individual theatre was showing--than the film posters issued by the studio itself. Norton, a portraitist, painted the faces and bodies, while Jerome and Edward did the backgrounds, often including flashy, eye-catching lettering.

The Gastons produced artwork for $6-$40 per piece for theatres in and around the Long Beach, CA area, considered a good salary during the late 1920s and 1930s. Often, the brothers would retrieve the posters once the films finished their runs and recycle the materials to create new works on the backs of previously used panels, even detaching stars' faces from older works and adding them to newer images.

Years later, Jerome Gaston told his son Norton (named in memory of his uncle) that he had preserved a small selection of the family's works, only to lose them when a flash flood ravaged the garage where the panels were stored. After Jerome's passing in 1989, however, the younger Norton Gaston took inventory of the family home and discovered that his father had been wrong: a selection of over 50 examples of the Gaston brothers' artwork had in fact survived.

This collection has remained in the family to the present, and contains the following highlights: "My Man Godfrey," a large, original gouache on board featuring a profile of William Powell, c.1936 (est. $1,000-1,500); "Rafael Sabatini's Captain Blood," a large, original gouache on board, loosely based on the original poster artwork, c.1935 (est. $1,000-1,500); "Marlene Dietrich / Robert Donat in Knight Without Armour," a large, original gouache on board (est. $600-900); and lobby artwork for "Top Hat," a large, original gouache on board, featuring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers (est. $1,000-1,500). The collection also includes original artwork for personality posters of Joan Crawford, Cary Grant, Maurice Chevalier, Ronald Coleman and Warner Oland as Charlie Chan (estimates range from $300-600 each), among others.

Dr. Catherine Williamson, Director of the Entertainment Memorabilia Department at Bonhams, comments on the sale: "The Gaston Collection is a remarkable historical find. Very few records of original lobby artwork exist today—much of those are black and white reproductions, and not the original work itself. To find this quantity of original material still in presentable condition is nothing short of a miracle. Bonhams is pleased to feature these rare and unique double-sided posters in our June auction."

Select works from the Gaston Collection will be on view during the highly anticipated TCM Classic Film Festival at the famed Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood, CA, on April 12-15. For further details please visit

The illustrated auction catalogue will be available online for review and purchase in the weeks preceding the sale at

Preview: June 22-23, Los Angeles

Auction: June 24, Los Angeles

Press Contact: Jannelle Grigsby,, (310) 567-7990


Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The present company was formed by the merger in November 2001 of Bonhams & Brooks and Phillips Son & Neale. In August 2002, the company acquired Butterfields, the principal firm of auctioneers on the West Coast of America. Today, Bonhams offers more sales than any of its rivals, through two major salerooms in London: New Bond Street and Knightsbridge; and a further three in the UK regions and Scotland. Sales are also held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Carmel, New York and Connecticut in the USA; and Germany, France, Monaco, Hong Kong and Australia. Bonhams has a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 25 countries offering sales advice and valuation services in 60 specialist areas. For a full listing of upcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments go to

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