They were glued, one atop the other, apparently as each new release came to town. The find most likely came from one of the three big movie houses in Berwick during that era, Mr. Smith said.
From what the auction buyer was able to ascertain, the valuable stack of Hollywood history was inside a home whose contents were being liquidated as part of an estate sale, he said.
The trove includes extraordinarily rare original posters from the 1931 films “The Public Enemy,” “Cimarron,” “The Front Page” and “Little Caesar.” Some are versions never before seen, while others are among only one or two other known copies. All measure roughly 27 by 41 inches, known in movie parlance as a one-sheet.
James Cagney, Jean Harlow, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Barbara Stanwyck are among the matinee idols gracing several posters, but Bela Lugosi, bug-eyed and menacing in the 1931 ad for horror classic “Dracula,” counts as the star of the auction with a starting bid of $200,000.
An identical poster owned by actor Nicolas Cage sold at auction in 2009 for $310,000.
The films in the posters date from 1930 and 1931, a uniquely permissive time for filmmaking that came after the adoption of sound but before the enforcement of stringent moral guidelines popularly known as the Hays Code. Movies from the “pre-code” era of roughly 1929 to 1934 include sex, violence and social commentary that vanished as the Hays Code censored everything from religious criticism to “suggestive postures.”
The Humphrey Bogart-john Huston version of “The Maltese Falcon,” for example, was a remake of the 1931 original, which later was deemed lewd under the Hays Code for nudity and sexual references and banned from rerelease. A poster for the earlier “Falcon,” featuring smooching leads Bebe Daniels and Ricardo Cortez, is also part of the sale, and the auctioneers say it’s the only one known to exist.
“They were purely a product to be disposed of. . . . They’re not something anyone would have thought to save,” Mr. Smith said in explaining the scarcity of movie ephemera of the era. Berwick had three large movie houses in the early 1930s, and the posters likely came from one of them, he said.
Bela Lugosi gained fame for his role in the 1931 film “Dracula.” The movie poster from the film is considered the star of the posters being sold at auction this month.