Lobby Cards are no longer used in U.S. theaters and are rarely produced for today’s films. These small movie posters (usually 11”x14” in a landscape, or horizontal format, printed on card stock) were generally produced in sets of eight, although the number of cards in a set can vary from as few as four to as many as 16.
As the name suggests, these small movie posters were designed for display in a theater’s lobby or foyer with the intention of luring patrons into the theater by showing glimpses of key scenes from the movie. A lobby card set typically consists of one Title Card (TC), a lobby card of special design usually depicting all key stars, listing credits and designed to represent the entire film rather than a single scene, and seven Scene Cards (SC), each depicting a different scene from the movie.
Lobby Cards made their first appearance in the early 1910s around the same time that Charlie Chaplin was breaking into motion pictures. The earliest Silent-era lobby cards were often nothing more than black and white or duotone stills. These were eventually replaced by hand-tinted scenes, and by the 1920s most studios were producing full-color lobby cards.
The collectibility value of lobby cards is influenced by several factors, the most important of which is the graphic appeal of the card itself. A lobby card featuring a closeup of the main actors, or the monster, or depicting a key scene, is much more desirable than a card showing only a distant shot of the stars, or a “dead” card featuring no stars at all. The importance or popularity of the film is another key factor in determining a lobby card’s value.
Certain lobby cards have acquired an almost Holy Grail status among collectors. Prime examples include the Letters of Transit card from Casablanca, the tear-wiping scene from the Wizard of Oz and the lobby card featuring Norman Bates and The House from Psycho. Because these single cards so effectively capture the essence of the movie, their value can often be completely out of proportion with that of any other movie memorabilia from the film.
Other examples include the infamous “grapefruit scene” from The Public Enemy, Orson Welles at the podium in Citizen Kane, the Marilyn Monroe card from The Asphalt Jungle, and the famous crop-duster scene from North by Northwest. This latter example so perfectly captures an iconic moment in film history, that this single lobby card will typically sell for more than most full-size posters from the same movie.