"Mystery of the Maine" Posters & Banner

Value (2013) | $9,500 Auction$13,500 Auction

These are three posters and a banner from a movie made in 1911 called “The Mystery of the Maine.” The battleship Maine was destroyed in Havana Harbor in 1898. It was used as a pretext to start the Spanish-American War. In 1910, the government paid for a project to refloat the Maine and then towed it further out into the harbor and re-sunk it with full military honors. So this was a two-reel, patriotic entertainment documentary, I guess you might say.

The sinking of The Maine was a national event that really gripped the consciousness of America and by many accounts, it was something that was manipulated by the yellow press. Yellow journalism was a phrase coined for the Yellow Kid, a comic that ran in William Randolph Hearst papers. I think yellow journalism refers to the fact that they played fairly fast and loose with the facts. It was more about creating a certain feeling than it was about presenting the truth.

Yes, absolutely. William Randolph Hearst in particular latched onto this incident as a way of promoting the idea of a war with Spain.

How were you able to acquire these pieces of history?

Well, it was just a piece of luck. Late 1970s, I was living in Orange County, saw this stuff coming out the driveway across the street from where I lived for the yard sale, and I was a poor college student at the time and I only had about $20 in my pocket and I said, "How much of this stuff can you give me for $20?" And these are the pieces I got, this plus one other of this poster, which I have framed in my house.

We basically have three different posters for the movie and one banner that was involved in the publicity. Two of the three are clearly marked as having been printed by The Courier Company, a great American lithography company in Buffalo. The larger one is not marked with the Courier imprint, but we have to believe that it was done by the same people because it's of the same quality with many of the same images. As posters, they were printed on paper and they were meant to be glued up to the hoardings outside theaters or on billboards downtown to draw people into the theater. But collectors over the years mounted these paper posters to a linen backing as a way to help preserve them, sort of to give them a little bit more longevity and durability. We can start with the one-sheet, which shows the Maine half-sunk in the harbor. It's got "the most spectacular and awe-inspiring motion pictures" slogan on top. It's trying to get people to come and see the film. But in order to promote a film back in those days, production companies made posters of many different sizes. So in addition to the one-sheet, we also have the three-sheet, which is right here. So we see her in 1898 after she was sunk and we see her in 1911 after she's been raised, and of course very cinematographically, we also see the ship itself blowing up, and again the taglines that should make everybody come and see the film. I think the real graphic pièce de résistance is the largest six-sheet version. Talking about history on pieces of paper, here you have the entire story of the ship, from its glory days in 1898 to the explosion when it sank in Havana Harbor to the years it spent underwater to the time when it was brought to the surface prior to its being re-sunk with full military honors. You have the American flags, you have the bunting. I mean, this really, up on hoardings, I think would have compelled a lot of people to come and see the film. By our estimation, the one-sheet version we feel that at auction would sell between $2,000 and $3,000.

Wow, really?

The three-sheet version we feel would sell between $3,000 and $4,000. And this really monumental six-sheet we think would be between $4,000 and $6,000. Again, as an auction estimate. And I'll also add that you have the banner, and the banner we think is worth about $500.


So the auction estimate of the four pieces we have here is between $9,500 and $13,500.

That's wonderful.

It's $20 well spent. All this and an education, too.

Appraisal Details

Swann Auction Galleries
New York, NY
Appraised value (2013)
$9,500 Auction$13,500 Auction
Anaheim, CA (June 22, 2013)

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