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Setting a record auction price for a poster – Lon Chaney in ‘London After Midnight’ sold for $478,000 (£318,665) at Heritage.

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The New York Times' reviewer did not hold back when it came to the 1927 film London After Midnight, a tale of murder, detectives, vampires and hypnotists. If that reviewer was alive today he or she might be slightly surprised therefore that a movie poster to promote it has become the most expensive sold at auction.

The only known copy of the US release one-sheet from the film was sold for $478,000 (£318,665) at Heritage Auctions in Dallas last month, against hopes of over $40,000, with the buyer described as a "long-time horror movie poster collector who does not wish to be identified".

Missing Film

The key to its appeal is rarity: both relating to the poster and the film itself. "This is one of the most sought-after posters of the 20th century and the only example known to exist," said Grey Smith, director of vintage movie posters at Heritage.

The silent film was released with two different one-sheet posters; this one, a stone lithograph, was done in a sepia tone photographic process, which MGM used frequently during this period. The poster was carefully preserved and Mr Smith doubts it was ever displayed, as it is in such "fabulous condition".

But the poster also now refers to a lost film.

The website www.lonchaney.org describes London After Midnight as "perhaps the most famous of all missing films, and it has become the Holy Grail of archivists and film collectors throughout the world".

But the author concedes that "despite all the mythology and excitement over the film, all indications are that it would be a disappointment if uncovered today".

The movie was actually reconstructed over ten years ago using more than 200 still photographs and a continuity script. Some websites claim that original versions have actually surfaced at times and it seems that at least one copy had been preserved in the MGM vaults until 1967 when a fire destroyed it.

Chaney (1883-1930), born Leonidas Frank Chaney in Colorado, was known as the 'Man of a Thousand Faces' and made his movie debut in 1912. In London After Midnight he plays both a police inspector and dons his usual heavy make-up to play a vampire.

The previous auction record for a movie poster record was the premium-inclusive $453,500 paid for a copy of The Mummy (1932) at Sotheby's New York in 1997. However, in 2005 one of only four known copies of the poster for the film Metropolis, the most famous of all vintage science fiction posters, was sold by London dealers The Reel Poster Gallery to a Californian private collector for $690,000 (£390,000).

The sale at Heritage Auctions took place on November 22 and the buyer's premium was 25/20/12%.