Rescued From the Trash, a Trove of Preview Reels for Films From ‘Psycho’ to ‘Jaws’ Heads to Auction

Among the rarest finds are trailers for "Goldfinger," "Thunderball," and "A Hard Day’s Night."

Previews for Brief Encounter and The 3rd Man. Photo courtesy of Excalibur Auctions.

Gather around, children, and let me tell you a tale. Before streaming platforms allowed us to watch movies from the comfort of our couches, we used to go to special places called “theaters” to watch movies, which were shown by shining light through a piece of plastic onto a screen. And after the movies ended, there were short teasers for other movies coming soon to the same theater, which we then called “trailers” (because they trailed the film, you see).

Hundreds of historic trailers in their original metal canisters, literally saved from the trash by a film lover who was in the right place at the right time, are being offered for sale at auction house Excalibur, in Kings Langley, northwest of London (through May 27). They include many of the most legendary films of the 20th century—from thrillers like Brides of Dracula (1960) to James Bond flicks like Goldfinger (1964) and the Beatles in A Hard Day’s Night (1964) and Help! (1965); and from Psycho (1960) and La Dolce Vita (1960) to Jaws (1975).

Film preview frames and canisters holding preview reels for the Bond film Thunderbolt

Previews for Thunderball 1965. Courtesy Excalibur Auctions.

The trailers for Goldfinger, A Hard Day’s Night, Help! and Thunderball are among the top-priced lots. Bidding for even some of the priciest items starts at £500 ($630). The sale includes some 1,000 lots.

The canisters have a history that could itself be the subject of a feature film, if we were going to go all meta on you. 

Film frames from the 1960 movie Psycho and canisters holding the films

Preview reels for Alfred Hitchcock’s film Psycho ((1960). Courtesy Excalibur Auctions.

Five years ago, a building in northern England had the trove of film reels in storage. They had languished there for a quarter-century, since the late ‘90s closure of a leading company for the production of film publicity materials. With literally minutes to spare, according to the auctioneer, a film director became aware that the reels were headed to the trash and informed a few collectors and industry insiders, who joined forces to save the previews for movies from the 1920s to the ‘70s in their original tins. 

Among the rarest finds, said Excalibur, are the trailers for Goldfinger and another Bond flick, Thunderball, and the promotional featurette for A Hard Day’s Night, showing the Fab Four discussing their first feature film, possibly not seen or published since 1964. Some of the other tins also include material that may never even have been shown, said the house. 

Film frames and canisters holding preview reels for the Beatles movie A Hard Day's Night

Preview materials for the Beatles’ film A Hard Day’s Night (1964). Courtesy Excalibur Auctions.

The collectors and insiders whisked these thousands of film reels to a secure location where they remained in a controlled environment in a storage system purpose-built to house them; when the owner took control of the building five years ago, the owner opted to bring the holdings to Excalibur. 

Jonathan Torode, principal auctioneer and lead valuer, balks at even assigning a total estimate for the sale, saying, ​​“The entire auction has been arranged to allow the market to decide the true value of these unique pieces. As nothing like this has been offered for sale before, there hasn’t been a precedent. Some may sell for hundreds, others thousands, it depends totally on the fans, or museums, as these are a piece of cinematic history.”

“We are thrilled to have been appointed to sell this important slice of film history,” Torode added. “This unique archive of over a thousand lots is a must for any film buff, as you are attaining a true piece of cinematic past, the like of which is hardly ever seen on the open market. Its exceptional provenance adds to its historic importance.”

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