This Vintage Poster Dealer Traded Life in Maui for a Shop in North Beach
Andrew England shuns e-commerce. The Internet may be killing print and retail, but he’s content selling vintage posters in his North Beach brick and mortar space. England’s store, Real Old Paper, (801 Columbus Avenue) isn’t the kind of business you stumble upon every day; there's a little something for everyone inside. Prices for his posters range from $20 to $10,000. The selection varies from the classic yellow Parapluie-Revel to a pristine Wonder Woman cutout poster. (Wonder Woman, in her untarnished state, is worth more than $1,000. The yellow umbrella poster is worth ten times that much.)
For England, the poster shop is more than a day job. Vintage posters are his passion. He’s been collecting them for more than decade. When England and his wife, trainer Jenn Philpot, decided to move back home to San Francisco from Hawaii, England used his personal collection—numbering in the hundreds—to start Real Old Paper.
His shop isn't San Francisco's first vintage poster gallery, but it's one-of-a-kind when it comes to approachability. "There used to be a huge dealer [in San Francisco], one that I visited when I was just a sales rep. I would go into her shop and there would be six or seven posters that were $30,000 each," England recalls. "She must have been there for 20 or 30 years, and then she retired and went online four or five years ago."
When England opened his gallery in 2016, he decided to blend the hundred-year-old ads typically associated with the term "vintage posters" with travel posters from the 50s and 60s, and movie posters from the 70s and 80s in his space. "I sell the Goonies and James Bond movie posters; the things I thought were cool. Nobody had really done that. So I have the 115-year old $4000-$10,000 posters, but I also have these $400-$500 posters."
Below, Andrew talks about life as a San Francisco shop owner, and the drawback of selling things you love.
Rockyt: Why did you decide to open a vintage poster gallery?
Andrew: I worked in a poster gallery for a long time, so it’s an industry I’m comfortable with. I got into it because of how cool I thought posters were. I’ve been a movie fan for a long time, so I started collecting movie posters a long time ago. Then, when a friend of mine bought a large liqueur poster from France that was 90–100 years old, I started asking lots of questions. I wound up working at that gallery. I caught the bug as a hobby, and it started to become what I did for a living.
Rockyt: How did you choose North Beach?
Andrew: It just made sense. Especially when I saw this place was available. I needed the wall space. I’d never been able to hang [the Parapluie Revel hanging on the back wall of the gallery]; I’d had it for five or six years. It was just rolled up under my bed, and I would unroll it sometimes in a big enough place. This is the first time I’ve ever had it on the wall. This place, the neighborhood was perfect. It’s very walkable, with good foot traffic. You need an area where you’re going to get foot traffic. You need fresh clientele, where people are going to stumble upon you and what you do since posters are somewhat unique. It’s not something you see in every city, so it gets random people in the door. That’s also why I try to keep the price points super accessible.
Rockyt: What the best part of having your own shop?
Andrew: Probably getting to set my own hours. Especially now, with the family, it’s nice to be able to say that Sundays are family days. I’m really fortunate to have turned my hobby into my business, so going to work means looking at these cool things that I have, and if somebody else thinks they’re just as cool as I do, then I can make money doing that. I feel really lucky.
Rockyt: What’s the hardest part?
Andrew: In some cases, it’s getting rid of something I’ve owned for five or six years; something that I bought thinking I was going to have it forever and—in the limited world that I deal in—I may never see it again. Parting with things I thought I was going to always have. I’ve definitely sold things I wish I hadn’t.
Rockyt: Take me through your average day at Real Old Paper.
Andrew: I walk and take the train here, so it starts with a 40-minute commute—a couple miles’ walk through the Financial District and the Mission, so it’s fun. I open at noon. I wave at all my neighbors throughout the course of the day. And then it’s either responding to shipping logistics, getting out things that have sold, or looking through the auction catalogs and estate sales . Through the course of it, I help people as they wander in. I get random business more than I get return business, so I have to be here ready to show people stuff. I might have a couple of beers after 2 or 3 o’clock, and then I walk home, hang out with the family, and have dinner with them.
Rockyt: What do you do on your days off?
Andrew: I hang out with my family. Sunday is family day. We go to the Exploratorium, we go to the park, we go out to lunch. [My daughter] is two and a half and [my wife] really raises her. I contribute what I can with my time, so I take advantage of being able to spend a lot of time to see her grow. I used to work until 7 pm, but then I rolled the hour back to 6 pm because I was missing bedtime. Sundays, I still have the same kind of idea. I’m going to spend the day with her and my wife. That’s usually what I do. On Mondays, I play frisbee in Golden Gate Park.
Rockyt: What makes your store unique?
Andrew: The subject matter—it’s not something you encounter very often. I have a decent portion of [smaller prints] people are meant to look through on their own, so people can kind of make their own discoveries like I get to. That’s part of what I enjoy so much. Finding things that were meant to be thrown away and saving them and taking them home. It’s kind of like letting people go antiquing. I don’t think there are many galleries that offer that tactile experience. It’s a pretty casual vibe with a casual price range. It’s not a scary place to be where everything’s four digits, five digits. You can spend twenty bucks here, or you can spend two hundred.
Rockyt: How do you hire staff for a business like this?
Andrew: I don’t have any employees. It’s hard showing a collection and having an understanding of the history of the inventory. I’m not trying to talk myself up at all, but it’s what I’ve done for so long that I can do it comfortably. It’s hard to train someone to do that.
Rockyt: How did you learn about vintage posters?
Andrew: Research. There’s a fair amount of literature. It’s a knowledge you can pick up along the way. And, working for the bigger dealer like I did in Hawaii. He’s super knowledgeable; and his colleagues are now my colleagues. I’ve always asked questions, and I’m always really open about when I’m not sure, or I don’t know. There’s 150 years of this to absorb. It’s an art-form, but not super well documented. A lot of these aren’t numbered editions. You have to dig out the research, but that was important to me when I started collecting them—that I was sure I was buying authentic things and that I’m sure when I’m selling them.
Rockyt: Show some love for your fellow local business owners. What are your three favorite stores in San Francisco?
Andrew: Cliff’s Variety. I’m not an artist, but I think Cliff’s is amazing. Blick is amazing, too. Just the color intake. And, it’s going to sound bad, but probably St. Clair’s, the liquor store that’s down the road from my house for beers and chips.
Real Old Paper, located at 801 Columbus Avenue in North Beach, is open Tuesday–Saturday from 12 pm-6 pm.