From the seduction of a poster emblazoned with “Egypt, the land of mystery and romance” to the mighty promise that “The most beautiful women in the world summer in Monte Carlo”, the allure of vintage travel posters is still palpable. And with a heightened nostalgia for the golden age of travel, these windows onto a bygone era capture the joy of exploration and adventure even more intensely.
“The 1920s and 1930s marked the beginning of companies commissioning the best artists of the time to design travel posters,” says Nicolette Tomkinson of specialist dealership Tomkinson Churcher. “Hoardings were once the only means of mass advertising, so the artwork had to be good.” Today such posters are highly sought after, with top prices reserved for art deco Riviera designs by Roger Broders, ski posters by Swiss artist Alex Diggelmann, London Transport examples by Edward McKnight Kauffer and shipping and train advertisements by AM Cassandre, who specialised in Machine Age art deco design.
“These posters are far better quality than they needed to be and, when framed, can really boss a room,” says David Bownes, founder of Twentieth Century Posters. “Just beware of reproductions. Originals are made up of flat blocks of colour, as opposed to tiny dots, and the paper is always matte.”
According to Tomkinson, “Ski posters in particular are becoming harder to find and often command a premium”; the top price to date was a 1934 Diggelmann lithograph of Swiss resort Gstaad, which fetched £76,900 at Christie’s in 2016. Currently for sale through Tomkinson Churcher is a 1933 poster of ski resort Megève (£6,000) and a c1930 art deco design of Riviera hotspot Agay, by Roger Broders (£7,000).
While Alpine scenes attract fierce bidding, vintage travel posters are typically “an affordable way to own something of museum quality”, says Kirill Kalinin of London gallery AntikBar, where an original 1969 surrealist poster of Alsace by Salvador Dalí recently sold for just £240, due to its higher print run, quieter design and the fact that posters are seemingly not of interest to serious Dalí collectors. “The market is destination-driven… and it’s changing all the time,” he explains. “Indian travel posters that were selling for £100 or £200 five years ago are going for between £800 and £900 today.” Russian posters are also on the rise; in October last year seven 1930s Soviet designs, enticing the viewer on a cruise along the Volga, a sojourn on the Trans-Siberian Express and a city break to Moscow, tripled their estimate to sell for £10,000 at Ewbank’s auctioneers. As well as injecting colour and character into a space, Kalinin believes “every poster has a story, and people are attracted to that”.
“I love how Barmouth and other UK resorts were often romanticised as being like destinations in the south of France,” says Gordon Lewis, a London property developer with a growing poster collection. At Twentieth Century Posters, a c1912 advert declaring Bognor Regis “The place in the sun” is £400, while a 1951 beach-parasol design for the Jersey Tourist Office is £1,400. In Lewis’s collection, two of his favourites are railway posters, one of the seaside resort of Barmouth, the other for Cader Idris mountain in Snowdonia (for which he paid £825 and £920 respectively) – both of which are close to his Welsh holiday home.
Although railway companies were prolific commissioners of posters, their designs rarely feature trains. “The majority of my sales go to people who have no real interest in railways,” says Bob Smith, owner of Original Railway Posters, “but who are seeking a memento of a place they know.” However, some of the most highly valued posters do feature locomotives, such as the 1952 “Scotland For Your Holidays”, which Smith sold for £2,600, or the 1932 “By Night Train to Scotland”, a modernist design by political cartoonist Philip Zec that fetched £20,500 at Onslows last November. AntikBar has a 1929 Cassandre poster of Antwerp-to-Paris train L’Oiseau Bleu listed at £5,500, while in 2012 a limited-edition print by the coveted artist became the most expensive travel poster in history when it achieved $162,500 at Swann Galleries in New York.
There’s nothing geeky about transport posters, assures Karen Lansdown of Travel on Paper. In fact, they are often “wonderfully glamorous”, like the captivating scene of Corsica’s mountains for French National Railroads in 1955 (£350), or the vibrant 1953 Pan American “Aloha Hawaii” poster by Edward McKnight Kauffer (£1,450), as seen on her website. Jeremy Sacher, a London-based partner at consumer brand investors Trios Partners, considered £25,000 a “fair” price to pay for a pair of 1931 McKnight Kauffer London Underground posters in 2012; one encouraging the public to “Shop between 10 and 4”, the other to “Play between 6 and 12”. “They really lift the spirits,” he says. “I love the strong graphics and typefaces.”
Florida-based biotech venture capitalist Bill Crouse owns what is arguably the world’s best collection of art deco posters. His home, by architect Guy Peterson, houses 150 framed designs (although his collection exceeds 1,000), among them a rare English poster for La Route Bleue by Cassandre (worth $40,000); an iconic “Keeps London Going” outer space design for the London Underground by Man Ray ($120,000); and five 1930s lithographs promoting Australia ($50,000). “Even though these posters are 80 to 100 years old, they fit perfectly into the contemporary architecture of this house,” says Crouse. “Streamlined, geometric and colourful, they have without doubt stood the test of time.”
Where to buy
What to read
Poster to Poster series by Richard Furness. The Art Deco Poster by William W Crouse
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