Posters

A great way to decorate your walls and a serious collecting area, posters at auction are becoming ever more in vogue.

Ski poster for Valle d'Aosta by Arnaldo Musati

This vintage 1970s re-issue of the 1950s ski poster for the Valle d'Aosta in Italy, designed by Arnaldo Musati, sold for £275 at Antikbar in August 2020.

The sector has a wide range of styles and subjects, with examples promoting travel destinations, famous movies, concerts, sport and all manner of products being among the popular groups in this market.

There are also propaganda posters and large sheet-versions of famous photographs that appear frequently at auctions, not to mention Titanic posters which are almost a category all to themselves.

Posters remain a highly collectable area of the antiques market thanks to their artistic style, historical interest and wall power. Whatever your taste, you’ll find plenty of attractive posters to suit your budget at auctions on thesaleroom.com.

The market

The poster, as we know it, dates back to the 19th century when the innovation of high-speed colour lithography by Jules Chéret made the mass production of posters possible. His pioneering techniques brought this new and exciting art form to the masses.

Salmson 10 HP poster

A 1920s French lithographic poster designed by Rene Vincent promoting the Salmson 10 HP automobile. An early and rarely available copy, it sold for £2500 at Tennants in September 2020.

The application of this new artform to commercial and industrial use spread quickly throughout Europe and was adopted to advertise everything from bicycles to absinthe. By the 1970s, what schoolboy, schoolgirl or student didn’t have a poster of their favourite singer, band or film actor on their wall?

The vintage posters market, however, was not seriously established until the 1980s but nowadays many auction houses offer both vintage and modern posters regularly in their general sales or a specialist picture and collectables sale. A few auctioneers may also hold a dedicated poster sale too from time to time.

Prices range across a wide field – many eye-catching posters can be bought for under £50, while rare collectable examples can fetch sums running into the many thousands. Posters will sometimes be offered as single lots, or they may appear as group lots along with a number of other items.

Guinness poster

‘Have a Guinness when You are Tired, (Tortoise)’, a large lithographic poster designed by John Gilroy to promote the famous stout that sold for £350 at Woolley & Wallis in March 2020.

What do buyers look for?

While most people buy posters with the idea of hanging them – often providing a talking-point as well as visual enjoyment – the rarer examples can make good investments as prices have risen over recent decades.

Early posters of The Beatles for example were once sold for very little money but nowadays can be worth thousands of pounds.

Beatles A Hard Day's Night poster

A US poster for The Beatles’ first movie ‘A Hard Day's Night’ (1964), linen backed, that sold for £550 at Ewbanks in August 2020.

There are several factors which determine the value of a travel poster: 

Theme: Popular themes such as British Rail travel posters, London Underground billboards or posters promoting glamorous locations such as St Tropez or Monaco are considered more desirable. Promotional posters for early concerts of soon-to-be-famous artists and bands are also highly sought-after. If they are signed, all the better.

Rarity: Posters with a limited production run or where few examples have survived generally command a premium. Sometimes the first poster print-run to promote a film or event was quite small and so examples tend to be worth a lot more when they become available.

Designer: If the creator is a recognised artist (such as Roger Broders, Emil Cardinaux and Edward McKnight Kauffer) the poster naturally becomes more valuable.

Originality: To be valuable, some posters must belong to the printing designed by the artist originally. Later print-runs where the original artist had little or no involvement are worth much less.

Print method: posters dating from around 1880 to 1950 were mostly produced using stone lithography that gives the poster a particular colour and texture. This method of production is no longer cost-effective for advertisers, which make vintage originals even more desirable. The location of printing can also be a factor with some posters.

Condition: Vintage posters, like most antiques offered at auction, will have a significant portion of their value affected by condition. Unlike other areas however, posters are normally graded from A to D according to their state (ranging from optimum condition through to needing restoration). Many posters at auction are linen-backed, which is done by adding a protective material behind the poster to hold it firm. This can help it remain in good condition for longer.

Popular categories

The huge number of subjects available when it comes to buying posters at auction means there really is something for everyone, but here are a few popular categories:

Travel posters: Vintage travel posters are one of the largest collecting fields in the poster market. Nostalgia for an era when travel offered excitement and glamour has fuelled this demand. Collectors can choose from a vast range of designs promoting domestic trips or world travel predominately by rail companies as well as airline and liner companies.

Sobha Singh poster

This poster promoting India as a travel destination was designed by artist Sobha Singh and dates from c.1935. Published by the government of India and printed by Claridge & Co in Bombay, it had some damage and loss to the upper left but sold at Forum Auctions in September 2020 (along with three other posters in the lot) for £600.

Ski posters is an area which over the last decade has established a solid collecting field combining the themes of travel and sport.

Traditionally, prestigious resorts, usually French and Swiss locations, have carried a premium. If a glamorous resort and a top artist combine, such as St Moritz and Emil Cardinaux, then prices can be particularly strong.

Music: Posters of famous singers, groups and events remain highly popular as fans track down images of their favourite artists. Some of the most sought-after include posters of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Who, as well as posters promoting their early or most famous concerts.

Movies: from Star Wars and James Bond, to Gone with the Wind and Citizen Kane, most big-name films have an active collecting market when it comes to promotional posters. But lesser known cult-films or movies launching the career of a well-known star can also be highly collectable.

James Bond Diamonds Are Forever poster

A British quad film poster for ‘James Bond – Diamonds Are Forever’ (1971) starring Sean Connery that sold for £380 at Martel Maides in June 2020.

Advertising: promotional posters relating to cars, motorbikes, cigarettes, food and drinks have appeal not just for their decorative quality but also as pieces of social history. Some of the biggest brands of their time produced high-quality designs that are now regarded as pieces of advertising history.

Sport: posters promoting events such as the Olympics and World Cup remain popular at auction. Brilliant designers were often commissioned to produce these images that has meant they have become some of the most striking and memorable posters ever produced.

1972 Summer Olympics Munich poster

An original poster for the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich featuring a stylised and colourful design by artist Allen Jones. It sold for at £170 Antikbar in April 2020.

What to do next?

Decide how much you’d like to spend and use the search facility on thesaleroom.com to find posters coming up for sale.

You can filter your search by, among other things, price and by location of the auction house to narrow down your selection.

To research recent prices at auction to see how much different posters sold for you can also try out the Price Guide.

If you are new to bidding check out our guide to buying at auction – it’s easy once you know how.

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