By the end of the 19th century the possibilities for poster designs were much improved by the process of colour lithography and artistic posters began to flourish in the 1890’s. The Frenchman Jules Cheret is usually referred to as the “Father of the Poster.” The increasing importance attached to advertising in 1890’s gave impetus to the poster movement and the leading Parisian artists were Cheret, Toulouse-Lautrec, Steinlen, Grosset and Bonnard. French posters of this period for the theatre, cycles, cigarettes and drink, range from around £200 to several thousand pounds depending on the artist and graphics.
What to Collect
This article should give the readers a rough guide as to the wide variety of subjects and styles available. What people collect is usually determined by personal taste, interest and budget. The good thing about posters is that they are affordable and you do not have to outlay a particularly large sum in order to put together an interesting collection. Whilst some of the more sort after designs sell for over £5000 you can buy worthwhile examples for around the £1000 mark or much less in some cases.
The Poster in England
The artists who led the development of the poster in England were Dudley Hardy and John Hassall. Hassall designed the famous “Skegness Is So Bracing” poster of the jolly fishermen in 1908. Good examples of travel posters published up to 1914 are rare and tend to be in the £500 – £4000 price range depending on the subject and artist. Theatre posters from this period however offer remarkably good value, if they appeal to you, with prices starting at around £100.
Frank Pick had joined London underground in 1906 and engineered a comprehensive transformation of its publicity operations, employing distinguished modern poster artists to get the best results. He discovered the talents of the American E. McKnight – Kauffer early in his career. Amongst the many artists he employed were Fred Taylor, Frank Brangwyn, Laura Knight, Gregory Brown, F. C. Herrick, E. A. Cox and later the likes of Tom Eckersley, John Farleigh, Graham Sutherland, Edward Bawden, Abram Games and Hans Unger. The subjects range from London’s museums and galleries, to the parks and gardens and the delights of the countryside in the Home Counties all served by the Underground and General Omnibus Co. Prices start at around £200 with the most sought after designs selling for £1000’s. If space is a problem then the smaller format “Panel” posters are a great alternative.
The Great War
Before conscription was introduced in 1916 the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee issued around 160 different posters the first of these were purely letterpress with such slogans as “Why Aren’t You In Khaki?”, “Rally Round The Flag” and “A Call To Arms”. Pictorial posters soon appeared with patriotism in mind showing for example, a recruiting sergeant, John Bull, a bugler sounding fall-in, troops on parade and marching off to war. The National War Savings Committee produced a fair number including designs by Bert Thomas, famed for his “Arf a Mo Kaiser” image and Frank Brangwyn. Appeals were made through posters to raise funds for schemes providing comforts for the troops, help for the wounded, funds for war hospitals, ambulances and canteens. There were also those calling women to make munitions or join up in the WAAC, Wrens or Women’s Land Service Corps. Letterpress posters would start at around £100 whilst a great many pictorial examples are in the region of £150 to £200. Examples of the more famous “Daddy, what did you do in the Great War?” by Saville Lumley, E.V. Kealy’s “Women of Britain Say Go” and Lucy Kemp-Welch’s “Forward” are in the £400 to £1500 price range.
The Second World War
Propaganda posters from this period and including the Spanish Civil War have become hugely popular in recent years. They cover many aspects of the war on the home front including the evacuation of children, air raid precautions, public health, salvage, fuel conservation, Dig For Victory, Civil Defence, the production of munitions, tanks, guns, ships and aircraft to those showing the allied forces in action from Back Them up series as well as the famous Fougasse Careless Talk campaign and the technically brilliant designs of Abram Games. A great many can be obtained fro between £100 to £300, with higher prices for particular posters such as Games’s ATS poster nicknamed the “Blonde Bombshell”, we have sold this rarity for in excess of £3000.
Those posters published by the “Big Four” Railway companies namely the Great Western Railway, Southern Railway, London Midland Scottish and London North & Eastern from 1923-1939 and the post war British Railways have become an established market with impressive growth in prices over the last ten years.
Posters were published depicting most of the towns and cities served by the different companies with subjects including beach scenes and seaside resorts, golfers towns and cities architecture, abbeys and cathedrals, famous landmarks, historical subjects, special trains and services, industry, ports, harbours and ships, areas of outstanding natural beauty also some continental resorts and cities. The most sort after designs are those featuring locomotives, dining cars, bathers, golf and field sports and those in the Art Deco style.
Most posters were published in two standard sizes, double royal (102cm x 64cm) and quad royal (102cm x 128cm.) Prices very much depend on the subject, design and artist, but expect to pay £300 and upwards for an attractive design and prices in the £2000-£5000 range are not uncommon for the most sought after designs. The dream like image of the “Night Scotsman” by Alexander Alexeieff published by the LNER in 1931 and the “Holy Grail” of railway posters sold recently for £34000.
The LNER under William Teasdale as advertising manager, led the way in poster design by employing the finest poster artists of the day. He believed “people must be made to want to travel, to discover the northern ports and beaches and the company served.” The five leading poster designers employed under contract by the LNER, known to them as “The Big Five,” were Tom Purvis, Frank Newbould, Austin Cooper, Frank H. Mason and Fred Taylor. Other artists names to look our for include; Septimus E. Scott, R. Higgins, E. McKnight Kauffer, Kenneth D. Shoesmith, Chas Pears, H.G. Gawthorn and Norman Wilkinson and Fortunino Matania. The post war artists that have become sought after include; Abram Games, Leonard Squirrell, Jack Merriott, Terence Cuneo and Claude Buckle.
Another popular area with collectors. Whether they depict Cunard Liners crossing the Atlantic or ships serving other routes from such companies as Union Castle, Blue Star, Orient Line, P & O or Royal Mail Line there is a strong demand. Good graphic by such artists as Frank H. Mason, Norman Wilkinson, Walter Thomas, Montague B. Black, Odin Rosenvinge and Chas Pears command prices starting at £300-£400 and running to £1000’s for the rarest.
Shell-Mex & BP
This company adopted an unusual way of displaying their posters. All their lorries were fitted with display boards to which the poster measuring 76cm x 102cm were fixed and became know as lorry bills. Between 1920 and 1939 five hundred and forty five designs were published. The Visit Britain’s Landmarks series with the slogan “Everywhere You Go You Can Be Sure Of Shell” which survives today included Rye Marshes and Kimmeridge Folly by Paul Nash, The Great Globe Swanage by Graham Sutherland, Faringdon Folly by Lord Berners, Swaledale Yorkshire by Barnet Freedman and many others. Average prices here are around £400 to £600 but more for certain artist’s designs. A series known as “These People Use Shell” included Journalists by Hans Scleger (pseudonym Zero), Footballers by Paul Nash, Theatregoers by John Armstrong, Actors by E. McKnight Kauffer, Racing Motorists by Richard Guyatt and Airmen by Andrew Johnson. Most of these are in the £800 to £1500 price range. These posters were not printed in large numbers unlike their railway cousins and therefore are scarce and rarely appear in auctions. The smaller posters published by Shell in the 1950’s mainly for distribution in schools are more common. Shell commissioned some of the finest designers and artists of the day and some are undervalued, these could prove a worthwhile investment if they appeal to you.
Empire Marketing Board
From 1926 to 1933 The Empire Marketing Board, with state funds began a massive poster campaign to promote the goods of the empire. The EMB published around 800 different designs and aspired to secure the best from many of the most distinguished designers of the period and the high quality of much of the work produced in a remarkable variety of styles is one reason for preserving and collecting the posters. The majority of these posters were printed in either double crown size (76cm x 51cm) which are more common or the larger quad crown and single sheet sizes which do not survive in quantity. Many of the smaller posters were sent out to schools for educational purposes, which may explain why they survive in greater numbers. Artists and their subjects included Gibralta, Bombay, Malta and Aden by Charles Pears, Motor Manufacturing and Making Electrical Machinery by Clive Gardiner, Sugar Growing Mauritius by E. A. Cox, Gathering Cocoa Pods, Sorting Manganese Ore and Tea Picking Ceylon by Gerald Spencer Pryse, Dairying in Australia by Frank Newbould, Banana Palms by E. McKnight Kauffer, Empire Builders and the Empire Shop by Fred Taylor and East African Transport Old and New Style by Adrian Allinson. Prices range from £300 to £3000.
Early airline posters of the early 1920’s and 1930’s are probably the most difficult to find of all travel posters. Good examples for Imperial Airways depicting their Empire Flying Boats would be in the high hundreds. Those for other companies such as BOAC, BEA from the 1940’s and 1950’s by such artists as Frank Wooton, Lee-Elliott, Abram Games and many unknown designers are more common and affordable with prices generally in the region of £300 to £500 and many of those from the 1960’s under £300.
National Savings Posters were first published in 1916. Many of those published between the wars and after 1945 depict the idyllic countryside of Britain. They are more affordable than railway posters of this period with prices starting around £40 to £60 with some of the best examples rarely over £300.
The Post Office or GPO issued mainly small format posters showing aspects of their services. Artists included E. McKnight Kauffer, H. S. Williamson, Eric Fraser, John Armstrong and others. Again prices for many of these are often under £200 whilst the better artists command prices around £300 to £400.
Hints & Tips
Posters are best displayed framed under ultra violet glass or perspex and always hung out of direct sunlight. If space is limited and you have a number of posters of the same size you could get standard size frames made up that allow easy access so you can change your posters around periodically. Those that are not on display should be kept in folders within acid free paper. We recommend that posters with folds, tears and other damage should be linen backed to prevent further deterioration and for ease of handling and storage.
Courtesy of: Onslow Auctions Limited
Registered Office: Avebury House, St Peter Street, Winchester, Hampshire SO23 8BN