Our Address: 404 KING'S ROAD, LONDON SW10 0LJ. Telephone: 020 7352 9309. Note: The gallery will be closed on Monday 3 April and over the Easter bank holiday weekend from Friday 14 to Monday 17 April. AntikBar specialises in original vintage posters and most of our stock is listed on this website. Please contact us if you have a specific request as we provide a search on demand service, or visit us at our gallery at 404 King's Road, London. We have put together an introduction to collecting original posters and a brief history of posters. Read more »
Posters are a great way to add colour and an individually unique statement to any room both at work and at home. The variety of sizes, subjects and styles in poster design make them perfect as a gift and adaptable to any interior design, from contemporary to traditional. Original vintage posters are also highly collectible and are widely recognised as a sound art investment. As antique and vintage items, they are also eco-friendly.
This introduction and information is aimed at helping those looking to purchase an original vintage poster for the first time and those who simply want to find out more about original posters. We have put together a brief introduction to the history of posters, tips on collecting original vintage posters and other information we thought might be of interest on topic specific pages, primarily based on questions posed to us at fairs and events. Please visit our Collections Advice page and contact us or visit us at our gallery for more information and to sign up for our next Introduction to Collecting Posters talk (click here for our list of upcoming talks, auctions and other events).
What is an Original Vintage Poster?
Original posters were designed by an artist (sometimes a group of artists) for a particular purpose, intended for display in a public place. In the days before television and modern social media, posters were the only way to reach a mass audience and they were used extensively for advertising and public messages. The physical limitation of the two-dimensional standard size poster sheet presented artists with the challenge of condensing a message into a single graphic form that would stand out on the wall and grab the attention of passers-by. Some of the artists achieved this goal by developing spectacular designs that exuded warmth, comfort and style or rallied the masses to new victories in war and peace. Being very topical, posters absorbed and reflected the prevailing and changing art styles and fashions at a rapid pace and became part of the innovative avant-garde art movement.
‘Original’ in the context of posters also refers to the first print run of the poster. Just like books, some of the most successful designs were re-printed and these posters are also classified as original re-issues. For example, some of the striking designs by Leonard Cappiello from the 1920s were re-issued in the 1930s and again during the 1950s. Movie posters, such as those for the popular 1960s James Bond films were re-issued with the re-releases of the films during the 1970s, using the same designs.
It can sometimes be hard to tell when a poster was printed and if it is an original but there are a few key signs that can help. Please contact us or visit us at our gallery for more information and to let us know if you would like to sign up for our next Introduction to Collecting Posters talk.
What Determines the Price of a Poster?
The most influential factors are rarity (how many are known or thought to have survived), the artist or designer, subject, style, period and condition. It is very hard to place these factors in order of priority because all of them are important. Other factors can also affect the price, such as popularity. At the moment, for example, skiing posters are in high demand, especially for Swiss resorts. This increased popularity has pushed up the prices for skiing posters across the board.
A Brief History of Posters
The poster has been the broad disseminator of ideas and images that have characterised each period of modern history. Posters have reflected social and cultural changes and have led the way to new experimental forms of art, the traditional innovative role of the avant-garde. During the 1920s many artists devoted their work solely to posters and a new breed of artist was born: the graphic designer.
The Machine Age brought about by the Industrial Revolution in the second half of the 19th century completely modernised and changed society. The development of the steam engine and railway created a massive influx of people into cities (the rural population in the UK increased from 30% to 50% in just two decades). Mass production and an abundance of goods fuelled consumerism on a scale not seen before and as companies started competing for business, posters became an ideal way attract new customers. Given their ease of display on walls and high visibility, posters delivered their messages to the masses in the most effective way. Early posters, however, were quite dull and unimaginative using mostly text to deliver their message.
The discovery of colour lithography was one of the major developments that changed poster design. Developed in 1798 by a German playwright, Aloys Senefelder, this process involves applying the design onto a soft stone using a greasy substance. The area of the stone with the picture is then elevated when the surface around it is washed away by an acid solution. This process is repeated for each colour and after applying ink, each stone is then imprinted on the paper to create an image.
Please contact us or visit us at our gallery for more information and to let us know if you would like to sign up for our next Introduction to Collecting Posters talk, which also covers poster printing technologies such as lithography, silkscreen and offset in more detail.
It was not only technology that was needed; the poster needed an artist who was also a skilled lithographer to properly understand the intricacies of the colour balance and develop the potential of the poster as an art form. Jules Cheret, widely recognised as the father of poster art, was able to combine his artistic talent with his knowledge of lithography. Cheret learned lithography in London in 1850s over several visits and was influenced by the colours in the work of J. M. W. Turner.
Cheret ingeniously combined modern English printing technology with a clean-cut approach to colours used in traditional Japanese woodblocks. He imported into France more technologically advanced British printing press machines and reduced the number of colours used in the printing process to four or five from eighty used by other printers. This allowed him to print the posters more cost effectively while producing bolder and well defined, clear cut images.
Cheret’s first poster designs were mostly for Parisian theatres (including the famous Folies-Bergere), manufacturers and tradesmen. He was, without doubt, at the forefront of the new ‘artistic’ poster as it took nearly twenty years for similar designs to be adopted as standard. It was Cheret who elevated colour lithography to the artist’s medium from a purely technical, mechanical process. Having seen his work, a number of artists, including avant-garde masters such as Toulouse-Lautrec, followed his example and experimented with posters.
In just two decades from 1880 to 1900, posters were transformed from a dull eyesore to an art form and soon became collector’s items. The real poster enthusiasts would venture out at night with damp sponges to remove a new masterpiece by Cheret or Toulouse-Lautrec from the walls. In the middle of the 1890s the artistic approach to poster design began to spread around the world. In every country posters experienced a similar enthusiastic reception from advertisers, collectors and artists looking to experiment with this new medium.
Poster exhibitions were held worldwide practically every year: 1894 in Great Britain (London and Leeds); 1895 in the USA (New York, Boston and Chicago); 1896 in Germany (Dresden), Austria (Vienna), Spain (Barcelona) and Belgium (Brussels and Liege); 1897 in Germany (Dusseldorf), Russia (Moscow and Saint Petersburg) and Norway (Oslo); and 1898 in Germany (Berlin) and Poland (Krakow). These exhibitions revealed to the public the beauty of this new emerging art form and influenced both artists and advertisers.
Poster art was further publicised in specialist magazines such as The Poster in Great Britain, The Poster and Poster Lore in the USA, Das Plakat in Germany and L’Affiche Artistique in Belgium. Many magazines also recognised the visual impact of the designs and started employing posters artists to design their covers.
Being very topical, posters absorbed and reflected the prevailing and changing art styles and fashions at a rapid pace and became part of the avant-garde art movement. Artists were drawn to the immediate impact of this media and were often given a free hand in the design of the image. Posters evoke the style of the era and very often survive as the best examples of art movements such as Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Russian Constructivism (for example, Battleship Potemkin by the Stenberg Brothers is considered to be one of the greatest movie posters of all time).
Please contact us or visit us at our gallery for more information and to let us know if you would like to sign up for our next Introduction to Collecting Posters talk, which also covers the history of the poster and some of the main art styles.
Collecting Original Vintage Posters
So where do you start? Regardless of whether you are simply looking for a poster for your wall or if you are planning to start a collection, you should only buy what you like. This way you can appreciate the design and enjoy the piece of art hanging on your wall every day. A good way to establish what appeals to you is to visit poster exhibitions or previews at poster auctions. Books on posters, from those that give a general overview to those that focus on specific styles, may also provide some good ideas and you can browse the inventories and catalogues of dealers in original vintage posters.
Poster prices vary greatly depending on the artist, subject matter, condition and rarity. Advertising posters from the 1960s make a great entry point into collecting as the designs are bright, bold and quirky. Cinema posters represent a good investment and it is best to stick to Oscar winners and cult classics. Certain original poster subjects have been steadily appreciating over the last few years – skiing, for example, especially those promoting the most popular resorts in Switzerland and France; cult films, James Bond and early movie classics have also been on the rise recently.
To find out more, please visit our Collections Advice page and contact us or visit us at our gallery (also to sign up for our next Introduction to Collecting Posters talk). For those looking to start a collection or to acquire a single visual statement for a bare wall, we provide advice and consultations as well as searches on request for that special poster you always wanted but haven’t yet been able to find. Posters make an ideal personal present as they can strike a more intimate note with an individual hobby, time period, travel or subject of a person’s work and other interests. Given the wide variety of subjects covered by original vintage poster art, it is always possible to choose an ideal gift to match a special occasion or event. We also offer gift vouchers in denominations of £50 and £100.