The last 10 years have seen a renaissance in vintage poster collecting
in the United States. The last time that posters were so avidly
collected, they werent "vintage" at all; they were
the newest thing to hit the streets of Paris.
the turn of the 20th century, color lithography had just come into
its own, making it possible to produce large, bright images for
public display. The results, by masters like Jules Cheret and Alphonse
Mucha, not only illuminated the dreary streets of Paris, but electrified
the minds of Parisians. They were thoroughly smitten with this new
medium, which, for the first time, allowed people to bring color
into their homes inexpensively.
The appeal of posters has always been their size, bright colors,
catchy images and relatively inexpensive price. But there was a
further appeal: posters were "art of the street." Prior
to their widespread appearance, art was basically relegated to the
salons and haute monde of the Parisian art world. In contrast, posters
werent pretentious or exclusive. This new art form was accessible
Ironically, this very aspect also poses a problem. Despite examples
by established artists such as Toulouse-Lautrec, Bonnard and others,
posters have always suffered from a certain lack of respectability.
They were created, after all, as ephemeral advertisements. As such,
they were seen as a lesser art form.
From their introduction onto the streets of Paris, poster lust
spread to the rest of Europe, Britain and eventually, the United
States. Such was the universal interest that tangential industries
began to develop; print dealers issued poster catalogues, trade
magazines sprang up catering to new found enthusiasts.
With the onset of World War I, despite a prodigious output of American
posters on behalf of the war effort, American enthusiasm for collecting
posters diminished, except as souvenirs. Intrepid travelers brought
them home from Paris as mementos of a lost era the fin de
siecle/belle epoque world of dancing girls, absinthe and café-concerts.
the intervening decades, posters became the domain of interior decorators
and bistro owners seeking evocative images to set the mood in their
restaurants. The few American poster dealers were, for the most
part, people who had fallen in love with the images on trips to
France, saw how inexpensive they were, and realized that there was
money to be made exporting them to America for resale. Theirs was
not a high end, organized field of business.
A newly active American poster market developed in the 1970s, but
with a level of interest and relatively low prices that relegated
posters to the status of fringe collectibles.
Within the last 10 years, however, that has changed. The number
of poster auctions conducted in the United States increased from
two in 1990 to at least eight in 2002. There are now vintage poster
fairs in New York, Florida, Chicago and San Francisco. The International
Vintage Poster Dealers Association was formed by the worlds
most prominent poster dealers on the clear understanding that the
industry was growing too big, too fast and that it would be wise
to oversee this growth.
Sophisticates have come to appreciate posters as an important part
of the history of graphic art. But the great thing about posters
is that you do not have to be sophisticated to enjoy them. The criterion
for judging a poster can be simply "does it make you smile?"
It is a much easier field to enter than other collecting areas.
Nor do you have to be rich.
and more attention is being paid to American posters. Savvy collectors,
looking to less-explored branches of the medium, are finding that
American posters are just as good, and in some cases, better than
their European counterparts.
One of the largest growth areas over the last 10 years has been
American posters produced between the two World Wars. World War
I pieces, such as James Montgomery Flaggs iconic I Want You,
despite having been issued in large numbers, many of which survive,
bring upwards of $10,000 at auction. Joseph Binders prize-winning
poster of the Trylon and Perisphere for the 1939 New York Worlds
Fair averages $4,000. Norman Rockwells patriotic World War
II quartet, The Four Freedoms, fetches over $3,000. And there is
considerable demand for American ski posters.
Clearly, the wave that began in France has reached American shores.