A Brief History of Collecting Vintage Posters

We are all familiar with displaying posters as an art form. For some of us it's a flashback to our youth. I still remember the architectural print of the Acropolis my dad bought for me when we lived in Athens. It hung on my wall for years, simply attached directly to the wall, until one Christmas my mom had it professionally framed. I still own it to this day. Of course it fared better than the Star Wars, Michael Jackson and Vancouver Canucks hockey posters long forgotten as we parted ways at some garage sale before a move.

It wasn't until many years later that the poster and I reestablished a relationship, this time it was at a vintage poster gallery in France where I remember being awestruck by what I saw on the walls. The overall beauty, range in styles, colours, and sizes of these posters were incredible. Upon learning that these beautiful, original pieces were made as early as the 1860s, and gaining an understanding of what it took to produce lithographic prints in those days, my appreciation grew further. I couldn’t get over how much cool history was hanging right there for me to ogle at!

The poster market originated in the 1870s thanks to a Parisian artist named Jules Chéret, now commonly referred to as the Father of the Poster. He invented a printing technique called colour lithography that allowed for the rapid and inexpensive production of images with intense colour and rich texture. He produced many beautiful lithos. In the 1890s, the advertising poster market grew speedily, and posters filled the streets of Paris.    

Unlike fine art paintings, posters were designed to speak to the mass audience. These advertising posters revolutionized the way we do advertising today. I imagine the poster frenzy that ensued on the streets of Paris, which quickly spread to the rest of Europe and the United States. Companies suddenly competed for city wall space with their posters, advertising everything from Champagne, to upcoming cabarets, to laundry detergent. Many ordinary people instantly fell in love with them, forming collector's clubs, attending poster galleries and exhibitions. Many of these posters were produced by some of the best artists of the day. This new mass media made others famous almost overnight. It finally allowed many artists to monatize their artistic talents.

Although posters continued to be designed and printed, the initial collecting frenzy died out by WWI and collecting wasn't revived until the 60s. The vintage poster's popularity has been increasing ever since.  

For at least the last few decades the names of a few key artists have been synonymous with the vintage poster.  These include Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901), who created images of Parisian nightlife. Some his posters have recently sold for over $200,000.  Then there is Czech artist, Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939), the father of the highly decorative Art Nouveau poster, who's works go for tens of thousands of dollars. The italian, Leonatto Cappiello (1875-1942), made posters cool with his simplified style and use of bold colours, often with a black background. A.M Cassandre (1901-1968), known for his futuristic Art Deco style, has also enjoyed particular fame with poster collectors competing to own the limited quantity of posters that he produced.  

Cognac Pellisson Original Vintage Poster

But, aside from these poster superstars there are plenty of amazing vintage posters produced in the early 20th century, many by anonymous artists. In general, poster prices have been steadily increasing, as more and more people discover this amazing art form, and the quantity being so limited. Many of the early posters have not survived being plastered onto city walls and consequently destroyed. Every year less and less posters are available as they disappear into museums and private collections.   

However, at least of the time being, there are still plenty of relatively affordable and excellent vintage posters in a wide range of styles, colours, and themes. As the poster market becomes more sophisticated, people are also discovering amazing vintage posters from many other countries than just France. Examples include the precisely accurate Sachplakat or Object Poster from Switzerland, the purposefully direct German poster, the remarkably fascinating Soviet propaganda poster, not to be outdone by other countries' war propaganda posters.

The vintage poster is moving past the the realm of the niche collector. Appreciation for the poster is growing for a number reasons.  First, because they are able to provide an amazing window into history. They have the power to instantly convey style, ambiance and aspirations of a past era. Second, because they are unique and irresistibly beautiful. Whether it's the intricate style of an Art Nouveau poster, or the simple, futuristic style of an Art Deco poster, it is an remarkable piece of art that can become the centrepiece of any house, apartment, loft, office, restaurant, hair studio, or other interior.

Posted: Dec 14, 2013 | Tagged: collecting, history, vintage posters

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