2015-06-26 10:44:50

Posters can be used as a method of advertising products and businesses, and as a form of decorative art sometimes featuring reproductions of original artworks. They are used to deliver political messages by governments and opposing parties (often in the form of propaganda), promote public information campaigns (such as safety advice), offer educational information and advertise events such as upcoming cinema releases, music concerts and theatre productions.


17th and 18th centuries
The history of posters can be traced back to the 17th century in the form of advertisements and playbills, but these early forerunners were small and only featured text.

The poster as we know it today began to take shape during the Industrial Revolution, as the development of larger printing presses and the invention of lithography by Alois Senefelder in 1798 led for the first time to colourful posters featuring images which could be produced in large numbers.

19th century
The process of lithography was slow and cumbersome at first, but over the next few decades it developed and by 1848 it was possible to print 10,000 sheers per hour.

However, it was the pioneering efforts of French artist and lithographer Jules Chéret that led him to be known as ‘the father of the poster’.

His development of the three-stone lithographic process led to a breakthrough which allowed artists to achieve every colour in the rainbow with as little as three stones printed in careful registration.

His poster designs during the 1870s and 80s were famed for their vibrancy, colour and use of image. He transformed Paris into “the art gallery of the street”, creating over 1000 posters advertising theatres, cigarettes, alcohol and other numerous products.

It is believed the hobby of poster collecting began during this time, as his popularity meant many of his posters were stolen as soon as they were pasted up.

His work influenced many artists who helped the poster craze develop during the ‘Belle Epoque’ of the 1890s.

Artists such as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Alphonse Mucha elevated the form to the status of fine art, and collectors and dealers began to appear.

Early in the decade, the pioneering Parisian dealer Sagot listed 2200 different posters in his sales catalogue.

Mucha’s work in particular was pivotal in the development of the Art Nouveau style that would become the major international decorative art movement up until World War I.

20th century
The First World War saw posters develop as important propaganda tools.

In The United States posters were used to recruit men and raise vital money to fund the war effort. It was the world’s biggest ever advertising campaign, and the American government produced around 2,500 poster designs and approximately 20 million posters (nearly one for every four citizens) in just over two years.

Posters created by the Russian constructivist movement were also powerful weapons of propaganda for Lenin and the Bolshevik revolution, and their striking modern designs are still influential today in the world of modern graphic design.

For the first time during the 1920s Russian artists pioneered the first use of photographs in their poster designs.

The growth of the cinema industry during the early years of the 20th century saw movie posters begin to appear, and although many American advertising posters were not as artistically inclined as their European counterparts the movie poster artists of the 1920s and 30s produced incredible images which are now the most valuable and sought-after vintage posters on the market.

Posters were once more used to strong effect during World War II, and lithography was replaced by the mass production technique of photo offset (used for newspapers and magazines).

The post-war years saw Swiss poster artists come to the fore, and their developments of the ‘object poster’ style and ‘international typographic’ style have had a profound influence on modern design.

The 1960s saw the creation of the ‘conceptual image’ style which was heavily linked to the psychedelic movement of music and art.

The style, which borrowed freely from surrealism, pop art, expressionism and art nouveau was best illustrated by the psychedelic poster craze in the United States during the decade which saw bands such as the Grateful Dead use the style for concert and music festival posters as well as album artwork.

Types of poster

During the Belle époque, artists adopted the poster as a common medium for their work, after Henri de Toulouse Lautrec popularised the poster. Art Nouveau artists such as Alphonse Mucha followed suite and elevated the poster to the status of artform. Original copies of these antique art posters become rarer as time goes on, as they were often items of ephemera, produced to advertise a local venue or product, and not necessarily intended to be preserved.

Reproduction posters of artworks are commonly printed to allow everyone to own and display a piece of art for a fraction of the price of the original. Sometimes limited edition runs of these posters are printed and signed by the artist, thus making them collectible in their own right.

Some artists designed the posters to advertise their exhibitions, notably Picasso. These can be very sought after, especially rare and elusive examples.

Advertising posters are some of the most popular advertising collectibles. They replaced advertising signs on metal, porcelain and glass, as they were cheaper and easier to produce and transport.

Advertising posters can be found on numerous subjects, for example beer, chocolate, cigarettes, clothing, vehicles, travel, and events, and in numerous different styles and designs.

They were often posted up outdoors, subject to the ravages of weather, and torn down or pasted over when time passed. This means that some become extremely hard to find. Vintage Chanel posters are an example of popular advertising posters.

Movie posters were originally produced for the exclusive use of theatres showing the film. Copies were supposed to be returned to the distributor, the National Screen Service in America, after the film stopped showing. In the 1980s, film studios began taking over the production and distribution of posters, and the collectors’ market for certain examples became evident.

When the National Screen Service ceased being in charge of movie poster production, many of the examples they had in storage found their way to private collectors and film poster dealers.

Collectible movie posters are generally vintage examples from classic films, such as Casablanca. There is great interest in rare foreign examples such as USSR posters for American films, as well as some posters that were printed in error, or with a title that was later changed such as the Star Wars Revenge of the Jedi poster. Some collectors focus on one genre, such as 1930s horror films, like Vintage Bride of Frankenstein movie posters. Others focus on one film star, such as Marilyn Monroe movie posters. There are also certain film franchises that receive a lot of attention, such as vintage James Bond film posters.

Music concert posters were initially printed to promote the concert, items of ephemera pasted up all over town, torn down or pasted over after the date of the concert passed.

They began to be saved by fans of the musical acts and performers during the 1970s. From this point, posters began to be printed deliberately for collectors. However, many collectors refuse to purchase reprints, wanting only posters which were printed for the sole purpose of selling tickets.

In the 1960s, graphic design became strongly linked to the music scene, and some incredible creativity arose out of the process of creating posters to advertise musical events. Psychedelic posters are particularly sought after, as are vintage Bill Graham series concert posters.

Political campaign
Political campaign posters are used by politicians and political parties to encourage people to vote for their campaign. They are used to communicate the underlying message of a political party, and the intentions of their leaders.

Some collectors favour one particular candidate, even one particular campaign such as a run for presidency, others may focus on one political party.

They also track developments in method, from very plain woodcut posters, to lino cuts and lithographs, and later the widespread use of photography.

Propaganda posters have long been used during times of conflict, to justify involvement, to procure troops and resources, and to encourage morale. For example, the famous and iconic Uncle Sam recruiting poster encouraged voluntary conscription during World War I. Liberty Bonds posters were produced during World War I to encourage the purchase of Government War Bonds to raise funds for the American military.

There has been so much propaganda produced by nations and governments throughout the 20th century, and much of it has become extremely collectible, as well as being a fascinating insight into history and how leaders manage and manipulate the views of the general population, to positive or negative effect.

There are also anti-war posters, such as the Joan Baez Girls Say Yes to Boys Who Say No anti-Vietnam war draft poster, that are highly collectible examples of propaganda.

Posters that track the history of travel are a popular area of collectibles, from train travel expanding the horizons of people who had never before left their hometown, to the seemingly endless options that aviation provided, to advertising posters for increasingly popular activity holidays such as ski destinations.

Vintage Railway posters are very sought after, relating to the history of the railway and the huge potential it opened up for travel across Britain and Europe. Likewise vintage airline posters. Collectors will sometimes focus on one particular holiday destination, such as vintage St Moritz posters.


Poster collecting is a popular hobby. Most collectors will focus their collection on one type of poster, such as movie posters, fine art posters, concert posters, political/propaganda posters, travel posters or advertising posters.

Within each category there are several niches, and many collectors will focus on a specific topic. Examples of such specific areas include hammer horror movie posters from the 30s and 40s, Grateful Dead concert posters, 19th century French art posters and communist propaganda posters from the Soviet Union. Others may collect advertising posters and specialise in a particular product or company such as cigarette advertising or Coca Cola posters.

Posters are designed to be temporary, advertising a product for the duration of a particular campaign or an event until it has taken place. They can be classed as ephemera, collectible items that are, in the majority of cases, discarded or destroyed soon after their production. This means that in the case of many posters, good condition examples are rare, and they are carefully graded for valuation.

Their value can depend on their rarity, age, subject, originality and artist.

Poster collectors tend to collect posters which were not designed for public consumption, ie posters which were not printed for commercial purposes and were meant only for limited display purposes.

There are thousands of reproduction posters sold through stores and internet sites but they are not considered collectible in the majority of cases.

For example, an original 1977 Star Wars poster used in a cinema display is worth far more than a better quality reprint which was sold directly to the public.

Vintage posters can be found at auction, through dealers, at fairs and conventions such as the International Vintage Poster Fair, and on eBay – though be wary of reproductions if buying through this route.

The world’s most expensive poster

The world’s most expensive poster ever sold at auction is an original 1927 poster for Fritz Lang’s science fiction masterpiece Metropolis.

It features the art deco work of graphic artist Heinz Schulz-Neudamm and is one of only four known to exist (with the other three belonging to New York's Museum of Modern Art, Berlin's Film Museum and a private collector).

In 2005 it was sold at auction to an American collector by London's Reel Poster Gallery for a record price of $690,000.

Useful links

Further related articles on Wikicollecting

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