Come Fly With Me: Vintage Travel Posters
Summer has arrived! Hordes of holidaymakers journey to the coast, to vibrant cities, to exotic far-off locations.
For many collectors, nothing evokes the excitement of holiday more than vintage posters from the Golden Age of travel. During the late 19th and early 20th century, rapid advances in technology meant that other places in the whole world became more accessible than it had ever been before.
Advertising was widely used to trigger wanderlust, inspiring people to use these innovations to explore the world. Travel was now for everyone, whereas before it had been an exclusive pursuit of the rich. Travel posters were produced to draw the public to seaside towns, to glamorous European cities, and to far flung destinations.
These posters were the ideal vessel for the blossoming discipline of graphic design, and popular design movements such as Art Nouveau, Art Deco and Mid-Century modern. As the world opened up to the public, a new mode of expression opened up to artists.
Vintage travel posters are some of the most popular posters with collectors, evoking the nostalgic golden era of adventure and excitement, as travel put the world within reach for many people who had never before left their home towns.
The practice of travel changed more in the space of a few decades during the late 19th – early 20th century than it had done for hundreds of centuries previously. Aided by new methods of transport and their rapid development, visiting other places became affordable, and much quicker. Getting somewhere took mere hours where it used to take days.
The mass-production of automobiles, the laying of larger roads, the spreading tendrils of railroad tracks, the construction of large luxury ocean liners – as these developments progressed, travel became possible and affordable for the masses. After World War II, air travel advanced rapidly, making more exotic locations accessible.
These technological advances galvanised the Golden Age of travel during the early 20th century. Travel was glamorous and exciting, and suddenly everyone had the option of tasting that glamour and excitement.
Advertising responded, producing posters that endorsed the adventure and romance of travel, whether catching the train to a nearby seaside town, or embarking on a relaxing cruise, stopping off at glitzy European cities.
These posters were often commissioned by transport companies, even when they advertised one specific place, for example the Pennsylvania Railroad posters which depicted Atlantic City, Cincinnati, New Jersey, Washington, Florida and New York.
Others celebrated the thrilling new modes of transportation, depicting vast Art Deco ocean liners and shiny modern airplanes flying through heavenly skies. These posters were placed in travel agents and ticket offices.
Early posters used stone or zinc lithography. By the 1940s-50s, silk screening became the dominant method.
The father of the travel poster is generally agreed to be Hugo D’Alesi, who was extremely prolific in his creation of tourist posters for railway companies, shipping companies, and car manufacturers in the late 19th century.
The form was eagerly inherited by generations of artists energised by the possibilities of graphic design, provided with some of the most fantastic locations around the world as their subject.
The travel poster began to die out as television advertising took over, and accordingly a nostalgia was born for posters that so perfectly evoke the dawn of modern modes of transport, and the Golden Age of travel.
Guide to collecting
It is little wonder that collectors are drawn to vintage travel posters. They possess the key elements of nostalgia and rarity, making them special, and fun to track down.
They also track the history of graphic design, and the evolution of modes of transport, a fascinating resource.
Collectors will generally narrow their focus, often to a particular location: a country, city, or seaside town. They might focus on a particular artist whose work they have a fondness for, a particular mode of transport, or historic transport company.
The destination can be linked with particular activity, such as skiing, golf or hunting. Vintage ski posters have a strong following of collectors, and regularly fetch some of the highest prices of travel posters at auction. Christie’s held a dedicated ski poster sale in 2010.
Some posters used events specific to that location to encourage visitors, depicting Mexico’s Day of the Dead festival, Monaco’s Exposition et Concours de Canots Automobiles, the Mardis Gras in Brazil, or the Olympics in cities across the world. These events motivate some collectors in their choices.
Other popular posters with collectors include those in the eminently fashionable styles of Art Deco and Art Nouveau.
Some posters are rarer than others, dependent on how many were printed, and how many survived the ravages of time: being torn down, pasted over, and rarely saved.
Likewise, the years inevitably affect the condition of the poster, which in turn has a great bearing on the value.
The only vintage travel posters worth collecting in the eyes of a serious collector are those that come from the original printing, made directly from the artist’s design.
An abundance of vintage travel poster reproductions exist, since their styles of design have experienced a renaissance. Most of these will be offered honestly as reproductions. However, some may well try to pass themselves off as genuine vintage examples, unscrupulous dealers even chemically aging the posters to dupe even the most seasoned collector. Be wary, especially if a deal seems too good to be true – it probably is.
You can find vintage travel posters through specialist dealers, at auction and on eBay. Auctions that specialise in vintage posters include Onslows in the UK, and Swann Auction Galleries in the US. Big auction houses often have annual dedicated poster auctions, and often include a travel selection.
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