Most vintage posters are trying to sell us something, be it a political candidate, a loaf of bread, a gallon of gas, tickets to an event, or even a vacation. These oversize sheets of paper were usually lithographed, but in recent years limited-edition screenprinted advertisements for hundreds of classic or cult movies, as well as a handful of first-run television shows, have become extremely popular among a new cadre of younger poster collectors.
Aviation posters advertising airlines such as TWA, American, Pan Am, BOAC, Air France, and Braniff promise to wing you to New York, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, and Hawaii. Artists known for their aviation posters include David Klein and Fred Ludeken. An older cousin of the airline poster is the railroad poster, particularly those produced by Southern Pacific Railroad in the United States and the London Underground in the U.K. There, artists such as Edward McKnight Kauffer, Tony Sarg, and Man Ray created images for London’s rail and bus system. Also popular are shipping posters designed by Montague Black for the White Star Line, whose most famous steamer was the Titanic.
Many of the most sought posters of the Art Nouveau era by French artists Jules Cheret and Alphonse Mucha were actually advertisements for wine and spirits, including Absinthe. More recent contributions to the food-poster genre include images created for drive-ins like Dairy Queen and coffee roasters from Chase & Sanborn to Peet’s, which has commissioned posters from contemporary graphic artists Michael Schwab and David Lance Goines.
Posters promoting outdoor sports such as skiing were favorite subjects of Sascha Maurer, while posters for sporting events like the Olympics have been created by Walter Herz, David Hockney, LeRoy Neiman, Jacob Lawrence, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Tracey Emin, and Howard Hodgkin, to name but a few.
Art posters advertising gallery and museum exhibitions by many of these same artists are also collected, as are posters printed to get the word out about music performances, especially when it comes to rock and roll. While some people collect concert posters based on the performer, from Elvis and The Beatles to the Grateful Dead, Phish, Widespread Panic, and Pearl Jam, others go for the artist. Psychedelic poster artists include Wes Wilson and Rick Griffin in the United States, Michael English and Nigel Waymouth in England, and Keiichi Tanaami and Tadanori Yokoo in Japan. Other posters were produced in what is called “boxing style,” which is named for the no-nonsense, limited-color posters printed to publicize boxing matches.
And then there are movie posters, which were typically sent folded to theaters to be hung in lobbies so movie-goers could get a glimpse of coming attractions. Bill Gold designed thousands of posters for Warner Bros, beginning with Humphrey Bogart’s “Casablanca” and ending with a number of Clint Eastwood films, including “Unforgiven.” Roger Kastel painted the great white shark about to chomp into an unsuspecting swimmer for “Jaws,” while Drew Struzan illustrated some of the most sought posters for “Star Wars.”