Posters and prints enjoy a number of obvious similarities. For example, both are multiples, which simply means that more than one version of the image exists, and posters and prints are often produced using the exact same techniques. In the case of a poster, though, the edition size is not necessarily fixed or even documented. To make matters more complicated, some of the earliest fine-art etchings and woodblock prints were produced in what are sometimes called “open editions.” Today, however, prints are typically signed and numbered, which is the main reason why prints tend to be more highly valued than posters.
One important difference between the two categories is that many printmaking techniques go back much further than poster technologies such as lithography, which only dates to the late 18th century. Historians believe that woodcutting probably originated in China around the early 9th century. By the 15th century the German engraver Albrecht Dürer was using this ancient technique to create prints of incredible detail.
The rise in advertising during the Victorian Era spurred inventions such as the four-color lithograph, which was used to produce, among other things, appealing images for advertisers. In 1867, Jules Cheret, inspired—perhaps ironically—by Japanese woodcuts, used the newly-developed system to combine text and images into a poster. Soon, European artists like Alphonse Mucha and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec were creating posters combining Art Nouveau aesthetics with easily understandable sales pitches...
American artist Maxfield Parrish used printing techniques to create multiples of his paintings, including “Dreaming,” “Stars,” and “New Moon.” His work was sought out by the fine-art crowd as well as advertisers, who used his blue-hued imagery of beautiful female figures posed in romantic landscapes to sell everything from soap to soda pop.
Throughout the 20th century, fine artists produced limited-edition prints that were often variations of subject matter they focused on in their paintings. The great prewar narrative painter Thomas Hart Benton made both paintings of rural American life as well as lithographs of the same. By the 1960s, artists such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein were giving equal attention to their prints, if not more.
In parallel, advertisers were producing some of the most sought-after posters of the century, from James Montgomery Flagg’s recruiting lithographs printed in 1917 or Universal Studios’s horror-movie posters from the 1930s. Other collectible posters from the century include political, sports, circus, aviation, and railroad posters.
By the 1960s, music posters were becoming an international phenomenon. In London, Michael English and Nigel Waymouth, working as Hapshash and the Coloured Coat, produced psychedelic updates of Art Nouveau posters for Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, and The Who. In Boston, the owners of a club called Boston Tea Party tended to take a clean, graphic approach to publicize concerts by everyone from local heroes J. Geils Band to New York’s Velvet Underground. Detroit had the Grande Ballroom, whose resident poster artist was Gary Grimshaw and house band was the MC5. Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Dahlgren made posters for a club called the Kaleidoscope, whose posters were always circular.
The U.S. city that’s best known for vintage rock posters, though, is San Francisco. A combination of multiple music venues and lots of talented artists was the catalyst for the vibrant scene. Over at the Avalon Ballroom, Chet Helms hired Wes Wilson, followed by Stanley Mouse and Alton Kelley, to make posters for shows featuring The Blues Project, Captain Beefheart, Big Brother and the Holding Company, and the Grateful Dead.
Over at Bill Graham’s Fillmore Auditorium, artist Wes Wilson created posters that helped define the psychedelic lettering style of the day. Another influential artist associated with the San Francisco scene was Rick Griffin, whose February 1968 "Flying Eyeball" poster (BG105) for Jimi Hendrix, John Mayall, and Albert King is an icon of the art form.
What makes music posters so interesting to collectors today is that they have once again blurred the line between posters and prints. Many contemporary music posters, particularly those created for rock bands such as Phish, Pearl Jam, and Dave Matthews, are produced in signed and numbered editions, just like a fine-art print. Some artists such as Jim Pollock, Emek, and Chuck Sperry will see posters they have created for a particular concert appear on eBay the morning after the show for double or triple the price.
This trend continues even with artists whose poster-like prints don’t advertise anything at all. For example, Shepard Fairey, who gained widespread acclaim for the poster he created for Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, recently produced a limited-edition print of Muhammad Ali that has proven to be quite popular with collectors.
Interviews & Articles
Between 1966 and 1967, San Francisco rock poster artist Wes Wilson designed posters and handbills for the first Trips Festival, th… [more]
I don’t collect posters. I don’t collect anything. I started making posters one at a time by hand in high school just for specific… [more]
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New Disney Store Arrivals for May 13, 2013 (46 Items) (Haunted Mansion ...Stitch Kingdom (blog), May 13th
Print by Brian Blackmore – $39.95Donald serves up a smile and a cup of coffee in this print by Brian Blackmore. Created in the style of a vintage poster, ”Espresso Donald Duck” comes matted and ready to frame in your home, or perhaps your Italian...Read more
Mike Fitzsimmons: In his own wordsNorthJersey.com, May 8th
Gallery owner Mike Fitzsimmons is standing beside a framed vintage poster of the Palisades Amusement Park circa 1909 mounted on an easel. Fitzsimmons has owned the gallery for the past 14 years where he lives in Westwood for the past 28 with his wife,...Read more
Colors that POP: Windom artist creates three-dimensional textilesWorthington Daily Globe, May 3rd
The Worthington show will feature both her three-dimensional quilts — an ongoing exploration —and her smaller series of Art Deco vintage poster reproductions. “My biggest thing is doing the three-dimensional quilts,” she explained. “You have to use...Read more
Bookseller's vintage find turns into ironic trademark feudSydney Morning Herald, May 3rd
Charmed by its classic design and no-fuss stoicism, Manley and his wife Mary framed the vintage poster and hung it up in their second-hand bookshop in a disused Victorian train station in the far north of England. After many admiring comments and...Read more
Vintage Seekers cycling posters start from £250Daily Mail, April 29th
1962 original Swiss vintage poster for the Swiss National Circus, titled "Knie. Lili Yokoi." Depicting the famous 60s bicycle acrobat Lili Yokoi. Printed by Rentsch, Trimbach. £600. 1952 original cyclocross World Championship poster titled "Championnat...Read more
Ivan Lendl Brings 150 Mucha Poster Girls Home to PragueBloomberg, April 28th
“Ivan gave me a very straightforward task: to track down every single Mucha poster on the market,” said Jack Rennert, the New York-based vintage poster dealer who's been in charge of expanding Lendl's collection over the years. “I was more a detective...Read more
OFFBEAT: Region readers recognize vintage Chuck Berry Hammond posternwitimes.com, April 27th
I ran an archive image of a colorful vintage poster promoting a concert featuring Chuck Berry playing the Northwest Indiana stage in the 1960s and it attracted the attention of die-hard Hammond Times readers who took the time to write and call me with...Read more
Morristown Vintage Poster Sale to Benefit VeteransPatch.com, April 27th
Local Steve Berger is putting together a show at Simon Gallery on Saturday and proceeds from each sale will be donated to a local war veteran charitable organization. "I am curating a vintage WWI & WWII poster show at Simon Gallery that is previewing...Read more