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.
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Recent News: Posters and Prints
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Out of left fieldKNPR, March 19th
The walls showcase classy vintage poster reproductions. Then I order the most prosaic, stereotypical sports bar menu item in history: chicken wings. My plate arrives — complete with obligatory celery and carrot sticks — and I can tell these...Read more
See Michael Fassbender As Steve Jobs In New Promo PosterWe Got This Covered, March 17th
It's the middle act, chronicling Jobs' experience on rolling out his NeXT Computers, that's under the spotlight in this spiffy vintage poster. That period saw the Apple creator ousted from his own company, which led to the creation of the NeXT. Check...Read more
Far Out! This Vintage NASA 'Spacemobile' Poster Has Us Wanting MoreSpace.com, March 6th
It's a blast from the space-age past: A poster from 1965, featuring a space explorer traversing a distant world, was unearthed from the National Archives and posted online on Feb. 26. The awesomely retro print is dated Feb. 26, 1965, and it captures...Read more
Affordable Classics: Posters for the New Collector at the International Poster ...ArtfixDaily, March 5th
While Belle Epoque poster classics by Toulouse-Lautrec and Alphonse Mucha were created as well as collected in the 1890s, the vintage poster market took off again in 1979 and quickly re-established the medium as a leading collectible. Originally ...Read more
Local woman brings vintage Jungleland poster back to lifeThousand Oaks Acorn, March 4th
THROWBACK THURSDAY—Leslie Pruitt of Thousand Oaks and Earl Newman of Summit, Ore., sit beside the vintage poster Newmanfirst created for Jungleland in 1963. At Pruitt's request, Newman re-created the poster and allowed her to sell copies...Read more
Vintage posters on display in NE ChinaCCTV, February 27th
And if you're an early bird, you might also be able to catch their early morning show for a taste of old Shanghai glamor. The vintage poster exhibit is open to the public free of charge at Qinhuangdao's Museum of Glass, from February 15th through May 20th...Read more
Vintage Travel Posters That Lured Tourists To Washington, D.C.Curbed DC, February 12th
Take a design blast from the past with these travel posters dating all the way back to the early 1920's. These posters enticed tourists to travel to the nation's capital by highlighting monuments and landmarks like the Arlington National Cemetery. If...Read more
Vintage Poster CompanyIrish Times, November 19th
Irish illustrator and art restorer Rercy Flood was unhappy with the quality and range of art prints available so she established the Vintage Poster Company. She curates beautiful and unusual vintage artwork and uses giclee printing to produce...Read more