Our expert's top tips on buying original vintage posters April 01, 2016 17:46
Finding the right artwork to complete a room can be a daunting business. Magazines are full of photoshoots where a carefully selected piece effortlessly conveys the owner’s style and personality. But how can you achieve the same impact without the help of an interior stylist and the bank balance of Bill Gates? Happily, David Bownes of Twentieth Century Posters (aka Mr. London Craft Club) has the answer: original, vintage posters, which not only look amazing but also have the potential to dramatically increase in value.
So over to David for the basics…
“What types of posters are out there?
Illustrated posters have been around since the late nineteenth Century, selling everything from consumer products, travel, propaganda and entertainment. Although an individual design might be very rare, the overall survival rate of original posters is astonishingly high, meaning that no matter how niche your interests are the likelihood is that there’s a perfect match out there. So whether you’re looking for a Modernist inspired view of Kew Gardens or a gig poster for your favourite 80s band the chances are that that you’ll find the right poster – eventually!
How much should I spend?
Prices for original posters vary enormously and can reach into the tens of thousands (or more) for iconic designs by the likes of Toulouse Lautrec (C19th French) or Rodchenko (interwar Russian) – but don’t despair. Many truly outstanding twentieth century posters can be had for less than £1500, with the majority costing between £100 and £500.
Why should I buy an original vintage poster?
Quality, originality, size, value for money and investment! Most posters made before about 1960 are lithographs – a printing process which produces a very high quality image with a rich depth of colour, considered Fine Art standard today. Put simply, original posters are often much better printed than modern mass-produced ‘wall-art’ available from the High Street. And, of course, an original poster is the ‘real thing’, linking us directly with with earlier times.
Where should I shop for posters?
Authentic posters can still be found cheaply in online auctions (like EBay) or at fairs, but caution is needed due to the alarming number of reproductions that have flooded the market in recent years. A safer bet is to buy from an auction house, or an established poster dealer. Always compare prices online first and talk to dealers before making a purchase. Most established dealers are poster enthusiasts and only too happy to offer advice. Few, if any, will be looking to make a quick buck by ripping you off. And avoid sellers who don’t offer a guarantee of authenticity, unless you are primarily interested in the image rather than originality/investment.
How can I tell original from a fake?
Although straight forward for an expert to spot, the unwary can be easily caught out. Authentic posters were usually printed in standard sizes that are no longer readily available (LINK). Similarly, a genuine lithographic poster will be printed on thin paper and the matt image can be ‘read’ from the reverse by holding it up to the light. In general, avoid glossy finishes, modern paper sizes, and anything which looks like a digital print.
Is a bit of damage acceptable?
By their very nature, posters are likely to have suffered some damage over the years, such as folding, small tears, creasing and edge ‘nicks’. Some collectors like to preserve their posters in this condition, and evidence of wear and tear can look great when framed. Others prefer to have posters professionally conserved on either linen or Japan tissue backing, which makes them easier to handle and can improve physical appearance. Ultimately it’s a matter of personal taste, but don’t be tempted to over-restore a poster by having missing areas filled-in as this can adversely affect value.
How should I display an original poster?
The best option is a conservation grade mount and UV filtered glass, both of which are widely available from High Street framers and will extend the poster’s life, especially if displayed out of direct sunlight. Whether you’re going for a traditional card or a ‘floating’ mount always ask the framer to use PH neutral glues and tapes. Never trim or fold a poster to size!
What are your Top Tips for acquiring amazing designs with great investment potential?
Interwar women designers. There is growing interest in the outstanding, and pioneering, contribution of British women commercial artists from the 20s and 30s. Recent publications and planned museum exhibitions will only enhance this reputation. Names to look out for include: Freda Lingstrom, Doris and Anna Zinkeisen, Dora Batty, Sybil Andrews, Rosemary Ellis and Vera Willoughby.
‘Mid-century’ British designers. Posters by the very best of these, such as Abram Games and Tom Eckersley, already command quite high prices, but there are many superb designs by the likes of Daphne Padden, Dorrit Dekk, Royston Cooper and Hans Unger that can still be had for a few hundred pounds (or less). Buy them while you can!
Hans Unger, Ideal Homes (1958) £150
Lastly, airline posters. Designs from the 50s and 60s are still surprisingly affordable, stylishly conveying the glamour and modernism of the ‘Jet Age’. My bet is that these will go the way of classic railway posters from the thirties and be seen as emblematic of their times – with a price tag to match.
David Bownes is a poster dealer and former curator specializing in C20th British design. Check his website www.twentiethcenturyposters.com but he loves to talk posters so do always free to call him direct on 07718 064 205
Just in case you didn’t spot the reference, David is married to Sonia Bownes, Founder of London Craft Club! He still knows everything there is to know about poster though…