The pulling power of vintage posters


Irish elections and referendums provide continuing evidence of the popularity and power of posters as a means of influencing public opinion. But in the era of digital marketing, with the relentless expansion of television and internet advertising, the medium is on the decline.

Vintage posters have become popular with collectors and some can be very valuable. Popular subjects include politics, travel and consumer goods.

Advertising or promotional posters are designed for temporary use and so, inevitably, few examples survive.

Those that have survived can often be of poor quality as a result of acid damage to the paper, fold marks and other imperfections.

But good-quality vintage posters, and especially those in pristine condition, are worth conserving and can prove to be good investments.

Whyte’s auction of “History, Literature and Collectibles” in Dublin later this month has an interesting selection.

The earliest is a rare 1847 Famine poster offering “a bounty” to anyone able to import potatoes to relieve the poor (€300-€500).

A 1920s poster produced by Fine Gael’s antecedent, Cumann na nGaedheal, titled “Ireland Remade – By President Cosgrave’s Government” is illustrated with photographs and descriptions extolling the achievements of the Free State’s first government (€200-€300).

An unusual 1934 poster addressed to the “Workers of Dublin!” calling for a “Rally Against Irish Hitlerism” at College Green on Sunday, August 26th, is €200-€300.

Among a batch of Ulster Unionist election posters from the mid-20th century is a startling example, from 1953, bearing the slogan ‘Vote Unionist or Sink With Éire’. According to the catalogue note, it depicts “a stereotypical Irish peasant stepping off Ulster and beckoning Britannia into the black hole of the Irish Republic”. The estimate is €300-€500.

Less controversial is an Edwardian-era poster (circa 1905) advertising Boyd’s of Belfast’s Grand Irish Liqueur Whiskey, illustrated with a jaunting car and a round tower (€150-€200).

Vintage travel posters are among the most collectible as they frequently depict art specially commissioned from well-known painters.

Highlights at Whyte’s include a “scarce” 1950s British Railways poster advertising “To Ireland with ease, by rail and sea” depicting Sheephaven, Co Donegal painted by Paul Henry (€500-€700); a “circa 1950” poster for the “New Motor Car Ferry Service Stranraer to Larne” featuring a painting of the ship (the MV Princess Victoria) by Norman Wilkinson (€200-€300); and a 1930s Great Southern Railways poster with artwork by IB Grey promoting Connemara (€500-€700).

A tourism poster from 1954, depicting an Aran jumper-clad fisherman mending his nets, has the slogan “Ireland Invites You” and could have been designed for the Gathering (€200-€300).

Travel posters

Posters are also the main attraction at the 15th annual Ski Sale at Christie’s in London on January 23rd, which features posters “celebrating the golden age of travel, from the turn of the 20th century through to the 1950s, when skiing holidays became increasingly popular”. Most examples are from Alpine resorts and depict a variety of winter sports. Estimates range from £800 to £15,000.

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