A century of powerful posters from the first World War to Ryanair, the IRA and Dracula
Vintage posters for auction: war, politics, terrorism, travel, sport and film
An advertisement for Wills’s Bulwark Cut Plug (pipe tobacco) dating from the 1940s
One of the most powerful – and certainly most effective – advertising campaigns in history was created just over 100 years ago to en-courage young men to join the British army in the first World War (1914-1918). Recruitment posters appeared in cities, towns and villages throughout Britain and Ireland and hundreds of thousands responded.
These posters – like vintage advertising generally – have become very collectible and there’s a selection coming up for sale at Whyte’s Auctioneers in the first big Dublin auction of 2018 on Saturday, February 3rd.
When the first World War began there was an acute shortage of manpower in the British army and parliament authorised an increase of half-a-million soldiers. A Parliamentary Recruiting Committee was established by MPs and the War Office in London set up a special unit to commission the posters – some designed by well-known artists. Tens of thousands of copies were printed.
Surviving copies are very sought-after by collectors and when framed and hung, can make a very dramatic impact. One of the most poignant images, given the subsequent carnage, is Lot 85 in Whyte’s catalogue – a poster captioned “There’s Room For You – Enlist To-day”, showing soldiers, in high spirits, aboard a train leaving a station. It was printed by W & M Strain & Sons Ltd of Belfast and 104 High Holborn, London, and is estimated at €300-€400.
Lot 83, entitled “Are You In This?” was cleverly designed by Lt Gen Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell (founder of the Boy Scouts) to target waverers – it depicts men, women and children engaged in war work (€200-€300).
Posters like these helped to attract tens of thousands of young Irishmen to enlist but after the 1916 Rising public in opinion began to change in Ireland and support for the war effort declined. Following Independence, the British army left Ireland in 1922 but returned – unexpectedly – to Northern Ireland in 1969 when the modern “Troubles” erupted.
There’s a poster in the auction from the 1980s – made by the IRA in Belfast which depicts the British army in a shockingly different light. Lot 171 includes a two-colour poster headlined “Stay Clear – Keep Them In Fear” with a photograph of a British army patrol with the strapline, “Isolate the enemy”, and a warning to the civilian population to “stay clear of all crown forces personnel”. It was published by the “Belfast Brigade, Óglaigh na hÉireann” and is being offered with a 1980s An Phoblacht promotional poster and an 1992 general election poster for Martin McGuinness (who failed to unseat John Hume in the Foyle Constituency) – with a combined estimate of €200-€300 for all three.
Far less controversial, and of considerably more aesthetic appeal, is Lot 472, an image featuring the real Óglaigh na hÉireann – the Irish Defence Forces manning salute guns on Dún Laoghaire Pier which is, in fact, a card point-of-sale advertisement for Wills’s Bulwark Cut Plug (pipe tobacco) dating from the 1940s and estimated at €150-€200.
Vintage travel posters are among the most attractive and among the highlights in this auction is Lot 478, a trans-Atlantic liner poster, for the “Dominion Line” featuring an illustration of SS Canada. It was made for display in “Great Southern and Western Railway” stations, advertising the line’s trans-Atlantic schedule for autumn and winter 1900. The poster has added historical interest because these sailing never, in fact, happened.
The SS Canada was taken out of service in mid-1900 to ship troops to Southern Africa to fight in the Boer War and the services advertised on this poster were cancelled as a result. The estimate is €500-€600.
More modern travel is evoked in some of the designs for an early advertising campaign for Ryanair.
Lot 483, dating from circa 1985, is a set of six poster designs, for the low-cost Irish airline that had been established the previous year, described as “attractive and scarce”, A4 size, framed, by artists including Pauline Bewick, and headlined “Spirit of Ireland” (five posters) and “Spirit of Europe” (1) – with a collective estimate of €200-€300 for the lot.
The most expensive item in the auction is a vintage film poster. Lot 484, was made to promote the 1958 film Dracula – a British horror film directed by Terence Fisher based on the novel by Irish author Bram Stoker.
This was the first in the series of Hammer horror films, starring Christopher Lee as Count Dracula. In the US the film was retitled Horror of Dracula to avoid confusion with the earlier Dracula (1931) starring Bela Lugosi. According to Whyte’s “this poster has become one of the most sought-after cinema posters worldwide”, which explains the steep estimate: €6,000-€8,000.
By coincidence, in November, “Heritage Auctions” in the United States sold an exceptionally rare poster for the 1931 Dracula – for $525,800 – a world record price for a film poster at auction.
The posters will go on view from Wednesday, January 30th, at Whyte’s, 38 Molesworth Street, Dublin 2, and go unbder the hammer in “The Ecelctic Collector” auction in the nearby Freemasons’ Hall in Molesworth Street on Saturday, February 3rd, at 11am.