Time travel

A growing num­ber of poster col­lec­tors are stay­ing in the hol­i­day spirit, all year round

EDP Norfolk - - Antiques - WORDS: Re­becca MacNaughton

From bathing beau­ties at Bri­tish sea­side re­sorts to ex­otic des­ti­na­tions reached by air and by sea, il­lus­trated posters cel­e­brated the very best in travel des­ti­na­tions dur­ing the early 20th cen­tury.

Among the first to use them were the Bri­tish rail­ways, with lines such as Great Western (GWR) and London and North East­ern (LNER) com­mis­sion­ing es­tab­lished artists to pro­duce large-scale works.

Bright, bold and eye-catch­ing, they were eas­ily spot­ted from across a busy sta­tion and ac­cord­ing to Ed Bartholomew, lead curator at the Na­tional Rail­way Mu­seum in York, could ad­ver­tise just about any­thing. “They cap­tured ev­ery­thing,” he says about what the rail­way was and could be, from where to place your fac­tory to the ‘essence of a place’ at some of the UK’s most prized hol­i­day re­sorts.

While their pur­pose was un­de­ni­ably com­mer­cial, it could be dif­fi­cult to tell. “Some­times the only con­nec­tion with the rail­way you will see is in the logo,” says Ed, and, like any other medium, “it was the poster artist’s goal to get their art seen”.

Es­teemed art­works in their own right, the posters can be seen to­day in reg­u­lar auc­tions through­out the UK, in­clud­ing large auc­tion houses such as Christie’s and Sotheby’s, and Onslows in Dorset, who hold two on­line sales each year. Their most re­cent auc­tion, in De­cem­ber 2017, saw a 1947 South­ern Rail­way poster by He­len McKie fetch £3,500. The posters also sell abroad, and in 2014, Swann Gal­leries in New York is re­ported to have sold one for $20,000 de­pict­ing a night train from London to Scot­land.

Like any col­lec­tors’ items, there are a num­ber of fac­tors that in­flu­ence price. Ear­lier posters from around 1880 to 1950 tend to at­tract the great­est sums due to their unique print­ing tech­nique. Stone lithog­ra­phy, used to pro­duce the poster’s de­tailed fin­ish, only al­lowed for lim­ited print runs (usu­ally 500 to 3,000) be­fore the stone was ground down to make a fresh, new de­sign. With such lim­ited pro­duc­tion you gained a much rarer prod­uct and these gen­er­ally de­mand a much higher pre­mium at auc­tions to­day.

The artists them­selves also af­fect value, with Austin Cooper, Alex Fraser and Tom Purvis among those pro­duc­ing some of the most iconic de­signs. Purvis, who is said to have de­signed over 100 posters for LNER, was par­tic­u­larly fa­mous for de­pict­ing re­sorts and leisure ac­tiv­i­ties, us­ing sim­ple sil­hou­ettes and bold colours. Cooper had a more di­verse style and cov­ered ev­ery­thing from hu­mour to de­tailed land­scapes and ex­pan­sive city scenes.

Rail­way posters are not the only type of travel poster on of­fer: ski re­sorts, in par­tic­u­lar, are in­creas­ing in pop­u­lar­ity, with a 1952 Rus­sian print sell­ing for £30,000 in 2008. While a Bri­tish rail­way poster can’t, to date, com­pete with such a price tag, they still hold im­por­tant his­tor­i­cal value and al­low you to see Bri­tain at the height of her hey­day in sun­bathed glory.

Old LNER rail­way poster pro­mot­ing Whit­ley Bay; Old LNER rail­way poster; Scar­bor­ough 1920s poster pro­mot­ing travel to the English sea­side re­sort

Old LNER rail­way poster pro­mot­ing Cromer in Nor­folk

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