Collectibles: Moving Pictures
Vintage travel posters retain the power to launch a thousand ships—and trains, and planes—although the vessels that they feature are no longer available for booking. Amtrak evokes the streamlined imagery of travel poster art to promote its Acela Express service along the eastern seaboard, and the Queen Mary 2’s initial marketing campaign borrowed from French artist A.M. Cassandre’s depictions of the Normandie, which distilled the glamour of an ocean liner into a dramatic image of a ship’s bow sailing toward the viewer.
Other travel posters were designed to promote holiday destinations. Some provide alluring glimpses of paradises lost, including those that beckon vacationers to pre-Castro Cuba. Posters touting Sun Valley, Atlantic City, and St. Moritz possess an exuberant charm that may have overstated the excitement and beauty of the places they advertised. Nevertheless, a covered walkway that leads St. Moritz visitors to the lake is decorated with oversize reproductions of vintage travel posters promoting a still-alluring though fantastic vision of the resort town.
“Travel posters have always been popular. Demand exceeds supply when it comes to good travel images,” says Jack Rennert, president of the Manhattan vintage poster dealer Posters Please, which in May will hold a sale featuring 120 travel posters, each of which carries a presale estimate in excess of $1,000. “One of the selling points of a poster is the graphics, but it also has value as a souvenir or memento—‘Remember that great time that we had on the Côte d’Azur?’ That motivation has always fueled interest in them.”
Like vintage movie posters, these travel posters were never meant to last. Travel agents would tape them to windows or pin them to walls and discard them whenever a new advertising campaign began. The few surviving mint-condition examples, most of which were never removed from their mailing tubes, draw the attention of collectors.
As with any work of art, a poster’s value can be affected by the name of the artist, although the identities of those who created many of the most compelling images remain unknown. In November 2004, Swann Auction Galleries in Manhattan sold one of Cassandre’s Normandie images for $8,000. At the same auction, Swann sold an Atlantic City poster by another notable artist, Edward Eggleston. “It’s an extraordinary image, sexy and elegant, which shows what the boardwalk looked like then,” says Swann President Nicholas Lowry. The price, $22,000, was the most anyone ever paid for an American-made travel poster.
Until recently, travel posters were not held in as high esteem as other types of collectible posters, says Lowry, whose gallery usually offers a large selection of beach resort posters at its annual August vintage poster auction and an array of ski destination posters at its February event. “But travel posters are extraordinary, and as good as those that are not travel-themed posters. After five years [of auctioning them], I’m still finding ones that I’ve never seen before that are beautiful.”