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Unique Vintage Posters

Updated on August 15, 2011
Marye Audet profile image

Marye Audet-White is an internationally known food writer, food editor for Texas Living, cookbook author, and food blogger.

Vintage posters are a popular collectible that can add color and interest to your home. The most sought after designs can fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars at auction.

Quick History of the Poster

The lithograph was invented in 1798 by a writer named Alois Senefelder. At first, the prints he was able to make were lacking in design or color. Various advancements in lithography and poster making were made all across Europe, with many choosing to study in England in the early 1800’s.

In the 1860’s Jules Chéret, a Frenchman, developed a technique called the “three stone lithographic process,” which allowed more creative use of color and style. Starting in the 1870’s in Paris, this became the most widely used means of creating posters combining art and language as a form of communication. This began the era of advertisement.

Styles of Vintage Posters

Choosing a poster can be a daunting task, if for no other reason than the artists alone can be confusing. There are different periods and styles, just as in fine art.

Art Nouveau

Art Nouveau began around 1890 and lasted until World War I. The lines are flowing, with floral and nature themes. Some important artists were:

  • Cheret
  • Toulouse-Lautrec
  • Holst
  • Privat-Livemon

Art Deco

The Art Deco style was modern and streamlined. The designs were graphic and represented the technology and movement of the machine age. This style was popular from about 1920 until the 1940s.

Important artists were:

  • Cassandre
  • Colin
  • Cardu
  • Dupas


Begun in 1905 in Berlin by an artist by the name of Lucien Bernhard, the Plakatstil style was one of utter simplicity. The emphasis was on flat shapes and colors with little, if any, shading.

  • Bernhard
  • Hohlwein

Cappiello Style

This style, made popular by Leonetto Cappiello, was based on simplicty and caricatures that brought a new humor and imaginative look to the posters of the time.

Important artists were:

  • Cappiello
  • Mauzan
  • Sepo
  • Brun


Constructivism was brought into the world of advertising posters in the 1920s by a group of artists from the Soviet Union. They felt that a new society needed to be constructed based on the ideas of science and technology.

The posters had components of cubism and used both photography and art to get the message across. Some important artists were:

  • Rodchenko
  • Mayakovsky
  • Klutsis
  • Lissitsky


Futurism was a very modern, graphic style begun by Tommaso Marinetti in 1908. This style glorified technology, more so even than Art Deco, which it influenced. Futurism rejected any backward look to the past and focused solely on the future and the machines, technology, and possibilities that it would hold.

Some important artists are:

  • Marinetti
  • Venna
  • Diulgheroff


This was the precise rendition of everyday objects. The Plakatstil style, favored by Bernhard, is considered by many to be the harbinger of this type of poster.

Important artists were:

  • Baumberger
  • Peter Birkhäuser
  • Birckhauser
  • Stoecklin

International Typographic Style

This was a strong graphic style that came out of Switzerland in the 1950s and strongly influenced the posters of the 1970s. Posters used a mathematical grid to create a unified structure for the posters which contained little more than words on a background. Color was not often used, the artists preferred the contrast of black and white for impact.

Some important artists were:

  • Hofmann
  • Mueller-Brockmann
  • Poretti
  • Neuberg

1950s Style

This style was a charming cartoon like style with eye-catching color and humor. The style was most used for pleasant things; food, travel, clothes and accessories.

Important artists were:

  • Leupin
  • Savignac
  • Rand

Beware of Reproductions and Forgeries

Potential buyers have to consider the poster’s authenticity, age and condition.

It is not unusual for an unscrupulous seller to try to pawn off a copy as an original; scams can be very hard to detect. One dead giveaway will be the quality of the paper that the poster is printed on. Keep in mind that these posters were designed to advertise, not to last. Rarely will an authentic vintage poster be in mint condition.

More about Vintage Poster Collecting

Vintage Posters Can Command High Prices

Poster art has taken on many meanings over the years, often used for religious or government propaganda. Unfortunately, most of the works of art from those periods has not survived because they were considered a throwaway product; not meant to last for decades but only to fulfill the immediate need. Yet, these posters often had unique and beautiful artwork and that is what collectors are looking for.

Now the market for vintage posters is wildly varied. They can be found on virtually any subject to suit any taste.

It is not unusual for rarer works to be sold at auctions for thousands of dollars. Recently, a poster for the 1934 Boris Karloff movie “The Black Cat” sold for almost $345,000.00 US. Depending on the artwork, age, content and quality some original posters are virtually priceless.

Preserving Your Poster

Once you've purchased your poster, preserving it can be tricky, because by their very nature they were not meant to last. Most are printed on inexpensive paper. To save yours for future generations, make sure to choose a frame with UV protection, as sunlight can degrade the ink and the paper.

Second, you should always use acid-free backing and matting to ensure the survival of your art.

Also, make sure that the space between your poster and the frame is filled up with matting or molding to prevent the poster from sticking to the glass. Before framing, you may want to take your poster to a restorer who may be able to prevent any further damage of the material.

For some interesting posters, you can visit the online gallery from Chisholm Posters based in New York City.

Most Collectible Posters

People collect all kinds of posters but some are more popular than others. Among these are:

Decorating with Vintage Posters

These days, posters can lend a sense of individuality and class to your décor. They can be seen in movie and television sets (think “Friends”) and are available via many online retailers and auctions.

Sports fans and movie buffs are often collectors, and posters advertising famous rock bands are highly sought after, especially featuring musicians from the 1960’s and 1970’s such as The Doors and Janis Joplin. Advertising posters are also popular.

No matter where you display your unique vintage poster it is sure to add excitement and interest to your decor.


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