Collecting Vintage Animal Posters
In 1963, during a renovation of the offices of a Parisian literary journal, workmen found hundreds of Toulouse-Lautrec posters rolled up under the floorboards. The ones in the best condition could be bought for a few hundred dollars. Even in the 1970s, one dealer had 100 copies of Lautrec's Divan Japonais, which he sold for $800 each.
Today these posters sell for $25,000 and more. In 1989, Toulouse-Lautrec's 3-sheet Moulin Rouge sold for $220,000, the highest price ever paid for a fine art poster at auction.
When the market for vintage advertising posters emerged in the late 1970s, much of the attention focused on French artists like Lautrec, Alphonse Mucha, and Jules Cheret. Posters from these artists, as well as from those of the Art Deco period, notably Cassandre and Fix-Masseau, brought the highest prices.
As the market has matured, however, it has also broadened. Scholarship and museum shows afford new discoveries every year. Italian, Swiss, Russian, Dutch, German, and British posters have developed into specialties with prices that have risen steadily in the last decade. The market has also strengthened for many category niches such as travel, Olympics, and war and propaganda. Today, virtually every poster style and period can be found, with good images that can range from a few hundred dollars to thousands.
Although lithography was invented in 1798, it was at first too slow and expensive for poster production. Most posters were woodblocks or metal engravings with little color or design. This all changed with Cheret's "three stone lithographic process," a breakthrough which allowed artists to achieve every color in the rainbow with as little as three stones - usually red, yellow and blue - printed in careful registration.
Although the process was difficult, the result was a remarkable intensity of color and texture, with sublime transparencies and nuances impossible in other media (even to this day). This ability to combine word and image in such an attractive and economical format finally made the lithographic poster a powerful innovation. Starting in the 1870s in Paris, it became the dominant means of mass communication in the rapidly growing cities of Europe and America. The streets of Paris, Milan and Berlin were quickly transformed into the "art gallery of the street," and ushered in the modern age of advertising.