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A Key to Poster Value

The key factors that affect price &
collectibility in fine art posters

How does one determine the value of original
vintage posters? As with fine art, or collectibles
such as stamps or coins, the task is not always
simple. Here are some guidelines:

  • Printing Method - Most fine art posters from the 1880s through the 1930s were printed using the difficult and now highly valued process of stone lithography in which: 1) each color is hand drawn or painted onto a separate slab ofporous stone, 2) the design is "fixed" on the stone with acid, 3) fresh ink is applied to the stone and absorbed in the fixed on the stone with acid, 3) fresh ink is applied to the stone and absorbed in the fixed areas, 4) the ink is pressed onto the paper through pressure to transfer the image, and 5) after drying the process is repeated with other colors. The vibrancy of color and texture achieved in stone lithography is unsurpassed to this day.

After World War II, stone lithography was replaced by the photo offset and silkscreen processes. Typically these methods are less highly valued, although offset or silkscreened posters can still command high prices if they are rare, were created by a highly recognized artist or advertise a famous movie.

  • Originality - To be valuable, a poster must be a design created originally as a poster by the artist, and be an example from the original printing. Usually only one run of a poster was made, as lithographic stones used to create it were expensive and had to be ground down for use on the next job. Except for some authorized additional editions, later reproductions normally have little or no value to collectors.

Artistic Achievement – Posters by recognized artists and graphic designers normally have a higher value.

  • Subject – Demand can vary dramatically for different subjects. Typically, ocean liners, automobiles and skiing are high demand subjects, while posters for laundry soap or peas have less intrinsic appeal to most people. Subject appeal, however, can change dramatically. For example, there is new interest in the cigar poster today while there is diminished interest in cigarette advertising.

  • Rarity - Posters were customarily made in runs of 250 to 3000 for posting on walls or poster kiosks (War posters often had runs over 10,000). Those that were posted normally did not survive, so we are left with those that were saved by artists, collectors, clients or museums, or were left over in a printer’s warehouse. The number of surviving posters varies tremendously by artist, country, client and printer. Rare posters attract more interest, and may therefore sell for a considerably higher price.

Rarity can be difficult to determine, as no one generally knows how many of an image still exist. And as museums and collectors take a poster out of the market, availability can change dramatically.

  • Condition - Condition is a corollary of rarity – the less rare the poster, the more significant its condition. When a poster is rare, collectors often will consider it even in poor condition. Posters are graded from A to D. In some instances condition can make the difference of thousands of dollars in price.

  • Conservation – Today most posters are mounted on canvas or rice paper using conservation methods. Often touch-up restoration is done with watercolor pencils and is reversible. Non-conservation techniques such as drymounting greatly reduce the value of a poster, as the poster’s life is greatly shortened.  




Swiss poster art is
celebrated as much for
ts beautiful lithography
as for its majestic



Posters by recognized
artists, such as
Toulouse Lautrec or 
Mucha, command
 higher prices.



Ocean liners are one of
the most
 poster categories.



Rare posters by 
Cappiello, like this one 
for an Italian 
department store, can 
bring 10 times the 
price of more 
common ones.
205 Newbury Street
Boston, Massachusetts 02116
voice: (617) 375-0076

fax: (617) 375-0079

Copyright 2003


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