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I promised a while back that’s I’d revisit the most recent Great Central Railwayana auction and see what the posters on offer actually went for.  A course of action necessitated by the fact that railwayana auctions never, it seems, publish an estimate of what they think a poster is going to sell for.  This sometimes makes me think that I must be missing out on loads of cheap bargains, passed over by railway enthusiasts who would rather look at pictures of trains, or at a push, landscapes.

Claude Buckle Somerset
Claude Buckle, sold for £300

This was probably true once upon a time, but it definitely isn’t any more.  Posters are expensive wherever you buy them, and railwayana auctions are no exception to this rule.  The only difference seems to be that posters with a railway rather than design interest might fetch more than they would do at a more general sale, which is fair enough.

A Southern Railway quad royal poster. THE FOUR BELLES RING THE SOUTHERN COAST, by Shep
Shep, sold for £1550

But landscapes and seaside scenes aren’t exactly going cheap either, with this example inexplicably (to me at least) at the top of the range.

poster, LITTLEHAMPTON, by Allinson  British railways poster
Allinson, sold for £860.

Also failing to be bargains are the more decorative posters that I like the best.

Bromfield British railway poster swanage
Bromfield, sold for £490

Gregory Brown Ullswater travel poster
F Gregory Brown, sold for £520.

Even kitsch, which only a few years ago wouldn’t have been very valuable, reaches just the same prices as it would at a general auction sale.

Bexhill British Railways poster 1950s
Anon, sold for £300

The news isn’t all bad, as a couple of odd bargains did slip through.  I very much liked this poster and said so when I looked over the auction.  But I was clearly on my own in this.

Burley Dover Southern railway
Burley, sold for £120

While the Wye Valley was also inexplicably unpopular for a pretty landscape.

Wye Valey russell British Railways poster
Russell, sold for £130

But is there anything else we can conclude beyond my initial assessment that a railwayana auction is unlikely to give you a cheap poster?  I’m not sure there is, really.  There is a very small chance that you might get a bargain, particularly if you were buying for quality of design rather than for meticulous reproduction of countryside or trains.  But equally you might not, and there appears to be no way of telling either.  Perhaps the answer is to put a low bid on anything you half-fancy and hope that it works once or twice per sale.  But that does seem a bit of a random way of buying, even to me.

If we look wider, there is another, rather terrifying conclusion to draw as well.  Because that last auction was actually pretty cheap compared to what else has been going on recently.  The most recent GW Railwayana auction was, frankly, boggling in its prices.  Here is just a small selection.

Glencoe Norman Wilkinson LMS LNER poster
Norman Wilkinson, sold for £1,200

London Norman Wilkinson LMS LNER poster
Norman Wilkinson, sold for £3,550

Terence Cuneo Day begins LMS poster
Terence Cuneo, sold for £6,100

To me, that’s all looking, well, expensive; not just beyond Onslows’ prices, but nudging Christies too.

Not everything headed out at that kind of stratospheric level though.  At this particular auction, the kitsch didn’t do quite as well, in particular this delightful poster which I took a shine to at the time.

Geoff Sadler thornton cleveleys poster british railways 1950s
Geoff Sadler, sold for £180

Although nothing went desperately cheap, and the right poster, clearly, could get the money in.

Rhyl British Railways poster leonard 1961
Leonard, sold for £440

Neither of these sales are exceptions, either. If I go back to the last couple of GCR auctions, the pattern is very much the same.

Morecambe anonymous holiday poster family on beach
Anon, sold for £520

Ayr Laurence british railways poster
Laurence, sold for £620

Frank Mason Yorkshrie Coast vintage LNER 1930s railway poster
Frank Mason, sold for £4,100

With just the very occasional bargain to keep my hopes up.

Largs Ayrshire Lander poster British Railways 1950s
Lander, sold for £50

Oh, and this, which I was very disappointed to see going cheap, mainly because we’ve got a copy.  Never mind.

Tom Purvis East Coast baby yellow railway poster

Tom Purvis, sold for £230

I could go on, but it would only pain me.

Perhaps the most striking thing about railwayana auctions, though, is how much they, and the market, have changed.  The magic of the internet allowed me to revisit a GWRA auction from 2004.  It’s a different world.  There are only about ten posters for sale, of which the vast majority went for very little.  £50 could have bought you either of these for example.

'Yorkshire Coast’, BR poster, 1959. Anonymous

buckle-eden-valley

Compare that to their last auction, where there are several dozen posters on offer, some of very high quality, and many fetching extremely high prices.

This is a big change indeed in under ten years, and it’s something that isn’t often acknowledged.  That includes by the auctions themselves, for whom it seems posters are a bit of a sideline compared to the real business of metal name plates and station platform signs.  But these days, the railwayana auctions together must easily turn over as many posters as Onslows and Christies combined.  I shall pay them a bit more respect in future.  We all should.   And perhaps they could return the favour with some estimates.

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7 Comments

  1. martin steenson
    Posted April 29, 2013 at 7:30 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps one thing to be learned is that people who buy at these sales don’t look on the net for the same items. I have the Rhyl poster on my site for £180, but someone was happy to pay £440 for it! I guess people still believe auctions are always cheaper than dealers.

  2. James
    Posted April 30, 2013 at 6:45 am | Permalink

    Come to Yorkshire and have your baby irradiated in our nuclear function… Turning orange guaranteed. It obviously says something different to you! What?

  3. crownfolio
    Posted April 30, 2013 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    Clearly we are very strange people indeed, then, because we had that on Small Crownfolio’s wall when she was a baby. It looked lovely and sunny, at least that’s what we thought…

    And Martin, just yes. The internet was supposed to get rid of all of that kind of wierd price differentials I thought, but apparently not.

  4. Posted April 30, 2013 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    Martin is right, of course. But to add some perspective the major buyer at the first railwayana sale with posters that I attended ( mid 1980s ) was Kiki Werth. ‘Art’ dealers have been following railway sales as long as they’ve been around. Railwayana buffs have been forced to grudgingly cough up for better posters. At the same time, if they were salting them away in the 60s and 70s, they’re doing very nicely thank you.
    Re the Purvis bargain – very few people want a fried baby sized 50 x 40.

  5. crownfolio
    Posted April 30, 2013 at 7:11 pm | Permalink

    In which case, she was probably doing quite well out of it. Even when we started going to Onslows sales less than ten years ago there were still some mighty bargains to be had.

    I have a fried baby (see above). We like it, but we are clearly part of the few…

  6. mm
    Posted May 1, 2013 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    I suspect the Dover poster went cheaply because it doesn’t carry the name of a railway company!

  7. crownfolio
    Posted May 1, 2013 at 12:30 pm | Permalink

    I just don’t have that mentality, I really don’t…

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