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


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.


Our theme today is things mounted on board.  Because twice today I’ve looked at a promsingly low-priced item, only to discover that the apparent cheapness is justified, because it has been glued to a large lump of chipboard.  Sigh.

The first offender is this – estimated at a mere £80-120, which is a pittance for such a lovely thing.

Alfred Clive Gardiner 1926 vintage London Transport poster Kew Gardens from Bloomsbury

This Deco splendery is by Alfred Clive Gardiner from 1926 and I like it very much.

It’s on offer in the forthcoming Bloomsbury Poster and other bits and bobs Auction on 20th January.  Sadly, there isn’t a great deal else there to detain us.  A McKnight Kauffer perhaps. estimated at £200-400.

McKnight Kauffer ARP vintage WW2 poster 1938

Of interest to me at least is this Norman Wilkinson National Savings poster, estimated at £100-200.

Norman Wilkinson National Savings Poster from Bloomsbury auction

It’s the estimate that I’m most interested in, as we have two of these (I know, I have no idea why) which we’d happily sell now, so if they end up being worth anything like that it will be what is known as a result.

Other than that, it’s the usual run of Art Nouveau, sleek Art Deco cruise liners and pictures of people skiing.  Although this one did at least make me laugh.

Visite Portillo vintage skiing poster Chile

Estimate £250-35o for the political animals amongst us.

The second piece of boardery turned up on eBay.  £199 Buy It Now seemed very cheap for a vintage Claude Buckle GWR poster.

Claude Buckle Bath poster from eBay GWR vintage railway poster

Until you get close to it.  Not only is it mounted on board, but someone seems to have been taking pot shots at it too.

The seller does have a couple of other interesting poster too, albeit at a price.  This Percy Drake Brookshaw comes up every so often in auctions and so on.

Percy Drake Brookshaw vintage travel poster from eBay

And every time it does, it gives me a headache, so I certainly wouldn’t pay £200 for it (and, judging by its auction record, neither would anyone else).

But I do quite like this 1958 image by John Cort.

John Cort vintage 1958 travel poster excursions to the continent

At £150 Buy It Now or a bright bit of 1950s moderne, I suspect that will go quite soon (although Mr Crownfolio thinks I am wrong there).  And if it doesn”t, it should.

But I do also have a question about chipboard, or rather the posters that are stuck to them.  I am assuming that these have such low estimates because it’s not really possible to get the poster off the board.  Is this so, or is the process reversible?

This isn’t an abstract question, either.  We’ve got this lovely 1922 London Underground poster by Alfred Rutherston in just that state.

Albert Rutherston 1922 vintage London Underground poster on board from us

So if it can be released, I’d really like to know.

Not laughing, in a perfect world

Now I began this post, if I’m honest, intending simply to poke a bit of fun at poster dealers, and in particular the prices they charge.

Because now and again something comes my way which makes this almost irresistible.  Like this.

claude buckle ireland overnight vintage poster

Or to be more precise, this.

Now in my head, nothing, but nothing could make this 1960s railway poster worth £900, even if it is by Claude Buckle.  Not the Piccadilly premises of these lovely dealers, nor their need to pay the legions of Sloane Rangers who stroke it daily, nor any other excuse they offer could ever justify that price to me.

And why am I so sure?  Because we paid £80 for a lovely bright copy, with another poster thrown in to boot, last year.  Although I’m not entirely sure why we did as it’s a bit drab to have around the place and I can’t imagine it will ever end up framed.  Only a few edge tears distinguish it from its Mayfair relative.  Should you feel like doing the same, it’s pretty easy to pick one up at the railwayana auctions for between £100-£250, and they appear with reasonable regularity.

So far, so quite funny.  Although the more I consider it, the more I think the joke is less on the poster dealers than on their clients, who will, after all, have paid several hundred pounds more than they they needed to for this poster.

But then I did a bit more digging, and found the same poster had sold at Christies for £588 and then £657 there (in 2002 and 2004, since you ask).  Which makes the Sotherans price look more reasonable, as well as forcing me to reconsider how hard I am laughing – and do some proper thinking to boot.

So, why are people paying £900 for a poster when they could get it for £600, or £250, or even £80?  To some degree, they do this because that’s the way the antiques trade (or any branch of it like poster dealing) works.  Things, whether they are Claude Buckle posters or undiscovered Rembrandts, are sold at provincial auctions where no one knows what they are and so they go for a little bit.  They then work their way up the food chain via specialist auctions or middlemen, costing a bit more each time, until they finally end up in a Mayfair showroom for many, many times what they originally cost.  And everyone is happy.

This works because (I’m dredging up my memories of A Level Economics here, forgive me if this makes no sense) the market is imperfect.  To be precise, the market information is imperfect – the regional auction doesn’t know it’s a Rembrandt (or a nice poster), the man with bottomless pockets in Central London doesn’t know that he could get it much cheaper somewhere else.  And these imperfections are what drives a whole chain of price rises and exchanges.

Except there is one problem with this model now, and that’s the internet.  Should you choose to look for it, all the information you ever wanted to know about posters and their prices is out there on the web.  And the proof of that is this blog post.

I’m not a poster dealer with twenty years experience, gained in hanging around every provincial and Christies auction, I don’t even live in London.  And when I started writing this post, all I knew about that Buckle poster was that a) we had bought one for £80 and b) that there was a dealer in Mayfair pushing the boundaries of plausible pricing.  Now, just an hour later, I’ve got its whole auction history at my fingertips, and I’ve also had a crash revision course in the theory of perfect markets.

In theory then, the old model shouldn’t work any more.  Thanks to the internet, everyone with more than ten minutes to spare will know that they can get that Claude Buckle poster for £80-£200, they can see which auctions it’s coming up at – and they can even buy it without having to step away from their computers.  So they don’t ever need to pay more than the market price.  It’s nearly perfect, if you’re an economist that is.  Rather less so if you want to make money dealing in posters.

In Piccadilly, people with bottomless pockets probably will still walk into a gallery and buy something for what a dealer says its worth.  But elsewhere, I think this is more than just a theoretical model, it is already starting to make a difference.  In my previous post about Christies, I’ve already noted the drop in auction prices for post-war posters.  Here’s another example, Royston Cooper.

royston cooper keep britain tidy vintage poster

This went for £660 at Christies in 2005, just £200 three years later.  There may be other factors involved – the collapse of the world economy, that kind of thing – but I’d still be prepared to bet that the internet and all its information paid a part in that.  After all, why would you pay £660 for a poster when you could pick it up for £60 on eBay?

Having said all of that, the imperfect world did have its upsides.  Sotherans also have this on offer.

shell educational poster lanes david gentleman

It’s a Shell educational poster by David Gentleman, and they’d like you to pay £198 for it.  Now Mr Crownfolio and I went through a phase of rather liking these Shell posters, which means that I’d really like them to be worth the sharp end of £200 each.  Because that would mean that there is £7,000 sitting quietly under the spare bed.  Sadly, I don’t think it’s really true.