Posters, posters everywhere, but not a lot to buy

Well, it’s here.  For the first time under the new rules (which are, as ranted about previously, a minimum lot value of £800) it’s the Christies May vintage poster auction.  And, unsurprisingly, it’s not for me any more.

There are lots of cruise posters, some French posters, a fair smattering of Olympic posters, and lots more besides, but very little that I’d actually want to buy.

Perhaps the most interesting one for me is this Hans Unger Safari poster, mainly because I’ve never seen it before

Hans Unger Safari poster from Christies

This may also be true for Christies, because they don’t seem to have a date or a publisher for it.  Anyone out there with any ideas?

There are also five lots of Lyons teashop prints, which you don’t often see, although I’m not sure whether this is because they don’t often come up, or because they more often make their appearances at Modern British Art sales.  This 1947 one by William Scott is probably my favourite,

William Scott Lyons print christies

with Barnett Freedman a close second.

Barnett Freedman Lyons print from Christies

It’s worth noting that not even Barnett Freedman can make himself worth the minimum lot value, and for the estimate of £800-1,200 you get two Freedman prints for your teashop.

A few of the usual suspects are present, like these pair of McKnight Kauffers (estimates £1,000-£1,500 and £2,000-£3,000 respectively)

Magicians prefer Shell McKnight Kauffer vintage poster Christies

Lubrication by Shell McKnight Kauffer vintage poster Christies

There is also this Bawden City of London Transport poster (estimate £700-£900)

Edward Bawden vintage London Transport poster City of London

Interestingly, this comes with six other London Transport posters when I would have thought that it would hold that value perfectly well by itself.  I’d also be curious to know whether one of them is its pair poster, as this half is coming up more and more, but you never see the text side for sale.  Perhaps I’d better ask Christies.

Further to yesterday’s post, there is also a David Gentleman pair poster,

David Gentleman pair poster London Transport

For your £700-900, you also get its other half and two posters by the very under-rated Sheila Robinson, so a good helping of Englishness to be had there.

From the other side of the Channel, design-wise, this has also appeared.

Jean Dupas LPTB Richmond vintage poster Christies

I wonder if it was lured out by the Antiques Roadshow coverage.  The estimate (£3,000-£5,000) is pretty much what they gave, so it will be interesting to see how that does.

In other news, the lot value restrictions haven’t entirely kept out the kitch as this

Mervyn Stuart Butlins vintage poster from Christies

has an estimate of £600-800 despite being a bit grubby.  I’ll be surprised.

And this Carvosso will probably go for at least its £800-£1,200 estimate for its curiosity/ephemera value.

Carvosso 1966 World Cup poster Christies

While I admire its attempt to inject glamour into the roll-call of Manchester, Middlesborough, White City, I still don’t like it very much.

This, meanwhile, is just delightful.

D W Burley Chessington Zoo poster Christes

It’s by D W Burley but also isn’t dated.  But it’s still not £600-£800 worth of nice to me.  So I shan’t be bidding.

This post is already far too long, but it’s also my duty to point out, as a grumpy under-bidder, that this Henrion went off on eBay yesterday for a mere £139.

Henrion punch poster from eBay

One thing I really miss is knowing who has bought things.  In the good old days of eBay, most of the time you’d be able to see who’d beaten you to a poster like this.  But now – unless you’re selling it yourself – everyone has a cloak of invisibility which no computer wizardry can pull aside.  And with Onslow’s now online rather than in the eccentric Festival-modern hall at Marble Arch, I can’t even go there and see for myself wh0’s won things.  There’s no reason why I should know of course, but it’s still annoying.

A Gentleman and a poster designer

Saturday’s Guardian has an interview with David Gentleman, in which he says he came to feel, apropos of his political works,

“that my outrage should have been channelled into posters, not shut up out of harm’s way in a book”.

I wish he’d just done more posters full stop.

By complete coincidence, I’d just been wandering through the Design Council Slide Collection on VADS, looking for posters which weren’t to do with railways or ROSPA or London Transport (another story for another day) and had pulled out a handful of his posters for the National Trust.  Which are brilliant.

David Gentleman poster National Trust Camborne Beam Engine
1972 poster for the National Trust (and winner of a Poster Design Award to boot)

David Gentleman National Trust poster Knole gardens
1976 poster for the National Trust (apologies for the cropping, it came that way)

He also did some dramatic posters when the NT property of Petworth was threatened by a by-pass in 1976.

David Gentleman Petworth bypass poster

David Gentleman Petworth bypass poster

But perhaps his most outstanding achievement are the set of posters he designed for the Stop the War Coalition, which I think are amongthe best poster designs of the last twenty years in this country.  Maximum emotional impact, minimum means.

David Gentleman No War poster

David Gentleman No More Lies poster

David Gentleman Bliar poster

(There’s a very good interview about these last posters in the AGI magazine, from which I learned that Gentleman also thought up the Bliar slogan as well as designing the posters.  Really, he is a genius.)

But don’t let all that make you think that all he can do is dramatic protest.  Here are two London Transport posters he also designed, one a pair poster from 1956

David Gentleman vintage pair poster London Transport 1956

and the other from 1973.

David Gentleman Victorian London LT poster

And that is pretty much all I have been able to find.  Which – given the quality of the ones that he did do – is a great shame.

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.