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Fifteen of Top 20 Posters Go to Collectors

Richard de Thuin | August 7th, 2013

This 39¼" x 29¼" condition B+ framed poster from 1917 with the iconic image of Uncle Sam by James Montgomery Flagg (1870-1960) opened for bidding at $8000 and closed above estimate at $14,400. It sold to a collector, produced the day’s top auction price, and set an auction record. Not pictured, in August 2011 a 40¾" x 30" condition B+ example nearly hit Swann’s top estimate when it sold for $10,800, and in August 2010 a 40½" x 30" condition A/A- poster with this image almost doubled Swann’s top estimate to bring $12,600 from another collector. Uncle Sam sure gets around at Swann Galleries.

Calling Sara and Gerald Murphy, Pablo Picasso, F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Dorothy Parker, Archibald MacLeish, John and Katy Dos Passos, and other personages associated with the expatriates in Paris during the 1920’s to “Antibes” on the French Riviera for fun, frolic, and lots of sun. This 42" x 31½" condition A poster by Roger Broders (1883-1953) depicts two flappers on the beach, soaking up the sun, with the dark blue water of the Mediterranean in the background, and a collector bidding by phone won it at $10,800. This poster also appears with a square version of the PLM logo and without a logo.

This 24" x 17½" condition A- Art Nouveau poster from 1897 by Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939) sold for $9600, the low estimate, to a dealer via an absentee bid.

Swann Galleries, New York City

Photos courtesy Swann Galleries

Fifteen of the 20 top-selling lots at Swann Galleries’ vintage poster auction on August 7 in New York City sold to collectors, and five of those posters brought auction records. The remaining five posters sold to dealers, and none of those achieved an auction record. The highest-selling lot, a James Montgomery Flagg “I Want You” poster from 1917, depicting Uncle Sam pointing his finger at the viewer and asking him to join the U.S. Army, sold above estimate for $14,400 (including buyer’s premium).

The remaining auction records were made for a circa 1917 “Destroy This Mad Brute / Enlist” poster by H.R. Hopps that pictured a red-tongued snarling gorilla holding a young woman in his arm ($12,000); an “About Paris” poster from 1895 by Edward Penfield ($6480); and two Mather & Company work incentive posters from 1925, “Be a Tight Wad! / Own Something” ($4560) and “Set the Pace! / Win the Race! / All the World Loves a Winner” ($4800). Both of these Mather posters, from a total of 21 work incentive posters, sold to one of two phone bidders; only one of the 21 posters went to an order bidder.

Given the high number of posters won by collectors versus dealers or institutions, it appears that this segment of the market is healthy, and that people are not reluctant to pay the money they deem fair for a particular vintage poster, whatever the reserve. Nicholas Lowry, Swann’s auctioneer and vintage poster specialist, commented, “Collectors far outnumbered dealers competing for these posters…Swann once again broke its own world record for the Uncle Sam poster.”

The genres of posters offered to buyers in both morning and afternoon sessions included early American, American literary, World War I and World War II, Mather work incentives, beach and summer resort, travel, Art Nouveau, and international. There was also a small group of Saturday Evening Post posters, one of which depicted three children playing marbles above the words “Communist Wreckers in American Labor.” This 1939 poster by Norman Rockwell (1894-1978), 27¾" x 21¾", condition A/A-, sold to the phone for $900.

There was much active bidding on the phones and a tremendous amount of advance bidding. The sale total equaled $428,423. Swann offered 436 lots; 292 sold (67% sell-through rate by lot). The five auction records helped to make this summer auction a standout.

For more information, contact Swann Galleries at (212) 254-4710; Web site (

Condition Rating for Vintage Posters

Condition in this report is noted according to a rating system in the auction catalog, which has been accepted by most poster dealers. The following ratings are used, with an appropriate “+” or “-” to indicate slightly better or worse condition.

Condition A designates a poster much in the same state as when it was printed. The colors are fresh, and there is no significant paper loss or tears, but there may be some slight blemishes, creases, or scuffing.

Condition B designates a poster in good condition. Some restoration, including repaired tears or slight overpainting, may have been done, but it is not visible or apparent, and there may be discoloration and/or fading.

Did you know that the image on “Destroy This Mad Brute / Enlist” by H.R. Hopps (1869-1937) was the influence for King Kong?—at least according to popular folklore. This is a most striking American poster issued in 1917 during World War I, and a 41" x 28" condition B+ example brought $12,000 from a bidder in the room and achieved an auction record.

A recruitment poster distilling the horrors of a German invasion of America, it had a savage, primitive, sexually charged theme. A red-tongued gorilla, whose helmet reads “Militarism,” clutches a desperate maiden in a torn dress, sort of the way King Kong clutched Fay Wray in the 1933 movie of the same name, a bloody club labeled “Kultur.”

According to notes in the catalog, “This poster is an extraordinary confluence of at least four external influences including dreams, schemes, self-promotion, and publicity. In 1909 Lewis Rodman Wanamaker, the scion of the great Philadelphia department store family, publicly proposed the idea of a gigantic memorial to the vanishing Native American, to be situated across from the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. Wanamaker, and his chief photographer, Joseph Kossuth Dixon, kept pushing their project and on December 8, 1911, Congress passed an act authorizing the construction of the monument on Staten Island. In 1913 there was a groundbreaking ceremony and President Taft himself, as well as over 30 prominent Native Americans, were in attendance.

“Among the monument’s supporters was Buffalo Bill, who at the time was winding down his long run as America’s premiere and most-recognized performer. After announcing his impending retirement in 1910, advertisements for his shows began appearing with the phrases, ‘bids good bye,’ ‘absolutely last appearance,’ etc. …these ‘good bye’ notices continued to appear for several years. Here, in an attempt to piggyback his own publicity with an important national story, the performer decided to weigh in on the monument.”

No other copy of this poster is known to exist, although the image is reproduced in the 1911 book Thrilling Lives of Buffalo Bill…and Pawnee Bill…. Unfortunately, because of World War I and changing public opinion, the monument was never constructed. Buffalo Bill died in January 1917. This 54" x 41" condition B+ poster of 1911 by an unknown designer sold to a collector for $8400, within estimate.

“Set the Pace! / Win the Race! / All the World loves a Winner,” a 48" x 36" condition A-/B+ paper Mather & Company work incentive poster from 1925 by an unknown designer, came in at $4800, the top estimate, to phone bidder #450, underbid by phone bidder #423. This poster also made an auction record.

“Be a Tight Wad / Own Something!,” a 48" x 36" condition A/A- paper poster from 1925 by an unknown designer, brought $4560 (est. $2000/3000) from phone bidder #450 and set an auction record.

Here’s a circa 1935 advertisement for the Pennsylvania Railroad, depicting the beach, boardwalk, and hotels of Atlantic City, “America’s All-Year Resort,” and what a difference in scale from the circa 1874 New Excursion House poster (see page 13-B). This 40" x 25" condition B+ poster by Edward M. Eggleston (1883-1941) realized $6720 from a collector.

A collector on the phone paid $4320 for this 29¾" x 20" condition B+ poster from 1920 by an unknown designer (est. $2000/3000).

Two black cats flank a red Moulin Rouge on this 14¼" x 9½" condition A American advertising poster by Edward Penfield (1866-1925) that sold for $6480 (est. $1500/2000) to a collector on the phone and set an auction record. Penfield was an art director at Harper & Brothers, where he designed posters for books the firm published. This title was a socio-travelogue through Paris at night.

About 14 lots devoted to racecars and roadsters appeared during the sale, and most impressive were the bidding and prices realized for three Carrera posters from Mexico. “IV Carrera / Panamericana” (1953) by Rueda involved two bidders on the phone battling each other until the condition B+/B poster realized $3840 (est. $600/900).

This framed 39" x 49" condition A- poster from 1937 by Arthur C. Michael that pictures a group of happy tourists on a boat for “The Broads,” 200 miles of safe inland waterways, realized $4080 from a phone bidder.

Originally published in the December 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest

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