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Institutions vs. Collectors and Dealers at Poster Auction

Richard de Thuin | December 18th, 2013

A sought-after genre of vintage posters advertised cigarettes back when consumers hadn’t a clue to the detrimental effects of tobacco on the human body. Erich Muller (dates unknown) designed this 24" x 35½" condition B+ poster for the Hansom Cigarette. The repeated motif of a well-dressed woman, in this case dressed in black and holding a red handbag, was often used in advertising in the period when this circa 1912 poster was created. An order bid from an institution won the poster within estimate for $5500, which set an auction record.

This advertisement for “Petrole Stella” with winged fairies, a signature design of the artist, H. Gray (Henri Boulanger, 1858-1924), a condition B+ 51" x 39½" paper poster from 1897, sold for $5000 to an institution bidding on the phone.

A cat licks its paw on “Schicht Seife,” a 48½" x 36" condition B+ poster by Lucian Bernhard (1883-1972). A dealer on the phone bought it for $7250 (est. $3000/4000).

Designed in 1929 by Felix Albrecht Harta (1884-1967), “Festwochen in Wien,” a 49½" x 37¼" condition A- paper poster, brought $2750 from an order bidder (est. $800/1200).

Swann Auction Galleries, New York City

Photos courtesy Swann Auction Galleries

Institutions gave collectors and dealers some competition at the sale of the Julius Paul collection of vintage posters at Swann Galleries on December 18, 2013. Of the 20 top-selling lots, five sold to institutions at prices ranging from $5000 to $7500 (includes buyers’ premiums), while collectors took nine lots ranging in price from $4352 to $11,875. The remaining six lots sold to dealers at prices ranging from $4500 to $8750.

Three auction records were achieved among these 20 lots. “Grandes Fêtes Jubilé De L’Empereur,” 1908, by Bertold Loffler brought the highest price from a collector, $11,875. “Richard Strauss-Woche/ München,” 1910, by Ludwig Hohlwein sold to a dealer for $8750, and “Hansom Cigarette” by Erich Muller, a circa 1912 poster, was won by an institution for $5500.

Julius Paul, a Hungarian-born Jewish Viennese businessman, assembled his collection of posters between 1895 and 1937. Paul distributed cigarette rolling papers, a profession known for its graphic advertising campaigns, and was a passionate collector who acquired over 6300 posters in his lifetime and stored his collection in a custom-built oak storage cabinet. According to notes in the catalog, “His was not a ‘working’ collection, meaning that the contents were not loaned out to institutions or used by students or scholars as research. Rather Paul’s intention from the outset was for the collection to be appreciated but not used commercially: a collector’s collection.”

The catalog continued, “For serious poster collectors and fans of historical design, discovering new images is always something exciting. To come across hundreds of superb, scarcely (if ever) seen images all in one place is wonderful, and to find all of these images in exceptional condition, carefully folded and preserved from the ravages of time and use, is a once in a lifetime event. This auction of the Julius Paul collection of posters is one of these rare events.”

The posters stem from the twilight of the Belle Époque era and the Austro-Hungarian empire (the majority of posters in the collection) up to the years before the Great War through the interwar years until Paul’s death in March 1938. The sale totaled $477,697. Offered were 379 lots, and 222 sold (a 59% sell-through rate by lot).

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


Condition in the catalog is noted according to a rating system that 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 as printed; the colors are fresh, there is no significant paper loss or tears, but there may be some slight blemish, 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 visibly apparent, and there may be discoloration and/or fading.

The priciest lot of the auction was this 41¾" x 15¾" condition A poster from 1908 by Bertold Loffler (1874-1960). The rare smaller format French version of “Grandes Fêtes Jubilé De L’Empereur” sold to a collector for $11,875 and set an auction record. In 1906 Loffler founded the Vienna Ceramics, which operated in conjunction with the Wiener Werkstätte.

The second-highest-selling lot of the auction was this 39¾" x 27¾" condition B+ poster by Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939) entitled “Oesterreich Auf Der Weltausstellung/ Paris 1900” from 1899. It sold within estimate to an order bidder for $9375. According to notes in the catalog, “This image is virtually unique among Mucha’s work, as it does not display a woman posing on her own, but a young ephebe unveiling a generously proportioned lady....When the poster originally appeared, many collectors cut the piece in two and kept only the sensuous half designed by Mucha.” The other half of the poster depicts architectural renderings of Austria’s various buildings at the Paris World’s Fair of 1900. There is also a train schedule for trains from Vienna to Paris.

Handsome paper poster (1910) by Ludwig Hohlwein (1874-1949) of “Richard Strauss-Woche,” 44" x 29", condition A-, went to a dealer on the phone and set an auction record at $8750.

Riquet, a purveyor of exotic chocolates and teas, was a major client of Ludwig Hohlwein (1874-1949). He incorporated exotic images from the countries from which the products were imported. This 43" x 29¼" condition B+/A- 1920 poster went to a dealer on the phone within estimate for $6500.

Originally published in the May 2014 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2014 Maine Antique Digest

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