An artist's record for Fred Spear (dates unknown) was set by this 32¼" x 22¾" condition B+/A- "Enlist" poster from 1915. It brought the auction's highest bid$22,800from a collector bidding on the phone (est. $15,000/20,000). In August 2005, a 32" x 23" condition B copy sold within estimate for $5060.
The catalog description began with a quote in which the poster is described as "the rarest and most elusive of war posters produced in the United States." From the Sackett & Wilhelms Corporation in New York and published in June 1915 by the Boston Committee of Public Safety in response to the sinking of the Lusitania, which claimed 128 American lives, "Spear's poster chillingly, hauntingly, and poignantly stirs our emotions by showing us the callous destruction of innocence. It is at first glance a softly rendered, tender, passionate, and almost romantic image, but upon closer inspection, the horrible truth becomes apparent. This mother and her baby are sinking in the ocean, the soft rendering is the nightmare of the murky sea, and, indeed, the two are surrounded by almost dream-like images of fish and seaweed...The image was based on a widely circulated news account from Ireland about the sinking of the Lusitania, 'On the Cunard wharf lies a mother with a three-month old child clasped tightly in her arms. Her face wears a half smile. Her baby's head rests against her breast. No one has tried to separate them.'"
Swann Galleries, New York City
by Richard de Thuin
Photos courtesy Swann
It was a super Wednesday at Swann's New York City salesroom on August 1 at an auction of vintage posters. The sale was held in two sessions with a break for lunch (we beat it to Shake Shack). The morning session included over 130 examples of World War I and II propaganda posters and more than 40 lots devoted to Russian and Chinese propaganda posters, and finished with a large selection of beach and summer resort posters.
Two auction records and an artist's record were realized during the military segment of the sale. "Let Us Go Forward Together," 1940, London, by an unknown designer, went to a collector at $4320 (includes buyer's premium), and a Maxfield Parrish illustration for the August 1897 issue of Scribner's Fiction Number brought $6720, also from a collector.
An artist's record was achieved for Fred Spear, who designed the disturbing "Enlist," an image depicting a mother holding her baby to her breast as both drowned in a murky sea, representing the sinking of the Lusitania. The poster sold to a collector for $22,800, the top price of the day.
The afternoon session began with a selection of Mather work posters, followed by over 80 American circus and literary posters, about 19 American travel posters, and over 120 international posters, and it finished with a variety of Art Nouveau posters. A third auction record was set for one of the American posters, a Ben Shahn 1948 work, "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," which realized $6000 from a collector.
Among the top selling 21 lots, 19 sold to collectors, one to a dealer, and one to an institution. This state of affairs pleased Nicholas Lowry, Swann's president and posters specialist, who commented that "the first August auction of vintage posters in 1994 hammered down at $144,695. This sale sold just under half a million dollars and was our highest grossing August poster auction ever. It did almost fifteen percent better than the vintage posters sale in August 2011, our previous best sale."
There were two surprises at the auction: a poster about Bolshevism and a poster about capitalism. Bidding on the propaganda posters attracted buyers from around the world, and travel posters once again performed very well.
It all came down to good material selling for increasingly higher prices as the market seeks out rare works in excellent condition.
Of the World War I and II propaganda posters, 32 posters sold above estimates, 33 posters sold within, and 33 posters sold below estimates. Very close odds, we say.
The sale total was $581,891 against a presale estimate of $601,750/879,700. With those kinds of figures, it is only a matter of time until Swann gets to rejoice over a million-dollar auction of vintage posters.
For more information, contact Swann Galleries at (212) 254-4710; Web site (www.swanngalleries.com).
This condition B+ 27¾" x 20" poster from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., promoted African-American servicemen during World War II, and it was the first poster to depict Tuskegee Airmen. This image has popped up at past printed and manuscript African-American auctions at Swann, notably in March 2011, when it brought $2640; here this vintage poster went to an institution at $4320 (est. $1200/1800).
Described in the catalog as the "best known poster of all time" and "a cultural icon" of 20th-century imagery and propaganda, this poster achieved an auction record at $13,200 (est. $5000/7000) from a collector. The 40" x 29½" paper poster by James Montgomery Flagg (1877-1960) was framed and in A- condition. A 40¾" x 30" example of this poster came in at the high estimate for $10,800 at Swann's August 2011 auction. In August 2010, another copy, 40½" x 30", doubled the high estimate to sell to a collector for $12,600; and in August 2005, a 40" x 30" copy sold below estimate for $3450.
|A "Grand Anti-Masonic Exhibition" poster from 1941 by an unknown designer, condition B+, 39" x 26¾", was from an anti-Semitic propaganda exhibit in Belgrade, Serbia. The poster advertises that the exhibition includes works on "English-American autocrats, people against democratic immigration, bloody Soviet aristocrats, and all idiotic brotherhoods." Now, that's a statement. A bidder on the phone won this poster at $4080 (est. $1200/1800).|
An auction record was achieved for "Let Us Go Forward Together" from 1940 by an unknown designer that depicted Winston Churchill and referenced Churchill's first speech as prime minister to the House of Commons on May 13, 1940. In condition A-/B+, this 29¾" x 19¾" paper poster sold to a collector for $4320 (est. $800/1200).
|Bidding opened at $2600 for this circa 1928 42" x 30¾" condition A/A- poster by Roger Broders depicting the beach at Antibes, which, to quote the catalog, evokes "languid reminiscences of an F. Scott Fitzgerald story and is an uncanny example of art imitating life, imitating art." When an order bidder dropped out at $8500, two phones swam to shore until the hammer went down to yet another collector at $12,000 (est. $6000/9000).|
|Some posters catch the eye and flutter the heart, and "Pyramid of Capitalist System," 1911, by an unknown designer did just that, literally driving us into a tailspin of desire. Our enthusiasm was matched by several other bidders, particularly after Nicholas Lowry announced that there was a great deal of interest in this work. Phooey, we thought we could get this one for a song! Bidding opened at $850 and spiraled upward between the Internet and phones until a new phone bidder jumped in at $3800, sending the proceedings to culminate in an impressive $5280 (est. $400/600) from a dealer. What an amazing result given that this 19½" x 15¾" faded framed paper poster in condition B+/B had creases, abrasions, and discoloration in the margins and image and darkened edges. Who'd a thunk the price would go so high?|
|Two phone bidders fought for this anti-Bolshevik poster printed in Poland during the Polish-Soviet War. This condition B+/B- 43" x 31¼" poster with an illegible signature was a frightening image of a naked and red Leon Trotsky, seated upon a pile of skulls. He holds a bloody dagger in one hand and a pistol in the other while receiving advice from a specter of death whispering in his ear. A collector paid $13,200, roughly nine times the high estimate.|
|"A Good Man Is Hard to Find," a 45½" x 30" condition A-/B+ poster from Ben Shahn (1898-1969), is, according to catalog notes, not a traditional campaign poster but a political cartoon or a caricature, touting neither of the men depicted, but the unseen third Progressive Party candidate. This poster was "'intended to provoke laughter regardless of one's political convictions.'" A collector on the phone won the poster at the low estimate for $6000, which set an auction record.|
Often one can sit in a salesroom and instinctively know when a particular lot is going to "jump over the moon." "Sebring '60 12 Hour - Grand Prix of Endurance," a 22½" x 15¼" condition A poster from 1960 by an unknown designer, jumped high, selling to an order bidder for $3360 (est. $700/1000).