Potter & Potter Auctions, Chicago, Illinois
Photos courtesy Potter & Potter Auctions
Potter & Potter Auctions took a big step toward its goal of diversifying from magic and circus memorabilia, upon which its reputation was built, with a vintage poster auction featuring more than 600 items on January 25 in Chicago. Hundreds of travel posters came from a Michigan collector, while a Nashville collector consigned circus posters, and minstrel show posters originated with a dealer in Florida.
Wanting to become the third or fourth auction house in the country to specialize in posters doesn’t indicate a lack of magic collections for sale, said Gabe Fajuri, president of Potter & Potter. In fact, a 40' container of magic items was imported from Germany last year and is in line for auctions scheduled through 2021, he said.
“The sale was quite good actually. It was a healthy, lively auction,” Fajuri said, adding that higher results, a 92% sell-through rate, and more individual bidders than in previous poster auctions showed the business to already be a destination for poster sales.
Among bidders were regular customers, new collectors, and dealers. “Posters tend to attract more dealers because there still are poster galleries around the country, and they’re looking for inventory,” he said.
Before the sale, Fajuri predicted that posters by well-known illustrators Stan Galli and David Klein would do well, and he considered a 1A912 propaganda poster depicting Karl Marx and a promotional poster for a football contest between the Detroit Athletic Club and the Akron Foot Ball Club as highlights. The poster labeled “The Tree of Evil,” which depicts Marx directing laborers to cut the roots of ignorance, exceeded its estimate of $500/700 and sold for $2400 (including buyer’s premium). The sports poster, showing a player sans helmet and pads, sold for $1500, under the $2000/3000 estimate.
Galli and Klein each had numerous works in the sale, but the top seller—among all posters—was by Perham Nahl for the Panama Pacific International Exposition in 1915. It sold for $4800, well above its $1500/2000 estimate. The drawing of Hercules became the official image for the exposition.
The auction’s top seller was this 1915 poster by Perham Nahl (1869-1935) for the Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. Described as depicting the “13th Labor of Hercules,” it advertises the exposition’s opening day and was chosen as the exposition’s official image. Measuring 23½" x 14", the poster is graded B+/A- and sold for $4800 (est. $1500/2000).
Galli’s bestseller in the sale went for $2250 (est. $2000/3000). The destination was Disneyland, and the poster depicted a boat of tourists about to encounter an open-mouthed hippopotamus. Like all seven of his works in the sale, it was for United Air Lines. Two posters by Galli, one showing a cable car in San Francisco and the other showing a deer, sold within their estimates, while the other posters in the sale by Galli sold below their estimates.
Galli, who died in 2009, made his bones illustrating wildlife scenes for Weyerhaeuser Company timber ads, and that led to him designing 26 U.S. postage stamps promoting wildlife conservation. He was known for his realism and precise representations. After years as a commercial illustrator, he started painting landscapes in Tuscany and historic sites from Spanish colonial California.
The career of Klein, who died in 2005, started and ended with his using watercolors to paint landscapes and scenes of everyday life in California. In between, his travel posters for TWA, the airline owned for a time by Howard Hughes, became iconic for capturing the excitement of postwar flying, and Klein was the illustrator of choice for many Broadway shows. He also did a series of animal prints for First National City Bank of New York.
Of the 20 posters in the sale by Klein, the top seller was of the New York World’s Fair. It was called “one of the rarest” of all the fair’s posters and depicted a large globe floating on a bright orange background lit by exploding fireworks. It sold for $2400 (est. $1400/2000). Close behind was a strikingly graphic poster for TWA’s flights to Africa showing a line of zebras, which sold for $2040 (est. $1200/1400).
This 1964/65 poster for the New York World’s Fair and TWA by illustrator David Klein (1918-2005) exceeded its estimate of $1400/2000 and sold for $2400. The grade A poster, 40" x 25", was described in the catalog as being one of the rarest of the fair posters.
Posters promoting travel to India, some for Air-India, proved popular. Two posters used cartoonish characterizations to try and capture the culture, and each sold for $2880, well above the estimates of $800/1000.
Humor also was apparent in a poster for British West Indian Airways to Cayman depicting a happy fisherman spearing a fish, which sold for $187.50 (est. $200/300). A similar poster for British West Indian Airways to Caracas featured two dancers and sold for $593.75 (est. $200/300). A poster for magician and illusionist P.T. Selbit showing a comical scene of men wrestling a wheel of cheese sold for $1440 (est. $1200/1500).
An 1894 poster of magician Harry Kellar sold for $2400. It showed the “whispering devils” that were frequently copied by later magicians. The sale catalog said a multi-figured scene labeled “J.A. Haverly’s Mammoth Uncle Tom’s Cabin Co.” was a one-of-a-kind print with “no copies of this print located institutionally or at auction.” Printed in St. Louis in the 1880s, it sold for $1680 (est. $1500/2500.) A stained and restored poster from the 1880s depicting the Thatcher, Primrose & West minstrel show with a $1000/1500 estimate failed to sell.
This poster depicting Harry Kellar with “whispering devils” sold for $2400 (est. $2000/3000). The 30" x 20" poster, “Kellar The Great Magician,” graded A-/B+, printed by Strobridge Lithographing Company, Cincinnati, in 1894, introduced the red devils that were often copied by later magicians.
Much poster art is deliberately not signed, Fajuri said. “We don’t know who the artists were. If they were at a lithography house, the house didn’t want them to have a reputation. ‘You work for me’ was the mentality,” he said.
Posters display quality design and artistry, yet are priced inexpensively, Fajuri said. They are considered the second tier of fine art, finally “giving designers their due, even if they’re hawking biscuits or airlines.”
For more information, call (773) 472-1442 or visit the website (www.potterauctions.com).
Renowned illustrator Stan Galli (1912-2009) created this poster depicting a swamp tour boat for United Air Lines and Disneyland in the 1950s. Selling for $2250 (est. $2000/3000), it topped by a wide margin the results for his other travel posters in the auction. Measuring 40" x 24", it is graded B for some overpainting, repairs, and browning.
This Air France poster by Guy Arnoux (1886-1951), which was printed by Hubert Baille & Cie in Paris in 1946, was described in the catalog as representing the U.S. as a mighty and mythical place juxtaposed against the old and staid boundaries of continental Europe. The 39" x 24½" linen-backed poster, graded B+ for some repaired tears and restored loss, sold for $2000 (est. $3000/5000).
Bidding was briefly spirited for this iconic image of one of the pair of lions at the entrance to the Art Institute of Chicago against a backdrop of buildings along Michigan Avenue. Austrian illustrator Joseph Binder (1898-1972) designed the poster for United Air Lines around 1948. The 40" x 25" poster, graded B+, has some inpainting and repairs and sold for $1680 (est. $1000/1500).
Karl Marx is directing laborers to cut away the roots of ignorance that provide strength to diseases and crime in this 1912 propaganda poster that sold for $2400 (est. $500/700). Graded A-, the 20" x 16" poster is labeled “The Tree of Evil.”
Matted and framed, this poster from the 1890s advertises a football matchup: “Detroit Ath’tic Club vs. Akron Foot Ball Club.” The 24½" x 39" (sight size) poster sold for $1500, below the $2000/3000 estimate, despite being described as “a rarely seen 19th century football poster.”
Advertising Antar oil, a French brand, this 31" x 24" poster printed by Vox in France in 1933/34 features a red racecar on the cliff sides of Monte Carlo. Graded A, the poster with an estimate of $1500/2000 failed to sell.
Printed in the 1880s by Great Western Printing & Litho, St. Louis, this idealized depiction of a plantation dance was described in the catalog as “rare,” with “no copies located institutionally or at auction.” The 26" x 40" (sight size) poster, “J.A. Haverly’s Mammoth Uncle Tom’s Cabin Co. / Sunset Pastimes on the Old Plantation,” rated B+, sold for $1680 (est. $1500/2500).
Originally published in the April 2020 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2020 Maine Antique Digest