Q I'd like to buy a wedding present for friends who collect old travel posters. Was there a golden age of travel during which most of these posters were made?
WHAT THE EXPERT SAYS:
'There was a golden age but it wasn't when most posters were produced,' says Christopher Bailey of Picture This. The specialist poster dealer is staging a vintage travel poster exhibition at the Mandarin Oriental from October 21 to 24, including what is likely to be the largest collection of Hong Kong travel posters ever assembled.
Bailey says the golden age of travel was between the world wars (1918 to 1939) when 'travel was undertaken by the wealthy in great style and at great expense. Posters were beautifully designed in those days and produced in limited quantities that adds to their desirability'.
'Production probably peaked in the 1970s but few posters from that era are considered collectible as the airlines and other travel companies would rarely use artist-designed posters - instead destination photography was used because it was a cheaper and easier way to get the message across.' ON THE RIGHT TRACK:
According to Bailey, travel posters were first produced around 1900 by railways and shipping lines in Europe and are among the most collectible. Early producers were the main railway lines in Britain and France. Airline posters came out in the 1930s. Early exponents were Imperial Airways (forerunner of British Airways) and Pan Am.
'Early posters were printed using stone lithography, a slow and laborious method, which produces beautifully vivid and rich colours,' says Bailey. However, created as disposable art and sometimes printed on poor quality paper, vintage posters in good condition are difficult to find and preserve, he says. 'Restoration usually involves backing the posters on linen, an archival process. There are no linen backers in Hong Kong. We send all our posters to a restorer in the US.'
Collecting has only really taken off in the past 10 to 15 years. Bailey says: 'They have certainly appreciated in value and show no sign of slowing down.'
Poster collectors often look for favourite artists such as Dong Kingman, who designed posters for the Hong Kong Tourist Association, Pan Am & BOAC. Others include David Klein, Aldo Cosomati and Jean Carlu.
Of course, some fetch higher prices than others. 'A Pan Am late 1930s stone lithograph poster advertising travel to the Far East with a picture of Hong Kong harbour sold earlier this year in auction in New York for US$5,000. This is the most I'm aware of for a Hong Kong travel poster,' says Bailey.
'A rare London Underground poster from 1939 designed by well-known surrealist Man Ray has sold for approximately HK$250,000. Rare shipping line posters from pre-1920 regularly sell for HK$78,000 to HK$156,000 at auction.'
NEW COLLECTOR TIPS:
You don't need to be a millionaire to collect vintage posters. Picture This generally sells them for $1,000 to $15,000 and up. Beyond the obvious quality and condition criteria, Bailey advises: 'Choose a destination that has a particular tie for you and an artist with a particular style. Some airlines have posters which are more collectible because of interest in the airline (especially Pan Am). These have tended to escalate in price more rapidly.'
No worries about fakes, either. 'Travel posters are generally not faked (yet), though many of the more famous and beautiful airline and shipping posters are reproduced. They are obviously repro because of the quality and type of paper they are printed on,' he says.
Once you've found the perfect poster, Bailey has this advice: 'Frame at a reputable framer. Use acid neutral materials, don't dry-mount [i.e. don't stick your poster on to a sheet of backing card]. Don't hang in direct sunlight and, of course, humidity is not good for any form of old paper posters so keep your home dry with a dehumidifier.'
Recommended resources: Miller's Collecting Prints & Posters by Janet Gleeson ($255.90, Page One, Shop 3002, Harbour City, Tsim Sha Tsui, tel: 2271 5217); www.DongKingman.org; Picture This, tel: 2501 0599 or e-mail: email@example.com. Its new gallery opens in Central next month.