Posters aren’t just a commercial tool – or a blast of aesthetic verve into one’s eyes. They serve as carefully treasured, saved, and valued remnants of history. They were once ephemera, throwaways, things of immediate and occasional interest. Now, in the 40 items of poster Americana we’ve amassed for our June 26th auction, we can have a look into a different America: one that exists, and doesn’t exist: the America of America’s own aspirations.
24 3/4 x 40 1/8 in./63 x 102 cm
Klein’s most celebrated poster for TWA: bold squares of color, representing Manhattan’s Times Square, create a pinpoint-perfect definition of New York in the midst of its Midcentury Modern moment, even anticipating it: Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building wouldn’t be completed for another two years. This is Klein’s most popular and enduring work.
24 7/8 x 40 in./63.2 x 101.5 cm
Stan Galli’s highly collectable posters for United Airlines celebrated ’60s America from coast to coast. He throws us a curveball to promote New England: rather than his free and flashy style for the West Coast, he arranges an antique collection of wooden artifacts that, together, tell us of simplicity and earnestness, of whaling and fishing, of New England’s character from Stamford, CT to Bar Harbor, ME.
12 1/2 x 18 in./31.7 x 45.8 cm
One of Penfield’s rarest and earliest designs for Harper’s is also one of his most comedic. The rivalry between Harvard and Yale is legendary, and when they match up against one another in their annual Ivy Classic football game each autumn, madness ensues. Here, a Yale gentleman and a young lady of Harvard-Radcliffe (she, a fan of the Crimson even down to her hair) talk warily, in a game of arch flirtation. Penfield even nods to Halloween in the color scheme. A splendid collector’s item or gift for a student or graduate.
See all of the Penfield posters in our June 26 auction.
25 x 39 1/2 in./63.7 x 100.5 cm
A fine and classic Klein: a symbolic mélange for the City of Brotherly Love, absolutely redolent of its time: the rough-hewn, vibrantly colored illustration techniques of the ’50s and ’60s; Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, and WIlliam Penn; all tied together by American Colonial type above, and the sans-serif of TWA Superjets down below.
11 1/4 x 17 3/8 in./28.5 x 44 cm
This is a remarkable memento of American cultural history. Penfield’s poster for January 1896 features a dignified portrait of George Washington, announcing a biographical study of George Washington by Woodrow Wilson – at that time a history professor, then the 28th President less than 20 years later. Penfield also announces that the illustrations for Wilson’s text are by Howard Pyle, who first began illustrating for Harper’s in 1878.
16 x 22 7/8 in./40.6 x 58 cm
A Colonial, Washington-esque figure considers a parchment scroll as attendants look on. The appeal to U.S. Federal heritage is warranted: begun in 1872 as a small men’s clothing store in Chicago, Hart Schaffner & Marx quickly became a large wholesale operation, winning contracts to supply uniforms for the U.S. military. They then entered the ready-to-wear suit business, selling to department stores and fine retailers nationwide. Maneuvers such as these hinted at the company’s military roots while also presenting a standard of dignity, class, and style which was to be expected in the wearers their clothing. Today, the company is known as Hartmarx Corp., owning both Hickey Freeman and M. Wile. During the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama was known to almost exclusively wear the brand, particularly during his acceptance speech and the 2009 Inaugural Address.
21 x 56 1/8 in./53 x 142.6 cm
The wild motion and vibrant coloration make the World’s Champion Rodeo likewise a champion of poster design. Camels race in toward the right; cowgirls jostle their horses around a great ball in a swarm; Indians gallop from the left; and at night, revelry at the pow-wow. This is a two-sheet poster.
41 x 27 3/4 in./104 x 70.5 cm
Originally created as part of a portfolio for the World’s Columbian Exposition, this print by Graham, taken from a watercolor, depicts a sweeping overhead view of the entire fair. Spreading over 600 acres along the coast of Lake Michigan, one can pick out various highlights from the event, including the Fine Arts Building, the United States Government Building, various country and state pavilions, a lighthouse, a functioning battleship, the Casino, a dairy, the Agricultural Building, the Woman’s Building, the Transportation Building, and dozens of other magnificent structures created by the country’s best architects. A slightly altered version of this image, complete with key, was also sold as a guidemap and souvenir to visitors.
27 7/8 x 42 in./71 x 106.5 cm
The Quartette belts out a number – weirdly, hilariously – in Fred Raymond’s “latest success,” the “big comedy” “Old Arkansaw.” A review from the Alpena, Michigan Evening News of April 28, 1905 reads, “‘Old Arkansaw’ has a plot, and a well defined one at that. It carries more scenery than the majority of attractions seen here and has many wonderful mechanical effects; but good natured fun predominates the performance and it is the wonderful fun of comedy that has made it such a lasting success. It is now, in its fifth season…”
19 3/8 x 25 3/4 in./49.2 x 65.2 cm
A remarkable lithograph of the Lord’s Prayer, in a smorgasbord of elaborate typefaces and punctuated with symbolic illustrations of prodigious number and striking detail. As superb example of Christian Americana during the Reconstruction period, a copy of this poster is held in the Library of Congress. Publisher: M.C. Lilley, Columbus, Ohio.
21 1/2 x 27 7/8 in./56.4 x 70.6 cm
The Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen, “organized Sept 23rd 1883,” was one of America’s very first unions. Originally created to collectively bargain with management, it eventually grew to become the largest railroad union. Championing the watchwords of “sobriety” and “industry,” the BRT campaigned for increased life insurance coverage – and, succeeding, their goals grew to encompass the “mental, moral and physical improvement of its members, and consequently a better and more desirable class of men, who can be depended upon at all times, and into whose care and watchfulness thousands of lives and millions of dollars worth of property can be safely entrusted.” The eight inset scenes depict a widow mourning her loss; an office agreement; a train bridge collapse; funerals, vigilance, and family scenes.
28 7/8 x 39 1/8 in./73.5 x 99.3 cm
The United States Shipping Corps was the precursor to the U.S. Merchant Marine, established just two months before the U.S. entered World War I. Here, a sailor and a soldier lock arms with a workman, grinning with the opportunity to serve his country.
Browse “I Want You” and other posters by James Montgomery Flagg in this auction.
30 x 40 1/4 in./76.3 x 102.3 cm
Beginning in 1915, the Ottoman Empire systematically exterminated 1.5 million Armenians, an event we would come to know as the Armenian Genocide. The inhumanity continued with death marches through the Syrian Desert, as well as other ethnic mass murders of Assyrians and Greeks. In this poster, a Lady Liberty, armed with sword, shelters a Middle Eastern girl under the American flag in a $30 million fundraiser for survivors. The poster is doubly poignant today.
24 7/8 x 40 1/8 in./63.3 x 102 cm
David Klein had an unrivaled ability to capture the soul of an American destination – its essence, its particular beauty – using little more than the bright flat colors and shapes of mid-century Modern style. This celebration of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge is one of his finest works.