NEW YORK — Auto racing has riveted the public’s attention since the first auto races took place in the late 1880s. Closed tracks didn’t exist then, so drivers raced on regular roads from one town to another. An 1895 round-trip trek from Paris to Bordeaux and back, credited as the first true auto race, covered more than 1,100 kilometers (roughly 683 miles) with the winner notching an average speed of 24 kph. Modern speeds, of course, are much higher. In 2013, the Indy 500 witnessed a record average race speed of 187 mph. While most of us will never get behind the wheel of a competitive race car, we can vicariously experience the thrill by collecting automotive racing posters.
Vintage racing posters, especially 1930s images rendered in the Art Deco style, have a loyal fan base. Desirable examples include those made for prestigious races such as the Monaco Grand Prix, the Indy 500 or the 24 Hours of Le Mans by artists such as Georges Hamel, H.J. Moser, Robert Falcucci and others.
The poster market has grown steadily over time but there are accessible entry points for all budgets. While the rarest racing posters have approached the $20,000 mark, there are plenty of choices for seasoned buyers who want to flesh out their collections as well as beginning collectors seeking affordable examples.
Art Deco posters are easily recognizable for their bright colors, geometric shapes and a sleek, almost futuristic style — a marked shift from the preceding Art Nouveau era that featured more organic, sinuous and naturalistic motifs.
A poster by Georges Hamel (1900-1972) for the 6eme Monaco Grand Prix Automobile race (“6eme” means “sixth”) earned $11,876 in June 2021 at Quittenbaum Kunstauktionen GmbH. Its chunky sans serif Art Deco font and the abundant palm trees in the Riviera scene makes this poster and similar works by Hamel highly sought after. The driver’s scarf blowing in the wind is also a signature motif for the artist. He tilts each of the car’s visible wheels and arranges the lines on the road to convey the illusion of breakneck speed. Dubbed the “prince of motion,” Hamel was one of the period’s most renowned automobile poster designers. He created a handful of Grand Prix de Monaco posters during the Art Deco era that continue to hold appeal today.
The Monaco race became part of the Grand Prix circuit in April 1929, and its throwback nature – it takes place on the principality’s streets – has made it one of the most popular contests in the sport of Formula 1. Several poster artists have immortalized Monaco motor races, capturing the elegance of the city as well as amazing views of the crystal blue waters below the winding cliffside roads with their famously dangerous turns.
While Hamel was known for including palm trees in his posters, another artist embraced them first: French illustrator Robert Falcucci (1900-1989), starting back in 1932. Falcucci was adept at depicting cars, which is no surprise, considering he directed magazine advertising campaigns for the Renault car company circa 1923–27. He designed his earliest Monaco Grand Prix poster in 1930, and some of his best known images feature cars racing around tight cliffside turns. That inaugural Falcucci Monaco image boasts a dramatic red background. Cleverly, he blacked out the landscape to focus attention on the speeding vehicle in the foreground.
Another motor sports artist favored by collectors is H.J. Moser, who was active from the early 1900s to about 1950. His full name was Hans Joachim Moser, a fact not confirmed until recently because he invariably signed his art with his initials. His poster for the Großer Preis des Automobilclubs von Deutschland Avus race (a phrase that translates as “Grand Prix of the Automobile Club of Germany, Avus”) in July 1932 sold for $10,095 at Automobilia Ladenburg Auction in May 2020. It shows an Alfa Romeo 8C followed closely by a Bugatti Type 51.
Vintage motor sports posters continue to attract collectors because they convey the excitement of the races with eye-popping colors and gripping action. As with any category of collectible original posters, scarcity fuels demand. Examples in good condition are rare as they were meant to be ephemeral, tacked to a construction board, kiosk, or prominent wall for a few weeks and then discarded. Condition affects value, but collectors allow for the fact that posters were often rolled up or folded to make shipping easier. Whether you focus your collection on a particular race, an elite automotive marque or both, motor sports posters offer many choices for both seasoned and new poster collectors.
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