NEW YORK — Long before the eras of television and digital media, posters were the preferred medium for advertising. The arrival of stone lithography around 1880 allowed for colorful advertising posters to be produced fast and in mass quantities. Vintage posters in virtually every genre are sought-after, but a perennial favorite is those that tout food and drink.
Examples by renowned illustrators such as Leonetto Cappiello and Jules Cheret are instantly recognizable for their vibrant colors, bold lettering and geometric shapes set against sleek backgrounds that showcase the subject. Posters for foods, beverages and even cafes are well collected today. Most original large-format posters that were later backed with linen and framed bring a few thousand dollars each in good condition, so if a price is too good to be true, the offering might be a reproduction. Seasoned collectors buy from trusted, knowledgeable sources that deal exclusively in original posters.
Collectors who specialize in food and drink posters tend to focus on a certain artist or brand. Others may favor a subgenre, such as posters for alcoholic drinks, of which there are many fine examples. European posters for aperitifs from the height of the Art Deco era have done an admirable job of holding their investment value. Almost a century after they rolled off the press, the best examples bring robust prices at auction. An original Italian poster from 1926, advertising Bitter Campari, achieved $8,500 plus the buyer’s premium in February 2022 at the Ross Art Group. Bitter Campari is an Italian liquor that is regarded as an aperitif; infused with herbs and fruit, it sports a characteristic dark red color. Poster artist Marcello Nizzoli effectively used a simple black background to draw attention to a bright red bottle of the liquor and a glass. He created many poster designs for the Campari brand for its signature bitter as well as its other spirits and wines.
A 1935 poster for another apertif, Toni Kola, went for $6,000 plus the buyer’s premium in October 2022 at the Ross Art Group. It was the work of the little-known artist Robert Wolff, who signed his works as Robys. The one-sheet Toni Kola poster is desirable for its oversized dimensions, measuring 78 by 50 ¾in, as well as the visual punch it packs. Well-designed in its use of space, color and interesting imagery, the poster is utterly alluring, and it leaves no doubt about what is being advertised.
The aforementioned Leonetto Cappiello remains highly regarded by collectors of vintage posters. Born in a small seaside village in Italy in 1875, he began his career in art by selling caricatures and drawings to magazines in Paris. Poster art was becoming commercially profitable around this time, prompting him to embrace the form and design many posters that were considered groundbreaking. His style avoided the Art Nouveau aesthetic of soft and romanticized images and centered on bold, simplified imagery. A poster of his for Cinzano vermouth sold for $5,000 plus the buyer’s premium October 2022 at Roland NY. It was meant to grab the attention of passersby in a busy city, and it succeeded. It features a man astride a bright red horse that complements the red liquor being promoted.
While posters for spirits might seem to dominate most collectors’ top 10 lists for food and drink posters, soft drink posters also count a significant number of fans. Colorful images of sun-kissed women on beaches with shapely bottles of Orangina in reach are coveted. Of course, the king of sodas is, and will likely always be, Coca-Cola. The brand’s appeal is so potent that even small things bring high prices as proven by a 1939 poster, measuring just 33¼ by 22¼in when framed, which nonetheless achieved $3,800 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2021 at Dan Morphy Auctions. Though the poster was released only a few years after the end of the Art Deco era, its style is more reminiscent of the Art Nouveau motifs that were popular in the late 1890s. The poster depicts two well-dressed couples, perhaps out for a Sunday drive, stopping to refresh themselves with a Coke served to them by a roadside attendant.
As with their drink counterparts, food posters covered a wide range of products and brands, including chocolate, pasta, cheese and cookies. Proving that the best vintage posters were not just made in Italy and France is a 1905 poster for the Swiss chocolate maker Klaus, which earned $2,105 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2021 at Wormser Reklame-Auktion. Created by Carl Franz Moos, who was part of the postwar artists collective Die Sechs (The Six), this poster shows a scene of dairy cows being herded down a mountain in the Alps after a day full of leisurely grazing. Moos hailed from Munich but worked in Zurich, Switzerland, where this poster was printed.
Vintage food and drink posters offer a unique way to decorate a home. They serve a morsel of pop culture history at the same time, showing how advertising and consumer tastes have evolved. The main reason to collect them, though, is their irresistible graphics, which rarely fail to turn heads.