Streamlined Dreams: Deco Posters

This image of the port of Marseille was produced in 1929 by Roger Broders. Image courtesy Poster Connection.

This image of the port of Marseille was produced in 1929 by Roger Broders. Image courtesy Poster Connection.

They look chic with spare, contemporary interiors. They complement Mid-century industrial styles. And they fit beautifully, of course, with furnishings from the 1920s and ’30s.

Art Deco posters make a 20th-century statement that has resonated ever since their creation.

They are also in great demand among collectors, and their values have soared since the 1990s. In spite of this upsurge, there are still relatively affordable Deco posters that cover a range of themes and subjects in striking, brilliant designs.

Joerg and Joern Weigelt are father and son poster dealers who have shops on either side of the Western world. Both have a strong appreciation for the Deco style.

The family penchant for posters began in 1978 at a flea market, Joerg Weigelt explained, where he found a postcard, dated 1910, of a Ludwig Hohlwein poster. “This was our first contact with posters – a small poster reproduced on a postcard. After that, we started looking for posters in their full sizes.”

In 1982 he opened Galerie fur Gebrauchsgraphik (Gallery for Commercial Art) in Hannover, Germany. Back then, “people wanted artists like Franz von Stuck and Alphonse Mucha, and any really old posters. But there were some forward-looking collectors and dealers who were already turning their attention to the late 1910s, 1920s and 1930s,” according to Joerg.

By the early 1990s, historism, which imitated styles from older periods, and Art Nouveau posters were out of reach for most collectors. “So people had no choice but to look for new areas of interest,” and they turned to the 1920s, Joerg said.

Joern Weigelt, who operates Poster Connection, the family’s shop in San Francisco, said the appeal of Art Deco is “probably the whole idea of how everything is streamlined,” an idealized perspective of the modern world. “The Deco movement was influenced by European art movements like Cubism and Futurism, the Bauhaus in Germany, and the avant-garde from Russia. They all had a great influence on posters.”

Click here to view a multimedia presentation of this article

While turn of the 20th century styles had a “pretty, decorative” approach, Art Deco’s focus was on travel, household and industrial goods, and commercial products translated into geometric shapes, forms and patterns. Even the typography was streamlined in Deco prints. “This futuristic art is what appeals to the onlooker,” Joern said.

The posters originally appeared in travel agencies, on walls and billboards, and in shop windows. “Military and propaganda posters were sent to stores that would display them. Movie posters were used in theaters. They were used the same way as they are today,” Joern said. “The streets of Berlin and Paris would have 30 or 40 posters in a row promoting the latest movies, books, the circus, hair growth, tobacco. … ”

The leading lights of Deco poster art include Adolphe Mouron Cassandre, whose images of railroad lines, cruise ships and Dubonnet drinkers are among the icons of Jazz- Age graphics. “In France, he was one of the major stylists, and his work has gone up in demand and price in the last decade,” Joern said. There are a few original Cassandre posters from the 1950s on the $1,000 level, but his Deco period work tends to run from $10,000 to $30,000 now.

Joerg Weigelt said there are many artists from the Roaring ’20s who are highly prized today. “If you want to be fair, you need to list 20 to 30 names, but most people identify representative artists like Cassandre, Loupot, Schnackenberg, Colin, Dudovich, Bereny and Bernhard.”

Beginning with French masters Toulouse-Lautrec and Cheret, European poster artists have “always been in fashion” in the United States, Joern Weigelt said. Deco posters mainly came from France, Germany and Italy. “There weren’t many American posters from that time. There are some fabulous (ones), but they are impossible to find. That’s what caused a boom in American travel posters, which have quadrupled in price for those from the 1920s and ’30s. They can cost from several hundred dollars to $10,000 for American examples.”

As for the European examples, more can be found in the 30 or so galleries in New York City than in all of France and Germany combined, Joern said. “New York is the poster mecca.”

His father, now the proprietor of Joerge Weigelt Auktionen, explained that Americans started collecting Art Deco earlier, but “the Europeans have caught on and have started identifying with their poster culture.” The supply of Deco posters is running out here and abroad, father and son agree. “It has become extremely difficult to find quality images, but there are, of course, always some collections on the market which have been hidden or dormant for some 60 to 70 years, and whose value has only appreciated now,” Joerg said.

Deco collecting crosses age lines, Joern said. “Everybody likes the style. It’s more a question of who can still afford it. The collectors are those who have been around for a while, who are completing collections. Young people are just looking for something decorative, and they often buy a reproduction.” There aren’t many bargains to be found for Deco posters, he said. “You can buy a poster from the 1920s for a couple of hundred dollars, but it won’t compare to the great names. It’s clear just by looking at the image that the design is inferior. There is so much more to the expensive posters; unfortunately, it has come to that. It is better to spend a little more and get a decent image.”

As in most fields, rarity and condition determine value in poster collecting. But a rare piece should not be passed over if it is not in flawless shape. “In the case of an extremely rare poster, I would advise a collector to (make an allowance for) the condition. Too many people are buying for the living room. A rare poster will show age, and that may show character, in my opinion,” Joern said.

“These were used on walls, poles, and tossed after a show was over. Many pieces of paper were not saved; they were meant to be used and destroyed,” he explained. “You can find pristine posters that came off the press, but many others were tattered and torn by weather, or mice.”

Poster Connection rates condition from A to D. An A grade means no paper loss, no significant tears, and no major creases. A 2- to 4-inch tear would bring the rating down to a B. Posters rating C or D have damage that is more pronounced, obvious folds, loss of paper, or they have undergone major restoration.

Restoration houses are able to re-create entire posters, thanks to modern printing technology, but they “may be more harmful than the reproductions out there,” Joern warned. It may take a professional appraiser with a black light to identify how much restoration work has been done and how much of a poster is actually original.

Reproductions have not been a major problem in poster collecting, Joern said, because they are generally easy to distinguish by their size and the paper used. He directs anyone with questions to the International Vintage Poster Dealers Association,, a nonprofit association that has developed strict guidelines to ensure authenticity. The association can test posters and offer appraisals.

Collectors don’t have to go to auctions to find Deco posters, Joern said. “There are so many galleries. And you can travel around the world on the Internet. There are many reputable dealers who will give exact descriptions of posters. There are also poster museums and exhibitions throughout the world. “It is impossible not to find something.”

Click here to visit the Poster Connection.


1934 Italian travel poster with German text, by Gino Boccasile. Image courtesy Poster Connection.

1934 Italian travel poster with German text, by Gino Boccasile. Image courtesy Poster Connection.

The Southern Pacific Lines advertisement, designed in 1937 by an anonymous artist, sold for $5,600 in a 2004 auction. Image courtesy Poster Connection.

The Southern Pacific Lines advertisement, designed in 1937 by an anonymous artist, sold for $5,600 in a 2004 auction. Image courtesy Poster Connection.