A return to travel’s golden age

Vintage blogger Sarah-Jane Hosegood recommends brightening a late summer interior with a vintage poster


H&A blogger Sarah-Jane Hosegood runs the weekly Twitter vintage networking event #vintagefindhour. In her blog for H&A she writes about her most recent finds and fair experiences. This month, post-holiday thoughts turn her mind to the golden age of travel advertising…


I have always loved the romance of a steam train so when someone showed off a vintage leather top hat case during a recent #vintagefindhour, the golden age of travel immediately sprang to mind.

In the inter-war years, stylish jaunts to far-flung exotic locations became the height of chic as travel on luxury cruise liners, airplanes, cars and trains became more available and more comfortable. Travel was a fashion statement and the glamorous traversed the globe widely with stacks of leather-bound Louis Vuitton trunks in tow.

For me, nothing quite captures that era like original vintage travel posters with their eye-catching angular designs. I am particularly drawn to posters advertising the British Riviera, which conjure up a promise of idyllic summer holidays in soft sandy tones.

The modern billboard poster as we know it dates back to the 1800s when colour lithography (a method of printing invented in 1796) was perfected. It was French artist Jules Cheret who discovered a new lithographic process that allowed artists the freedom to use any colour in their palette.

From its beginnings in Paris, the lithographic poster became a favoured means of mass communication as the bright and colourful designs were increasingly economical to produce. Several styles of poster art emerged, reflecting the aesthetic movements of the day from Belle Epoque to art nouveau.


As art deco flourished in the 1920s, poster design underwent a dramatic change: streamlined bold shapes and sleek angular text replaced the swirly romantic style of art nouveau, and sunburst motifs shone from the billboards.

Among the best-known poster artists in Britain was Tom Purvis (1888-1959) whose recognisable two-dimensional style used large blocks of vivid colour without fussy detailing. From 1923 to 1945 he worked for LNER (London & North East Railway) and during his time there produced over 100 posters (his Whitley Bay lithograph is pictured top).

Though he worked for LNER his posters concentrated more on holiday destinations and leisure pursuits than the trains themselves and many featured lounging ladies in bathing suits – a rather risqué display in the 1930s. As well as individual posters Purvis produced two sets of graphics that when joined together formed a single continuous landscape of six seaside resorts running up the east coast of England.

Given that advertising was such a boom industry it’s no surprise that so many artists worked producing these stunning – and lucrative – posters between the 1930s and 1950s. I think the one I admire most is Norman Wilkinson CBE (1878-1971). Primarily a maritime artist who worked with watercolours, oils and dry point he was also an illustrator and wartime camoufleur. However, his most widely-seen works are the land and seascape posters for LMS (London Midland & Scottish Railway) showing majestic Scottish lochs in fluid, muted tones such as his 1930s Gleneagles Hotel poster (pictured below).


Original posters in good condition have become a collector’s dream with certain designs and artists reaching dizzy prices at auction, sometimes reaching into the thousands. How do you determine the value? Subject, originality, rarity, print method, condition and artistic achievement are all factors to consider. Specialist fine art poster dealers offer framed originals from a few hundred pounds to several thousand. For a Norman Wilkinson poster in A-grade condition, you’d generally be looking at around the £1,500 mark though you can find some examples for around £300-£400 with some wear and tear.

Thankfully if you admire the stunning artworks as I do but don’t quite have the budget, you can find prints to adorn your walls for as little as £15. Travelpostersonline.com has a tantalising selection that add instant vintage flair to your home.

Coincidentally, we’ve just returned from a jolly family jaunt to the English Riviera where, on arriving in Torquay, we were welcomed by Tom Purvis posters shining out of the rain. What better welcome than the sight of these classic posters giving us a glint of the sunshine that, happily, was to come.

Tweet Sarah-Jane at @vintagehomeshop or join in the #vintagefindhour live chat on Wednesdays at 8pm.


Images: © Christie’s Images Limited 2015