The first posters appeared in France in the early 1890s during the age called the Belle Époque (the Beautiful Era) which lasted until 1914 with the start of the First World War. In 1891, Toulouse-Lautrec’s first poster, Moulin Rouge, elevated the status of the poster to fine art. Britain held its first poster exhibition in 1894 following the craze for Art Nouveau art in Paris that same year. In each country, the poster came to celebrate different cultural institutions. In France, the cult of the café; in Britain, literary journals and the circus; and in Italy, the opera and fashion. The First World War saw the poster used for propaganda, for recruiting soldiers, for raising money and for boosting production. In the machine age of the 1920s, and the emergence of Art Deco, the themes of posters were style, power and speed.
The 30s and 40s were the golden age of the travel poster. Today, overseas travel posters like those below are evocative reminders of the past, even if most people then didn’t have the money to experience the spirit of adventure and luxury that was often portrayed.
Domestic travel posters, particularly by train, portrayed affordable travel to the countryside or seaside, to historic towns or city outskirts.
Posters were everywhere during the Second World War. They served a very different purpose, encouraging determination, thrift, courage, stoicism, and the like.
The posters that we now see on billboards are dominated by product advertising, though film and musical posters are still very common. Vintage posters however are now appreciated as works of illustration and art in their own right, and sell for huge sums at auctions. What better way to brighten up a room or house, without having to spend too much, by sticking up a print of a poster on an empty wall. But what was in the mind of whoever put up the posters in the picture below?
This picture was in a recent newspaper article about the Royal Mint’s launch of an online shop for buying gold and silver coins. This is the gold vault of the Bank of England. To the far right of the room, you can see a P&O Cruises poster (it’s from the 1950s and is by the artist John Gilroy), and it is the same as the one shown 1st from the left in the top row of posters. You should also be able to make out the Wings for Victory poster at the end of the bullion room on the left, which is shown 3rd from the left above.
During the Second World War, national saving schemes were extended to support the war effort. A War Savings campaign was initiated by the War Office in 1939 and savers could purchase certificates and bonds. Local collections were organised to raise money for aeroplanes, tanks, and other much needed items for the war. Over the course of the war, there was a Spitfire Week, a Tanks for Attack Week, a Warship Week, and a War Weapons Week. From the 1st to 8th May 1943, there was a Wings for Victory Week. When a town, village, or district successfully reached their savings target, commemorative plaques were awarded by the Air Ministry to recognise their achievement. These plaques, made in a type of ivory coloured plastic/bakelite, can still be seen in a few town halls around the country.
I wonder if whoever put up the posters in the Bank of England gold vault knew that one of them had its origins in a wartime savings scheme?