TRACKING 20TH CENTURY TRAIN POSTERS

As seen in The Antique Shoppe Newspaper, November, 2004,


“The Lake-Along the North Shore Line"  courtesy: Posters Plus Gallery, 200 S. Michigan Av, Chicago, IL

When you think of train posters chances are you expect to see trains depicted, right ? You couldn’t be more wrong. 

It was the destinations that were colorfully advertised. Trains were mentioned in bold print as the way to get to those places.

In the exhibit opening October 1 , at the Posters Plus Gallery in Chicago,  titled “Chicago Transit Posters of the 1920s-Revisited” there is nary a train in sight. What you’ll see are colorful scenes of a Wisconsin Resort, Chicago Beach and Evanston lighthouse, among the subjects. All of these reachable via the Chicago North Shore Line Railroad and the Chicago Elevated (Rapid Transit) lines, who commissioned the posters in the 1920s.

Considering that these posters were displayed on train platforms and inside the stations along their route, it is amazing that so many have survived. However, they were also handed out to school children in Washington, D.C. and along the east coast.

Still affordable, travel posters are being newly appreciated by collectors as graphic art to be displayed in their homes as important art.

Train posters had their beginning in Europe in the late 19th century . But it was the French who saw them as a new form of advertising to attract the growing interest in travel. By the early 20th century, before World War 1 the French state railways (Chemins de Fer) commissioned famed artists such as Mucha, Jules Cheret and others. Today these are among the most expensive train posters in the world. Yet, they depicted the destinations rather than the trains. This changed during the Art Deco period of the 1930s.

At that time A.M. Cassandre, an innovative designer was commissioned to do train posters that were in keeping with the streamlined look of the trains. The trains were now the main subject of the posters.

Another important train poster artist of the period was Roger Broders. At the  same time British Railways began producing train posters.


“Evanston Lighthouse By the Elevated Lines"  courtesy: Posters Plus Gallery, 200 S. Michigan Av, Chicago, IL

Few showed trains, concentrating on beach resorts and landscapes.

In America train posters were produced for the new Haven railroad, The New York central, Northern Pacific and Chicago North Shore Line Railroad and the  Chicago Elevated (Rapid Transit) lines.. The Chicago posters got their idea from the London Underground poster series.

Today, eight of the Chicago posters are in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum in Kensington, England.

CLUES:  David Gartler, collector and owner of the Posters Plus Gallery, discovered a cache of Chicago train posters in 1975 in a New York warehouse. They joined the Gallerie’s  growing vintage poster collections.  Those in need of restoration were restored by gallery conservators.

They have very little lettering, focusing on the subjects. Examples are the Evanston, Illinois lighthouse; Wisconsin resorted and Chicago’s Michigan Avenue at night.

A total of 20 artists created the posters. Many, such as Leslie Ragon, and Arther Johnsen, went on to become noted graphic artists on other subjects. The only poster that actually depicted the “L” itself, was captioned “Avoid street congestion” by artist Arther A. Johnsen.

The Art Directors Club of New York awarded medals for seven consecutive years, ending in 1928, to Chicago transit poster artists and their posters. It was the end of the line during the Depression years for Chicago transit posters.   

Posters Plus, celebrating the gallery’s 35th birthday has published 11 Chicago Transit Posters from the 1920s. Prices range from $150 to $250 each. “This gives beginning collectors an opportunity to own affordable examples of train history,” Gartler said.


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