A lot of travelers hang their favorite travel photos on the wall, or save the boarding passes from their trips, or buy shot glasses in every city they visit. Collecting souvenirs and building a collection of travel memories is one of the most fun parts of exploring the world. But what about trips that you’ve already taken, where you might not have remembered to pick up a trinket? My modest proposal: build a collection of “vintage” travel posters.
History Of Travel Posters
Even if you’ve never thought of them as a distinct genre, you’ve surely seen vintage travel posters before. They were the preferred form of advertising in the early 1900s for train operators and early airlines looking to promote faraway destinations, and could be found hanging in train stations and airports around the country, and around the world. Early posters adopted the curves and undulations endemic to art nouveau, while posters in the 1930s-50s hewed more towards the angular art deco style that fits in so well with today’s mid-century modern design revival. But no matter what continent, country, or city they were promoting, they almost all featured large text, iconic landmarks, and exaggerated colors that lent them all a timeless and distinct look that holds up to this day.
The illustrated posters were eventually phased out in favor of photographic advertisements, TV commercials, and banner ads, but they live on to this day as collector’s items, and continue to inspire travelers (not to mention artists) to this day.
Collecting Posters On The Road, Or From Home
Collecting authentic, original travel posters is an expensive proposition; an original in good condition could easily fetch over $1,000.
Many stores in popular tourist destinations sell reprints as well as new, vintage-inspired posters, and collecting them on-site while you travel can lend your poster collection a veneer of extra authenticity, at least in your own mind.
But the fact is, you won’t always be able to find a poster you like at every destination. Or fit it in your suitcase if you do. And that’s not even accounting for destinations that you’ve visited in years past, and now want to include in your travel poster gallery wall.
That’s where print-on-demand posters come in.
Thousands of vintage travel posters are readily available on art printing sites like Redbubble, Society6, and Zazzle, and can be reproduced and sent to you in the mail for under $20 each, in many cases. No, they’re not originals, but you can get them printed on different types of paper, and in any size you want.
In some cases, the prints are scans of original posters from the early 1900s. In others, they’re modern takes on the classic art style. Sometimes it’s easy to tell, like this London poster which features the London Eye, which of course opened long after the heyday of travel posters. In other cases, the precise origin of the art is a bit more dubious.
My advice? Just pick a style that you like, and build a collection around that aesthetic. You’ll pick up some posters as you travel. You’ll probably need to order some others online. But unless you’re buying up original posters at auction, your collection won’t be about authenticity; it’ll be about celebrating and remembering your favorite trips, and sparking conversations about them with friends.
Other Sources Of Posters
Some vintage travel posters were, in a roundabout way, funded by the federal government as part of various Works Progress Administration art initiatives. The posters were meant to encourage domestic tourism to stimulate the economy, and many of these works are freely available to download, remix, and print from the Library Of Congress’s website.
Many of America’s national parks also sell official, vintage-inspired and historically reproduced travel posters, if you want your money to support our public lands. I’ve picked up a few of these in on-site stores at national parks over the years, and still love seeing them on my wall.
And of course, if you have a favorite destination that you really want to commemorate, you can still buy original, authentic travel posters from brokers like Charles Michael Gallery. They won’t be cheap, but hey, it’s not like Pan Am and TWA are going to be printing any more of them.
Hanging Them Up
One nice thing about buying poster replicas is that you can have them printed in sizes that fit standard frames. That makes framing easier and cheaper, obviously, and also means that you can arrange a number of smaller posters into a single, conversation-starting gallery wall, rather than having to spread a bunch of full sized posters all around your home.
If you come to acquire any large or oddly sized posters, I’ve been really happy using magnetic poster hanging rails like these. Or, you could always mail your poster into Framebridge, and have it professionally framed.