|Image Credit and Attribution: “Old Railway Posters 01” by DrJohnBullas is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.|
The first railway posters were created in the mid-19th century when railways became a popular mode of transportation. At that time, railway companies began producing posters to advertise their services and destinations. Early railway posters were produced by letterpress and consisted of text with no images. When lithography printing became cheaper in the 20th century, little vignettes and, eventually, the large scenes we’ve become familiar with on these posters started to appear.
Poster art has a rich and varied history that dates back to the mid-19th century. It all started with the development of lithography, which allowed for the mass production of printed images. Initially, posters were used for advertising and promoting products, with simple designs and straightforward messaging.
As poster art evolved, artists began experimenting with more expressive and elaborate designs, incorporating elements of various art movements such as Art Nouveau, Art Deco, and Cubism. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, poster art became an important medium for promoting cultural events, such as plays, concerts, and art exhibitions. Posters were often used to advertise the work of famous artists and to showcase the latest trends in art and design.
During World War I and World War II, posters played a significant role in propaganda efforts. Governments and military organisations used posters to mobilise support for the war effort and to communicate important messages to the public.
In the postwar period, poster art continued to evolve, with artists exploring new forms and styles, such as Pop Art and psychedelic art. Today, posters remain a popular medium for advertising, propaganda, and artistic expression. Many artists continue pushing the art form’s boundaries and experimenting with new techniques and technologies.
The history of poster art is fascinating and spans over a century, and has been shaped by many different artistic movements, cultural events, and historical contexts. Poster art dates back to the mid-19th century when lithography was first developed as a means of mass-producing printed images. Lithography allowed artists to create posters that were colourful, detailed, and relatively inexpensive to produce, making them an ideal medium for advertising, propaganda, and other forms of mass communication, with a rich legacy that inspires and influences artists and designers around the world.
The early days of poster art were characterised by simple, straightforward designs that focused on conveying a message or promoting a product. However, as the art form evolved, artists began experimenting with more elaborate and expressive designs, incorporating elements of art movements such as Art Nouveau, Art Deco, and Cubism.
Posters were often used to advertise the work of famous artists, such as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Alphonse Mucha, and to showcase the latest trends in art and design.
During World War I and II, poster art played an important role in propaganda efforts, with governments and military organisations using posters to mobilise support for the war effort and to communicate important messages to the public.
In the postwar period, poster art continued to evolve, with artists exploring new forms and styles, such as Pop Art and psychedelic art. Today, posters remain a popular medium for advertising, propaganda, and artistic expression, with many artists continuing to push the boundaries of the art form and to experiment with new techniques and technologies.
The Early days of Railway Advertising and Poster Production
Railway posters are a type of advertising that was used by railway companies to promote travel on their trains. They were first used in the mid-19th century and quickly became an important part of railway advertising. Early railway posters were simple and designed to provide basic information about the destination, fare, and schedule. They were typically printed in black and white and contained little artwork. However, as competition between railway companies grew, so did the need for more visually appealing posters.
In the late 19th century, railway companies began to commission artists to create more elaborate posters. These posters featured colourful illustrations and landscapes of popular destinations, such as seaside resorts, cities, and the countryside. The posters were designed to capture the imagination of potential travellers and inspire them to take a trip on the railway.
Railway posters were often displayed in railway stations, on trains, and in other public places such as travel agencies and hotels. They became highly collectable, and many are now considered works of art. The posters were produced using various techniques, including lithography, chromolithography, and letterpress printing:
- Lithography is a printing process that uses a flat stone or metal plate to transfer an image onto paper. Lithography allowed for full-colour images to be printed quickly and inexpensively, making it a popular choice for poster production.
- Chromolithography is a similar process that uses multiple colours to create a more vibrant image.
- Letterpress printing involves pressing inked letters and images onto paper. Letterpress printing allowed for fine detail and high-quality text to be produced.
In the early 20th century, railway posters continued to evolve with the introduction of new printing technologies such as photogravure and offset printing:
- Photogravure is a printing process that uses a photographic negative to create an etching on a copper plate.
- Offset printing involves transferring an image from a plate to a rubber blanket and then onto paper.
Railway posters were designed to promote travel to specific destinations, often highlighting scenic locations or cultural attractions. They were displayed in railway stations, on trains, and in other public places to capture the attention of potential travellers. Railway posters remained popular until the mid-20th century, when other forms of advertising, such as television and radio, began to dominate. However, many vintage railway posters are still highly sought after by collectors and enthusiasts.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, railway companies began to commission artwork for their posters from notable artists of the day. This led to the creation of some iconic poster designs that are still well-known today, such as the “Greetings from…” series of posters created by the London and North Eastern Railway in the 1920s and 1930s.
As the popularity of air travel and automobiles grew in the mid-20th century, the demand for railway travel declined. This led to a decrease in the production of railway posters, and many of the posters that had been produced were lost or destroyed.
However, in recent years, there has been a resurgence of interest in railway posters as works of art and as historical artefacts. Many surviving posters are now highly prized by collectors, and reproductions of classic designs are still being produced today.
The Development of Railway Posters
As railway travel became more popular, the posters became more elaborate and artistic. Artists were commissioned to create posters that would entice people to travel by train. Some of the most famous poster artists of the time included Alphonse Mucha and Cassandre.
The development of railway posters can be divided into several phases. In the early days of railway advertising, posters were primarily used to provide practical information to passengers, such as schedules, fares, and routes. These early posters were usually simple and straightforward, with minimal graphics or illustrations.
As railways became popular, companies began using posters more extensively for advertising. The posters became more decorative and visually appealing, often featuring scenic landscapes, famous landmarks, and other tourist attractions. Many of these posters were designed by prominent artists and graphic designers, such as Jules Chéret, Cassandre, and Tom Purvis.
During the 1920s and 1930s, railway companies in Europe and North America embraced the Art Deco style, which featured bold geometric shapes, bright colours, and stylised images. This style was especially popular in posters advertising luxury trains like the Orient Express and the Flying Scotsman.
In the post-war period, railway companies continued to produce posters, but the emphasis shifted to more modern and abstract designs. Some posters featured photographs or photomontages, while others incorporated more abstract or surreal imagery.
In the early 20th century, railways posters became more colourful and imaginative, reflecting the Art Deco and Art Nouveau styles popular at the time. The signs also became larger and were often printed using stone lithography, which allowed for more vivid colours and intricate designs.
During World War II, railways posters were used for propaganda, encouraging citizens to support the war effort and ration resources. After the war, railways posters continued to be used for advertising purposes, but they gradually fell out of favour as other forms of advertising, such as television and the internet, became more popular.
Today, reproductions are often sold as souvenirs in gift shops and online.
The Impact of Railway Posters
Railway posters played a significant role in promoting travel and tourism, especially in the early 20th century. They were an effective advertising tool that could reach a large audience through railway stations, platforms, and carriages. Railway companies used posters to promote destinations and encourage people to travel by train. The posters were designed to evoke a sense of adventure and excitement and often featured stunning images of landscapes, landmarks, and tourist attractions. The posters were also used to promote special events such as fairs, exhibitions, and sporting events.
Railway posters had a huge impact on the growth of the tourism industry. They helped to popularise certain destinations, making them more accessible to the masses. For example, posters promoting seaside resorts such as Blackpool and Brighton helped to establish these towns as popular holiday destinations. Posters also played a role in promoting international travel, with posters advertising exotic and distant destinations such as Egypt, India, and Australia. Over time, the quality of railway posters improved as advances were made in printing technology. The posters continued to be popular until the mid-20th century, when other forms of advertising largely replaced them.
Image Credit and Attribution: “Heritage-style posters on the Llangollen steam railway” by kitmasterbloke is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
The Decline of Railway Posters
Railway posters were most popular in the first half of the 20th century, but they began to decline in the 1950s with the rise of television and other forms of advertising.
The decline of railway posters began in the mid-20th century, as railways faced competition from other forms of transportation, such as automobiles and aeroplanes. Additionally, the rise of television and other forms of mass media led to a decline in using posters as an advertising medium.
During the 1950s and 1960s, many railway companies began to focus more on timetables, brochures, and other printed materials that provided information about their services rather than on posters that promoted travel destinations. As a result, the production of railway posters declined, and many of the posters produced during this time tended to be more functional than artistic.
In the 1970s and 1980s, some railway companies began to experiment with new forms of advertising, such as television commercials and billboards, in an attempt to attract more passengers. However, these new forms of advertising were not as effective as the old railway posters, and many railway companies struggled financially.
In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the decline of railway posters continued, as railways faced increasing competition from low-cost airlines and other forms of transportation. However, there has been a resurgence of interest in railway posters in recent years, as collectors and enthusiasts have rediscovered the beauty and historical significance of these iconic works of art. Today, reproductions of classic railway posters are sold as souvenirs and decorations, and some railway companies continue to produce new posters to promote their services and destinations.
One factor that contributed to the decline of railway posters was the rise of other forms of advertising, such as television and radio commercials, which could reach a wider audience. Additionally, the increased use of cars and air travel made railways less popular as a mode of transportation.
By the 1970s, railway posters had largely disappeared, and the few that remained were often mass-produced reproductions of classic designs.
The impact posters had on travel and tourism during their heyday continues to be celebrated, and many people still enjoy collecting and displaying vintage railway posters in their homes and offices.
Image Credit and Attribution: “Wartime Poster Help the RAF join the WAAF. At Kidderminster railway station on the Severn Valley railway. #typography #advertising #poster #RAF #waaf #kidderminster #worcestershire #railway #rail #war
Railway Posters Online
There are many examples of railway posters online. You can browse some of them on these websites:
- Railway Posters: This website sells art prints of various railway posters from different regions and eras. You can filter by location, company, artist, or theme.
- The Railway Poster in Britain: This is a PDF document providing an overview of the history and development of railway posters in Britain. It includes many illustrations of posters from different periods and styles.
- Railway Posters | Museum Wales: This website showcases some of the railway posters from Amgueddfa Cymru’s collection. It also provides some background information on the posters and their artists.
- Objects and stories | National Railway Museum: This website features railway posters from the Science Museum Group Collection. It also has other objects and stories related to railways and their history.
- British Railway Posters: This website offers a range of quality large-sized posters for sale. You can choose from several categories, such as seaside, countryside, cityscape, or locomotive.
Posters sold at Auction
The value of railway posters can vary widely depending on their rarity, condition, and historical significance.
Some rare and highly sought-after posters have fetched prices in the tens or even hundreds of thousands of £s at auction, while more common posters may sell for just a few hundred pounds. For example, in 2012, a rare poster advertising travel to the Swiss resort town of St. Moritz (the 1932 “North Berwick” poster by artist Tom Purvis) sold at auction for a sizeable figure, while a 1930s-era poster advertising British seaside resorts sold for just over £300. The publicly available information about poster sales is sketchy and not particularly reliable.
- A set of vintage British Rail posters advertising seaside resorts, including the Isle of Man, were discovered under floorboards in a house and sold for £2,000 each.
- An archive of railway posters from the golden age of steam found in a disused attic included art deco posters valued at between £2,000 and £3,000. One was a 1955 piece by renowned artist David Shepherd entitled Service By Night that sold for £2,100.
- A poster by Algernon Talmage A.R.A. depicting Aberdeen Brig O’Balgownie was sold for £5,600 at GW Railwayana Auctions, a specialist railwayana auction house offering steam and modern traction memorabilia items.
Surprising and Unusual things about Railway Posters
- During World War II, some railway posters were modified for propaganda purposes, with messages encouraging people to conserve resources, support the war effort, and keep important information confidential.
- In the early 20th century, some railway posters featured images of famous people, such as actresses and athletes, to attract attention and create a sense of glamour and excitement.
- Some railway posters were printed in other languages, such as French and German, to attract international travellers.
- In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, some railway posters were created by women artists, such as Margaret Calkin James and Laura Knight, who broke down gender barriers in the male-dominated field of poster art.
- The London and North Eastern Railway created a series of posters in the 1920s and 1930s called the “Keep Fit” series, which promoted exercise and healthy living to railway passengers.
- The Orient Express, a luxury train that ran between Paris and Istanbul, was the subject of many iconic railway posters featuring images of the train’s elegant dining car and luxurious sleeping compartments.
- Some railway posters were used to promote specific events, such as the Grand National horse race in Aintree, Liverpool, and were advertised by the London and North Western Railway in the early 20th century.
- In the 1920s and 1930s, some railway posters were designed to promote winter sports, such as skiing and ice skating, in destinations such as the Swiss Alps and the Canadian Rockies.
- Some railway posters featured humorous and whimsical illustrations, such as a poster for Skegness featuring a jolly fisherman and the slogan “Skegness is so bracing.”
- During World War II, the British railway system created a series of posters encouraging people to take holidays within the UK rather than travelling abroad and risking U-boat attacks.
- Some railway posters were designed to promote railway safety, featuring images of responsible behaviour, such as holding onto handrails and watching out for oncoming trains.
- The Great Western Railway created a series of posters in the 1920s and 1930s promoting the beauty and attractions of Cornwall, featuring colourful illustrations of seaside towns and countryside landscapes.
- Some railway posters were created specifically for children, featuring playful illustrations and promoting family-friendly destinations and activities.
- The Southern Pacific Railroad in the United States created a series of posters in the 1920s and 1930s promoting travel to California, featuring colourful images of beaches, mountains, and famous landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge.
- Some railway posters were designed to promote cultural attractions, such as museums and art galleries, with images of famous paintings and sculptures.
- The Canadian Pacific Railway created a series of posters in the early 20th century promoting travel to the Canadian Rockies, featuring stunning images of mountains, lakes, and glaciers.
- Some railway posters were designed to promote the railway industry itself, featuring images of trains, stations, and other aspects of railway infrastructure.
- In the early days of railway posters, some companies used humour and satire to promote their services, such as a poster for the Midland Railway featuring a cartoon of a traveller in a top hat and tails being carried on a railway porter’s back.
- Some railway posters were created specifically for commuters, featuring images of city landmarks and promoting the convenience and comfort of railway travel.
- Some railway posters were designed to promote environmental causes, such as a poster for the Great Western Railway in the 1930s promoting the beauty and importance of forests.
The Legacy of Railway Posters
Railway posters have left a lasting legacy on popular culture and continue to be celebrated and referenced in various forms of media today.
One of the most significant impacts of railway posters was their role in popularising travel and tourism. They helped to showcase destinations and attractions to a mass audience, and encouraged people to explore new places. This legacy can still be seen today, as the travel and tourism industry continues to rely heavily on advertising to promote destinations and experiences.
Railway posters have also become iconic works of art, admired for their beauty and design. Many posters were created by notable artists and designers, such as Edward McKnight Kauffer and Tom Purvis, who applied their skills to create eye-catching and memorable advertisements. These posters have been collected, exhibited, and reproduced in various forms, from calendars and postcards to coffee table books and art prints.
In addition to their artistic value, railway posters have also impacted graphic design and advertising. They set a standard for using bold colours, strong typography, and clear messaging that continues to influence design today. Advertisements for various products and services still use the same principles of visual communication and persuasion that the railway poster designers developed.
Overall, the legacy of railway posters can be seen in their lasting impact on travel and tourism, their influence on graphic design and advertising, and their enduring status as works of art.
Artists and Subjects
Some railway posters advertised trains, for example, the Flying Scotsman, the Golden Arrow and the Orient Express, while other travel posters promoted British Industries, ranging from the steel industry and brick-making to fishing and shipbuilding. The first railway posters emerged in the mid-19th century, as railway travel became more popular and railway companies sought to advertise their services and destinations. Initially, posters were simple and straightforward, featuring basic information about the railway company and its routes, but as railway travel expanded its popularity, the posters became more elaborate and artistic. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, railway companies began to commission well-known artists to create posters that would entice people to travel by train.
Some of the earliest poster artists included Jules Chéret, often credited with inventing the modern poster, and Leonetto Cappiello, who revolutionised the field with his bold, colourful designs. The Art Nouveau movement, with its flowing lines and nature-inspired motifs, was particularly influential in the early days of railway poster art, and many Art Nouveau artists, such as Alphonse Mucha and Eugène Grasset, created posters for railway companies.
In the 1920s and 1930s, the Art Deco movement became dominant in railway poster art. Art Deco posters featured geometric shapes, bold colours, and streamlined images of trains and destinations.
Some of the most famous Art Deco poster artists include A.M. Cassandre, who designed posters for the French railway company SNCF, and Tom Purvis (see ‘East Coast Joys’), who created posters for the London and North Eastern Railway.
The history of railway posters is closely tied to the history of poster art in general. Many of the most famous poster artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, such as Chéret, Mucha, and Tom Purvis, created posters for railway companies and helped to shape the field of poster art as we know it today. Their bold colours, striking graphics, and clever taglines helped shape the field of poster art and establish it as a legitimate form of advertising and art.
Sources and Further Reading
- Railway Journeys in Art Volume 7: The Glorious South-West (Poster to Poster Series 7) (Hardcover – Illustrated), by Richard Furness (Author), Richard Madeley (Foreword) (Author), Judy Finnegan (Foreword) (Author), published by JDF & Associates Ltd, 7 May 2014, available at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Railway-Journeys-Art-Glorious-South-West/dp/0956209262
- Railway Posters 1923-1947 by Beverley Cole and Richard Durack, Laurence King Publishing, 1992, available at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Railway-Posters-1923-1947-Beverley-1992-05-11/dp/B0184WK24O/
- The Poster: Art, Advertising, Design, and Collecting, 1860s-1900s, by Ruth E. Iskin, Penn State Press, 2014, available at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Poster-Interfaces-Studies-Visual-Culture/dp/1611686164/
- London Transport Posters; A Century of Art and Design, by David Bownes and Oliver Green (Editors), published by Lund Humphries Publishers Ltd, 2011, available at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/London-Transport-Posters-David-Bownes/dp/0853319855/
- Underground Art; London Transport Posters 1908 To The Present, by Oliver Green, published by Cassell Illustrated, 1991), available at: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Underground-Art-Transport-Posters-Present/dp/0289800420/
Image Credit and Attribution: “BBC information Poster ‘God’s Wonderful Railway’ (poster)” by Charles Mayo is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0.
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