Started by Nicolette Tomkinson, head of the posters department at Christie’s South Kensington, 15 years ago, the only dedicated ski poster sale in the UK has successfully mastered a small but lucrative field.
It is fuelled by nostalgia and the current
vogue for large framed vintage posters seen in trendy homes,
offices and, in this case, also chalets. And it is a market that
keeps on giving.
"Since we started the ski sale the market
has certainly opened up," said Ms Tomkinson. "We have seen more
interior designers and decorators participate at these sales as
well as a broader pool of private clients."
As the ski sale has become more
established, word of mouth has also played its part. "Someone might
have seen a poster on a friend's wall and wondered where they could
get one," said Ms Tomkinson.
As the sale-type is unique to Christie's,
they tend to get the pick of what is available, with consignments
split roughly half and half between the trade and private
Ski posters were originally produced by
resorts using some of the top artists of the day to entice the
wealthy to spend their winter holidays on the slopes. When the
season ended, they were often ripped down from railway stations,
travel agents and billboards and thrown away. The fact that so few
have survived adds to their value and attraction.
In general, a poster with plenty of
decorative appeal showcasing a prestigious resort, such as a Swiss
or French one, will be the most sought-after. Often style, rarity,
artist and condition are of secondary importance to the buyer.
Yet, as is the case with many collectors,
they choose to buy simply because they love a particular poster,
and as long as they are stored away from direct sunlight and behind
UV-screening glass - ideally attached to acid-free cloth - buyers
should also have an appreciating asset.
The latest ski sale, held on January 23 at
Christie's South Kensington, took place amid suitably wintry
conditions, and bidders did not disappoint. Just 18 lots of the 161
on offer were left unsold (a success rate of 89%) to total
£552,400, nearly matching last year's much larger 245-lot sale that
netted a shade under £590,000.
Bids came from the room and the phones
and, as in years past, from the ski slopes via mobile phones. They
also came from places such as Texas, Oslo, Zurich and Lausanne via
the auctioneers' bidding platform, Christie's Live.
Selling rates and prices have climbed
consistently in recent years, interrupted only in 2008, when
Russian money temporarily caused a spike in prices for posters
promoting the Soviet homeland.
This year's average lot price was £3800, a
£1200 increase on last year. That said, prices for individual
posters can fluctuate from one sale to the next depending on the
whims of bidders.
For instance, last year a 1920s design for
the Palace Hotel, St Moritz by Emil Cardinaux, one of
the best-known artists in this field, fetched twice its bottom
estimate at £20,000; this year's example, catalogued as in the same
condition and with the same guide price, sold for £9000. Such
unpredictability is a good reason for Christie's to keep a lid on
estimates as they do.
Swiss posters continued their dominance at
the top end, accounting for 74 lots in the sale and contributing
around £250,000 of the total. The remaining posters were shared
between resorts in France, Italy, Scandinavia, Germany, Austria,
Russia and North America, as well as a few Alpine-themed commercial
The sale also included 20 lots of period
luggage offered for the first time in the ski sale.
Above: St Moritz by Plinio Colombi
(1873-1951), which sold for £20,000 to lead Christie's South
Kensington's annual ski sale poster section.
Typical of the prices paid for the best
posters in this field was the sale's top lot. Designed by Swiss
artist Plinio Colombi (1873-1951), it included plenty of deep crisp
white snow, a cloudless blue sky and St Moritz in
large bold writing.
Measuring 3ft 4in x 2ft 1in (1.03m x
65cm), the lithograph was produced in 1929 by Lips & Co, Bern,
and was condition grade A- (A being the optimum condition
through to C needing restoration). It sold for £20,000 after two
phones took it beyond the £10,000-15,000 guide. The successful
phone bidder was active throughout the sale and made a number of
other high-end purchases.
Swiss resorts such as Klosters, Gstaad,
Zermatt and Davos didn't come into their own until the 1930s, but
they had been functioning well before then. The pre-'30s posters
that survive tend to do well in the saleroom and sometimes fetch
meatier prices than later posters.
A case in point was a c.1910 poster for
Davos featuring skiers taking a break from their strenuous activity
to enjoy the view. Measuring 3ft 3in x 2ft 3in (1m x 70cm), three
telephones pursued it above the 3000-5000 estimate to £8000 - the
top price in the seven-lot Davos section.
A poster by Martin Peikert (1901-75)
promoting the village and ski resort of Les Diablerets in the
canton of Vaud in Switzerland also proved popular. Depicting a
young blonde hitching a ride on a chair lift with a small child on
her shoulders playing a pipe and wearing skis, the 3ft 4in x 2ft
1in (1.02m x 64cm), the condition B+ lithograph took over three
times its top estimate at £9400, selling to a phone bidder.
The 34 lots of French posters contributed
over £100,000, with a good take-up for one of the best-known poster
artists, Roger Broders (1883-1953). Last year's ski sale broke the
record for a work by the artist at auction when a winter sports
scene for the resort of St Pierre de
Chartreuse sold for £26,000.
However, Broders works still come at
accessible prices, with his cheapest design in this year's sale
going for just £1200. Mont-Revard, pictured in the
slideshow on this page, measures 3ft 6in x 2ft 7in (1.07m x 78cm)
and is in condition B. It improved on its £2000-3000 estimate to
sell at £3500.
Beyond Swiss and French highlights,
Italian ski posters produced the most competitive bidding. The
five-lot group included a popular design by Mario Puppo (1905-77)
promoting the Northern Italian resort of Cortina.
The 3ft 3in x 2ft 3in (1m x 69cm)
lithograph of two tanned skiers smiling into the distance was dated
to 1938 and sold for £11,000 against a £4000-6000 estimate.
The buyer's premium was 25/20/12%