As political and business heavyweights deliberated over the weakness of the global economy at the World Economic Forum in Davos, one of Switzerland's most prestigious mountain resorts, there was no such uncertainty at Christie's (25/20/12% buyer's premium) annual Ski sale in South Kensington.
The 245-lot auction on January 25 was 89 per cent sold by volume and 96 per cent by value, and netted £586,860. "This was the second best total in 15 years of the ski sale," said CSK poster specialist Nicolette Tomkinson. "The highest total was during the economic boom in 2008 so this shows it is a strong market."
Unique to Christie's, the ski sale is a perennial favourite among those in search of eye-catching 20th century alpine posters to adorn their homes and chalet walls. "The sale was dominated by individual private buyers and many bids were aptly received by mobile phones from the ski slopes," said Ms Tomkinson.
This demand has translated into consistently high selling rates, even in some of the gloomiest economic conditions possible; in 2009, for instance, the auction house achieved a total of around £480,000 for a 336-lot sale.
Despite the success, prices of individual posters can fluctuate from one year to the next, depending on the impulse of these bidders. Last year's top lot of the 1913 Gstaad Palace poster by an anonymous designer fetched £18,000; this year's example of the same poster, with a matching condition grade, sold for £13,000. This is why Ms Tomkinson tends to err on the side of caution with estimates.
Swiss posters continue to be the most desirable and this year accounted for a particularly high proportion of the sale - 164 lots - contributing over £400,000 of the total raised. This was partly because around a third of the posters in the sale came from a private collection which had already been partially dispersed at Christie's Travel and Vintage posters auction last November.
The works from the collection here were 99 per cent sold. The remainder of the lots were shared between resorts in France, Germany, Italy, Austria, Norway and America, as well as a sprinkling of alpine-themed commercial posters.
The most sought-after posters, in general, are those for prestigious resorts, particularly Swiss ones, but the other key factor is decorative appeal. Important but secondary considerations include style, rarity, artist and condition. Having said that, there are exceptions to the formula, as illustrated by the top lot at this year's CSK sale.
Offered as the penultimate lot, the 3ft 3½in x 2ft (1m x 63cm) 1930 work was by the well-known poster artist Roger Broders (1883-1953). Depicting the relatively unknown St Pierre de Chartreuse resort in the French Alps, the de Vaugirard, Paris printed lithograph was also "rare, in good condition and had a good all-round general winter scene", said Ms Tomkinson. After a lengthy bidding battle it sold on the phone for £26,000 against a £5000-7000 estimate. This price makes it a record for the artist at auction.
When a sought-after artist and a prestigious resort combine, bidding can be particularly fierce. Such was the case again this year for posters by Emil Cardinaux (1877-1936) of St Moritz, the glamorous ski destination in Switzerland. Leading the way was a 4ft 2½in x 3ft (1.28m x 91cm) condition A poster from 1920 advertising the resort's famous Palace Hotel.
Examples of this iconic design printed by Wolfsberg, Zürich are offered at the ski sale most years, with this one selling for double the bottom estimate to take £20,000 over the phone - the highest price seen at auction for this poster.
The next lot was an identically sized 1918 work of a general winter scene in St Moritz featuring horse sleigh rides and cross-country skiing. It sold to a different private buyer on the phone for £19,000 against the same £10,000-15,000 estimate.
Designs by less-known poster artists of St Moritz also commanded healthy prices. A winning bid of £19,000 via an internet client in Italy secured a striking 2ft 2½in x 3ft 2½in (67 x 98cm) design promoting Engadin St Moritz by Anton Christoffel (1871-1953) for over three times the £6000 low estimate.
There was also keen bidding for a 1928 design of a saxophone-playing snowman by Charles Kuhn (1903-99) which sold on the phone for £12,000 - four times the top estimate.
A 3ft 4in x 2ft 1in (1.02m x 64cm) 1955 poster by Alex Walter Diggelmann (1902-87) of the St Moritz snow hare, the ski resort's logo before it was replaced officially in 1986 with the trademark sun and Top of the World sign, fetched a treble-top-estimate £9500 via the phone. Such was the appeal of the St Moritz name that all 17 posters for the resort consigned for sale here found buyers and alone contributed over £115,000 to the total.
Other popular Swiss resorts at CSK included Davos, Klosters and Zermatt. Cardinaux's 4ft 2½in x 3ft (1.29m x 92cm) bobsleighing poster for the first of these, in condition A-, proved particularly desirable and fetched £17,000 on the phone against an £8000-12,000 estimate. This was well above the price realised last year for an identical example with the same condition grade and estimate which achieved £12,000.
Despite the lack of snow, a smaller-sized summer scene at Klosters by Edward Stiefel (1875-1968) from 1926 sold comfortably above estimate at £5000 on the phone and a 1928 Zermatt poster of the Gornergrat railway, winding its way along the ridge of the Pennine Alps, sold for a double-top-estimate £6500, also on the phone.
The top lot aside, French posters struggled in comparison to their Swiss counterparts - over a quarter of the 42 lots failed to sell. Nevertheless, there were a number of solid sales for early designs. A condition B+ example of one of the earliest ski posters by Francisco Tamagno (1851-1933) of the well-known c.1900 Chamonix Mont Blanc couple flying down a ski slope with outstretched arms sold just above estimate for £7000; a Jules Abel Faivre (1867-1945) Chamonix poster from 1905 of a female skier on the slopes in a hat and full-length dress fetched a middle-estimate £6000; and Leonetto Cappiello's (1875-1942) 3ft 2½in x 2ft (98 x 61cm) condition B Superbagnères-Luchon lithograph of a trio of skiers printed by Devambez, Paris in 1929 achieved a low-estimate £4000.
Elsewhere in the sale, a 1935 ski poster by popular German artist Franz Lenhart (1898-1992) for Cortina in Italy triumphed significantly over its £2000-3000 estimate. Measuring 3ft 3in x 2ft (99 x 61cm) and in condition A-, it went on to make £10,000 - a record for the artist.
There was also keen bidding on an Austrian design from 1934 for the exclusive ski resort of Lech Arlberg, which sold for a double-top-estimate £6000. Meanwhile, an undated Lufthansa Airline poster by Hans Vogel (1885-?) depicting a passenger plane flying low over snow-covered rural Germany, went for almost twice its top estimate to take £5500.