When one of them came to auction at Onslows in Dorset on July 12 it sold for a hammer price of £14,000, just under top estimate.
The 2ft 6in x 20in (75.5 x 51cm) recruitment poster was printed in September 1914 at a time when volunteers were needed. Alfred Leete’s powerful image shows Kitchener with the message “Wants You" Join Your Country's Army ! God Save the King.
It was bought by an Australian bidder who is going to loan it to the Australian War Memorial. The poster joins another copy Down Under at the State Library of Victoria Melbourne. Two others are held by London’s Imperial War Museum and the Robert Opie collection.
Onslows sold a further copy in 2014 in a Great War poster auction for a premium-inclusive price of £27,450 and another by private treaty.
The saleroom says an ‘urban myth’ has arisen that the design was never actually used as a recruiting poster: however, two photographs show one on a hoarding with others published by the Parliamentary Recruiting poster at Liverpool Station on December 15, 1914, and the other posted on pillars of Chester’s Town Hall.
The rarity of this poster could be put down to the numbers printed being far less than the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee-issued posters, of which there was a surplus available for sale after the war.
The Kitchener poster and the others in the following five lots (all wartime) were found by a relative of the original owner while clearing their house in Cumbria.
Another wartime rarity offered at Onslows, but this time related to 1939-45, achieved what the saleroom believes to be a new high for a poster by famous designer Abram Games (1914-96). The 1941 design for HMSO, Join the ATS, measuring 2ft 5in x 19in (73.5 x 48.5cm), sold for £9000 against an estimate of £3000-5000.
Patrick Bogue of Onslows said: “The last one sold was at Christie’s South Kensington in 2012 for £4375. The bidder for our poster was prepared to go a lot higher. The price achieved is probably a record for a poster by this famous poster designer.”
The buyer, based in Westminster, saw a story about the posters in the national press.
Bogue added: “The poster, better known as the Blonde Bombshell, is very rare, due to its early removal from display in 1941 following the complaint in Parliament from the MP Thelma Cazalet-Keir that the poster was too glamorous to be used to recruit women for the ATS, sending the wrong message with the red lipstick
“It is interesting to note that the poster has a small label for the Colchester Recruiting office pasted down - this confirms that this copy of the poster was displayed in public. The conservation of the poster shows three of the corners missing from when it was pulled down from display.”
The poster previously sold at Onslows in 1990.
Demand for Games posters is set to rise even higher thanks to an exhibition of his designs currently on show at the National Army Museum in London (until November 24).
Joy at result
A non-wartime set of posters was another sale highlight. Although falling just short of the £20,000-25,000 estimate, the six East Coast Joys posters by Tom Purvis to promote the London and North Eastern Railway offered in a single lot made £18,000, with a US-based collector successful over an underbid placed from France.
Bogue said: “Although below my low estimate, it is a very strong price. The vendor had been very reluctant to sell them and could only be persuaded if a good price be achieved for what is probably the only complete set in existence.”
Also see ATG’s preview for full details about this lot.
Onslows charges 24% buyer's premium inc VAT on top of the hammer price.