Where's the best place to buy “French Grande” advertising posters?
September 19, 2016 7:30 AM   Subscribe

I have a big 66-inch wide, 13-feet tall section of wall that I think would look great with a giant framed poster. I’m looking for giant vintage French advertising posters, from the 1920s, on canvas — but I’m not particular about the design. Do you have any suggestions on stores?

I’ve seen sites like The Poster Lady and Poster Classics - but they charge as much as several thousand dollars for the “French Grande” size (47” x 63”) I’m interested in. And that’s unframed! Framing would cost another $500. Oddly, the design of the sites are nearly identical!

I don’t understand how they can cost so much. They’re considered collectibles, but it doesn’t seem like there’s much of a market for them. (I’ve checked Craigslist). I don’t see many used posters for sale, and given their size, that’s surprising that no one is recycling them when refreshing or moving. It seems like many retailers are simply trying to get as much as they can, since they’re doing the “inquire for price” thing.

I’m in NYC and checked out Chisholm Gallery, whose prices are a little more reasonable — but still pricey.

I’ve looked at eBay, and the reproductions mostly use certain designs that I'm not in love with. I’ve looked at Overstock, and there are few items of the size I want, and they’re mostly modern. I’ve even checked Pinterest.
posted by Roy Batty to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Linking a $685 poster that might not be large enough - We have bought antique advertising posters from Spencer Weisz Gallery
posted by marguerite at 7:39 AM on September 19, 2016

I missed your size requirement - there are some smaller posters for around 475 on there.
posted by marguerite at 7:45 AM on September 19, 2016

I've never been in, but have walked past the poster museum on chambers (at broadway) many many times. It seems like the have a large and frequently rotating stock of posters (particularly French advertisements). The prices seem quite variable based on some very abbreviated browsing of their website, but it might, perhaps, be worth a visit to talk to them in person.
posted by Exceptional_Hubris at 8:15 AM on September 19, 2016

I'm not a collector, but I own a few of these as decoration. They are beautiful aren't they? Price for originals varies greatly depending on rarity, desirability, and condition of the poster. I'm not surprised you don't see much turnover, folks like me who buy them treat them as fine art, not a disposable. Originals are definitely worth the expense; most reproductions are shrunk and often have poor colours. But they are definitely expensive, I expect $300-$1000 for something typical and vintage. (Fun fact; the market for these is said to begun just after WW2, when some American GIs, um, liberated some boxes of unused advertising posters along with the rest of Paris and brought them back to New York.)

Given the price and varying quality I would be very hesitant about buying anything like this online without seeing it. But two galleries I have done business with and trust: Julia Santen in South Carolina and Libraire Elbé in Paris. The merchant at Elbé referred me to Gallery 123 in Geneva as well.

Sadly none of these shops list prices online, but will gladly quote you a price via email. Or give them a price range and the general thing you are looking for and they will have suggestions. You may want to narrow down a theme or color along with price and size.
posted by Nelson at 8:26 AM on September 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm confused about why you want this on canvas. Posters are... posters. Anything "vintage" printed on canvas isn't really vintage, it's a reprint. And not even a replica. Just someone throwing an image on canvas because why not.

You can buy an original of this type of thing, from a reputable source that deals in this type of art, for much cheaper than these ripoff "vintage" canvases.

Keep in mind, too, that even if you end up going for a replica, this is a large format to print on. The paper alone is probably $50+, and at this size the cost of ink is not negligible. Add in the printing company's overhead and some profit for them, and there's almost no way that even a replica of something like this would be sold for under $200-300.

Have you considered branching out to other types of imagery in the same size? The "Grandin" TV advertisement on this page is the same size and basic genre as the classic 1920s Campari ads, but only costs $450 and is in my opinion both graphically and aesthetically more interesting. This is something you could use as a focal point for interior design, whereas the 1920s stuff is kind of done at this point.

You can also often find French Metro Ad sized posters that aren't of iconic vintage imagery for a lot cheaper through other sources, though of course it takes a lot of digging. I used to have a French subway ad for the film "The Professional" which I bought at a con for like $50, mostly because that's not really what collectors are looking for.
posted by Sara C. at 9:25 AM on September 19, 2016

I missed the point about canvas. The posters are pretty much always prints on heavy paper. But when they're sold in galleries the paper has usually been mounted on a new canvas backing for structural stability. I've never seen a vintage poster with ink printed directly on canvas.

(BTW, $1000 is by no means an upper bound on price; I've seen $3000+. But $300-$1000 is the range I have in my head for a typical vintage poster.)
posted by Nelson at 10:09 AM on September 19, 2016

Are you actually looking for the poster on canvas? That would definitely be a reproduction of some kind. Genuine vintage posters that have been folded or otherwise damaged are sometimes backed with linen for conservation and restoration.

A very reputable seller is Vintage European Posters in Berkeley, Ca. A friend of mine who collects posters and other theater ephemera for Stanley Kubrick movies has had work done there.
posted by Altomentis at 1:59 PM on September 19, 2016

I'd look for reproductions, not originals, if you don't want to spend a lot of money. You can also find public domain images and get them printed up on canvas (in sections, most likely) at a local printer. I had images printed on canvas painter's tarps for a project and they looked pretty good.
posted by Ideefixe at 2:04 PM on September 19, 2016

Thanks for the input - especially regarding canvas and price. Yes, paper mounted on canvas is probably what I want.

A follow-up question though: Since these posters can run several hundred to several thousand dollars, and at the same time, many of the images are reproduced, what's to prevent forgeries? Is there some kind of validating authority that would protect me from paying $2300 for this and simply getting a blow-up of this at $23?
posted by Roy Batty at 8:29 PM on September 19, 2016

Buy from a reputable dealer in vintage prints and not "allwall.com" or the like. (Those are print on demand sites, not sellers of vintage artwork.) I also wouldn't go to Ebay for this unless it's clearly a photograph of the actual piece and not a jpg of what the advertising image looks like, as in your link. Also anyplace that claims to have something like this in multiple sizes -- especially if they are modern day standard paper or photo sizes -- is selling reproductions, not originals.

An original poster is most likely going to look old. Someone selling a copy for $23.99 isn't going to go to the trouble of aging it realistically.

Don't buy anything on canvas. These are not paintings. Paintings are artworks that are painted onto stretched canvasses with paint. Posters are artworks that are printed onto paper with ink. Anyone selling 20th century advertising poster imagery on a stretched canvas is ripping you off, and the resulting product will look stupid displayed in your home.
posted by Sara C. at 8:43 PM on September 19, 2016

I've never considered a possibility of forgery, Roy Batty. The print quality on original vintage posters is astonishingly good; I suspect it'd be so expensive to replicate now that forging would not very profitable. But like I said before, I only buy on personal inspection, or possibly from a merchant I've done business with before. But that's mostly a concern about quality, vintage posters tend to have minor blemishes that I wouldn't trust an online vendor to represent accurately.

But perhaps I'm naive; here's a case of someone being prosecuted for forging movie posters. I've got to think it's a lot easier to forge an 11x14 lobby card than a 47x63 affiche, though.
posted by Nelson at 7:23 AM on September 20, 2016

Thanks. Can anyone suggest further reading? I can believe these are collectibles, but I haven't heard very much about them appreciating in price. Are there any instances out there?

Nelson, thanks for linking to that article, it might be easier to make forgeries than you think!

"[The perp] used a New York printing company to make high-quality copies from prints and digital scans he provided. He then worked with a restoration company to attach the forged posters to old-fashioned lobby card stock to make them look more genuine."
posted by Roy Batty at 4:03 PM on September 20, 2016

I would only buy something like this because you enjoy the look and think it would look nice hanging in your home, or simply want to collect things you think are pretty.

The market for these seems to be entirely based on their trendiness as a decor item. In 10-15 years when the pendulum swings again, they might all be worthless.
posted by Sara C. at 4:17 PM on September 20, 2016

Just following up, as much for my own notes as for the favorites I got --

Upon visiting some of the galleries and web sites listed in this thread, I realized I probably wouldn't be able to get away with spending less than $1,200 for one of these posters. I figured they cost about $1,500 on average, especially in the size that I seek. It's an interesting business model.

I expect these things are priced very high because they're not sold very often -- to cover the gallery's operating expenses, they're priced at a very healthy margin. I hadn't realized that there's some hand-craftsmanship involved too. At one gallery, I saw a poster being retouched by fine paintbrush.

For $1,500, I could buy a brand new sofa from Crate and Barrel, so I figured the only way I'd get one is through Craigslist or a thrift shop. I found one at a thrift shop in Manhattan, for $500, though it was on the small size. On the other hand, It was framed, which helps with the expense. It was a popular design, but not the one I really wanted. I also found some on craigslist, priced at $2,000, framed. That's a relative deal, though it only works if those are the designs you've fallen in love with. I think if I'm going to spend over $1000, I don't want to compromise on the design.

Ultimately, I may wind up buying a reproduction from one of the print-on-demand places like iCanvas or Art.com, or even Overstock, AllPosters or eBay. What surprised me is that these shops stocked a lot of the same images I'd fallen in love with when touring the galleries.

To think, I'd almost paid $1300 for an image than I could get for $250 -- albeit, of course for lower quality. I'm willing to make that tradeoff, even if it's printed on canvas as opposed to paper mounted on linen-backed canvas. The sizes are slightly smaller in the print-on-demand shops too. Size matters a lot. Much of the extra-large sized art I was looking at, even of mundane images, not this poster art, was very expensive then expanded.

$300 seems like a much more reasonable price for me. As others have suggested, it might be dangerous to look on these as collectibles.

I'll keep my eye on the print-on-demand places for awhile too, to see if I can catch any holiday specials or sales. Maybe I can get the price even lower, closer to $100. Does anyone have an experience with these places to share?
posted by Roy Batty at 12:19 PM on October 9, 2016

What surprised me is that these shops stocked a lot of the same images I'd fallen in love with when touring the galleries.

The ones you saw in galleries are originals.

The ones art.com sells are low quality reproductions.
posted by Sara C. at 12:23 PM on October 9, 2016

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