It was a 1928 poster of the French town of Barcelonnette – a dynamic image of a man on wooden skis, mid-jump, in a burst of snow – that kicked off a serious collecting habit for Murray Hudson. Attending the first-ever Christie’s ski posters sale in 1998 (now an annual feature in January), Hudson, managing director of a storage company, was immediately captivated by the image. “It showed extreme skiing for fun, which you didn’t have back then,” he says. “It’s taken 87 years for reality to catch up with that imagery.” He has since amassed a collection of 10, which hangs throughout his Cambridge home.
Hudson is one of a growing number to have fallen for the old-world charm of the vintage ski poster. And as pre-second-world-war lithographs come in standard sizes (mostly 102cm x 64cm), they look fantastic hanging together. Originally produced from around the end of the 19th century as advertisements, they could be found on station platforms and in travel agents, their striking, glamorous and often whimsical images enticing people to escape to faraway destinations and take up a sport that was still in its infancy.
Although posters in good condition generally fetch between £1,000 and £5,000, the most desirable can reach £20,000 or more – an uplift in value that’s been especially noticeable in the past 15 years. In 1998, for example, a 1908 Emil Cardinaux design of a dawn-drenched Matterhorn sold for £6,325 (more than double its estimate) at Christie’s; it went under the hammer at the same house in 2014 for £21,250. Similarly, a lithograph by the highly sought-after French artist Roger Broders sold for £4,830 at the 1998 sale, and in 2012 achieved an impressive £32,450.
Destination is inevitably a key factor for ski enthusiasts, says Nicholas Lowry, president of New York’s Swann Auction Galleries – “resorts where a collector has a chalet, where they honeymooned or their family is from”. His firm offers ski posters in its February and December sales, the next of which will include European resorts alongside US ones such as Sun Valley ($1,000-$6,000) and Aspen ($5,000-$7,500). Posters of popular and glamorous resorts naturally fetch the highest prices. For this reason, those depicting Switzerland and France are often the most coveted, says Nicolette Tomkinson, director of vintage posters at Christie’s. “Exclusive resorts such as St Moritz, Davos, Klosters and Gstaad are generally the places where prices come out the highest.” Online poster gallery AntikBar currently has a modernist c1950 St Moritz Piz Nair poster for £4,250, while Geneva’s Galerie 123 has an eye-catching c1930 art-deco design of ultra-chic Megève (SFr4,200, about £2,750).
The desire to own a slice of ski history is also a big draw. “There was no downhill skiing as we know it before the 1930s,” says Russell Johnston, founder of OriginalSkiPosters.com, who is holding a pop-up exhibition at the Arlberg Hospiz Hotel, Austria, until May. “Then, if you wanted to ski, you had to walk up first.” In demand are turn-of-the-century posters of people heading up trails, designs from around the mid-1930s to 1950s that advertised ground-breaking cable cars and lifts (cue Johnston’s striking Mürren poster by Martin Peikert, £5,900), as well as those illustrating archaic equipment or old-fashioned clothes. Take Jules-Abel Faivre’s iconic 1905 Chamonix poster of a woman skiing in a full skirt, which is currently for sale at Aspen’s Omnibus Gallery for a cool $22,900.
But the heyday of vintage ski posters was really the 1920s and 1930s, when bold art‑deco imagery epitomised golden-era inter-war glamour – such as Pierre Kramer’s classic Zermatt poster (examples of which sold for £11,875 at Christie’s in 2013 and £8,000 last month at Original SkiPosters.com); a swish design promoting a 1937 Swiss ski race now selling for about £3,800 at Galerie 123; and a 1924 St Moritz poster by Carl Moos, up for auction at Christie’s this month (estimate £18,000-£22,000). Not only do they have a strong aesthetic, but they are also very high quality, thanks to lithography printing. The technique would be replaced by photography after the second world war – making lithographs even more rare and romantic. That increases their appeal, says Tomkinson. “We don’t know exactly how many of each poster were printed, but it was likely to have been in the 2,000 range and, of course, not all survived”.
Although photographic images from the 1950s and 1960s fetch lower prices today compared to their lithographic counterparts, they have a charm of their own; Galerie 123 currently has a chic 1960s poster of the Pyrénées for about £525. By the time the 1960s were in full swing, the pop-art movement had began to have an influence, creating a genre of neon “skidelica” styles Johnston believes is “becoming super-collectable” (he is offering a funky design promoting the Howard Head ski company for £3,400, but most from the era can be found for under £1,000).
And while many collectors seek image and location above all else, others – such as LA-based Dominique McAree, who has a 50-strong collection – are attracted to certain star artists. “Emil Cardinaux and Roger Broders really captured the essence of the sport,” says McAree, who works in advertising and media solutions. He is also a fan of Swiss artist Martin Peikert, whose images all sold above their estimates last year at Christie’s (Galerie 123 currently carries a 1948 design for about £1,900). “They’re incredibly hard to find and beautiful in an ethereal way,” says McAree. Meanwhile, Burkhard Mangold’s elegant c1914 depictions of Davos are particularly valuable; Omnibus recently sold a set of five to a local Aspen collector for $85,000.
As for the Barcelonnette poster, Hudson was only able to buy it two years ago, as it had not been on the market since its 1998 debut. He picked it up at Christie’s for £3,000 and it hangs in pride of place over his bed. “I waited 15 years for that poster,” he says. “I tell my wife that this one is never going. It’s where it all started.”