Treasure? Travel posters often fly high at auction
Gigi Stempien couldn’t resist the colorful vintage travel posters when she saw them taped to the back of a door at a Beverly Hills estate sale a few years ago. “My grandpa was a pilot for TWA back in the 1940s and 1950s,” she told appraiser and antiques expert Bob DuMouchelle.
The price didn’t hurt, either – just $5 for the pair, she told DuMouchelle, prompting her to snap them up. The posters feature stylized images of Ireland, with pastel castles, and Rome, including the Colosseum and other Roman landmarks. “Fly TWA Jets” and “Fly TWA Superjets,” they encourage.
Both images are the work of artist David Klein, DuMouchelle told her, filling in her and the others gathered for the recent appraisal session downtown on the artist’s background. More information on Klein’s work was found on the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s website (airandspace.si.edu), a museum that includes a number of his works in its permanent collection.
“In the 1950s and ’60s, movie stars and other celebrities often flew TWA, which helped fill seats with other passengers. Echoing the glitzy TWA reputation were the airlines advertising posters, which captured the allure of travel in a single enticing scene, inspiring dreams of adventure in distant locales. These posters were pervasive — in airports, railway stations, travel agencies, airline ticket offices, hotels and on advertising kiosks in cities across the globe. Some of the best TWA posters from the 1950s and ‘60s were created by artist David Klein (1918-2005). Already a successful illustrator known in the late 1940s and early 1950s for his Broadway show cards and posters, Klein’s award-winning abstract drawings for TWA came to represent the jet age. Klein won many awards for his TWA work. ... Typical of TWA posters, text is kept to a minimum and an airplane flies overhead.”
DuMouchelle said that Klein worked for a variety of other well-known clients, including Amtrak, Cunard and Holland America Cruises. One of his most popular designs, the 1956 New York City poster featuring Times Square, appeared on “Antiques Roadshow.” A first printing was auctioned in 2012 for $9, 944.
Unfortunately for Stempien, “there is a lot of his work out there, and there are also a lot of reproductions,” DuMouchelle told her. “Klein’s work was sold in a variety of ranges and qualities.” He told her that he thinks hers are indeed vintage, but that they are hurt by the condition. “There has been some chemical damage to the paper,” he said.
Despite that, he valued them at $100-$150 each, adding that if they were in better condition the price could be more like $600-$1,200, the price some are selling for on sites such as eBay.
At $5 for the pair, he said her buy was “definitely a win.” He suggested she frame and enjoy them, adding that it’s worth investing in acid-free paper and UV glass. “How much you spend depends on where you want to hang them,” he added, saying its best to keep them away from sunlight to avoid color fading.
He added that “airline stuff is hot,” and that Stempien would find a market for them if she decided to sell. She decided to think it over. “It would be fun to hang grandpa’s picture with it,” she told him.
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About this item
Item: TWA travel posters
Owned by: Gigi Stempien
Appraised by: Bob DuMouchelle
Estimated value: $100-$150 each at auction