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Railroad Collectibles
by Stanley L. Baker

If you're looking to start collecting railroadiana, then this book is for you. It describes and lists the current values for posters, books, badges, playing cards, timetables, watches, caps, lamps, maps, signs, tools, brochures, and luggage stickers.

                                   
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QUESTION:  

I have been collecting travel posters for some time. Recently, I purchased one from the Santa Fe Railroad and another from the B&O R.R. These appear to be in an Art Deco style but I have no idea who created them or exactly when they were in use. Can you help me?
 

Thanks,
Ben
____________________________________________________

ANSWER:  

Railroad posters reached their peak during the Art Deco Movement from 1925 to 1940. Most were so well designed that they’ve become art—collectible art.

Almost immediately after railroad workers drover the final spike into the 1,912-mile First Transcontinental Railroad at Promontory Summit, Utah, on May 10, 1869, marketers began producing posters and other advertising materials designed to lure farmers and entrepreneurs living east of the Mississippi River to the Wild West. This sort of marketing effort was hardly unique to the United States.



On November 7, 1885, when Canadians celebrated the completion of their nation’s even longer transcontinental railroad at Craigellachie, British Columbia, luring settlers west via advertising was deemed an essential part of nation-building. Indeed, executives of the Canadian Pacific Railway relied so heavily on graphic design, by the 1930s they had made room for a dedicated silkscreen studio within Montreal’s railway station, where the company produced posters and other materials by the thousands.

Similarly, half a world away in New Zealand, that nation’s Railways Department set up its own Railways Studios in 1915, defining the look of outdoor advertising in the country for more than half a century. But unlike in the United States and Canada, where the initial task was to encourage settlement, the goals for the posters that came out of Railway Studios were always about getting New Zealanders to explore their multi-island nation by rail. That last part was especially important because between World War I and World War II, New Zealand had become one of the most car-crazy countries in the world. But the artists hired by Railways Studios did such a good job of encouraging the public to take their weekend getaways by train that attendance at churches actually suffered.

Train travel allowed the middle and lower classes the ability to leave their remote town, head into a city, or escape from it as needed. Vacations became a notion that the general public could take; affordable weekend escapes in lieu of expensive months-long excursions reserved only for the rich. With this widening pool of people on-the-go, trains also changed the way people perceived the passing of time. Small towns between major cities became bustling centers that could be explored between train transfers, and entire sub-industries such as modern hotels and cafes began to spring up in formerly remote regions.

This growth in travel via train was a trend that continued through the first half of the 20th century. During the period of the eighty year boom in train travel, countless posters appeared in railway stations. Often bright and exciting, they offered the possibilities of new places to explore.

The Compagnie des Chemins de Fer de Paris à Lyon et à la Méditerranée―known simply as the PLM―was a French railway company founded during the initial growth of train travel, around 1859. PLM commissioned now famous poster artists such as Roger Broders. PLM would sponsor these artist’s travels to the Côte d’Azur and the French Alps so that they could visit the subjects of their work and depict them in the most accurate detail.

The Santa Fe Railroad was one of the larger railroads in the United States during the times of the “Wild West”. Chartered in 1859, the railroad reached the Kansas-Colorado border in 1873 and Pueblo, Colorado, in 1876. To create a demand for its services, the railroad set up real estate offices and sold farm land from the land grants that it was awarded by Congress. Despite the name, its main line never served Santa Fe, New Mexico, as the terrain was too difficult.

The Pennsylvania Railroad, commonly referred to as the “Pennsy,” was headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The PRR was the largest railroad in the U.S. for the entire first half of the 20th century. Its posters promoted cities throughout its vast network.

Once summoning travelers from near and far, vintage railroad posters have come to serve as delightful reminders of happy vacations, honeymoons, and historic periods in time. Now seen as art and highly sought after by collectors, there has been a particular resurgence in the interest in railway travel posters.,

Railroad posters were a form of powerful advertising in the early 20th century. With their brilliant colors and ability to radiate a sense of adventure and exploration, they enticed people to book trips by train.

The railroads commissioned most of the posters themselves .They were commissioned in a fairly standard format because the typical way of displaying them was inside rail stations. There were pre-made train posters that hung on the wall, and the local trainmaster would switch out the poster as new ones came in. So the travel posters would be in the same format and would wonderfully represent city and resort destinations, as well as weekend getaways along the railroad’s route.

The turn of the 20th century was a time of the early spread of the distribution lines of the rail companies. They reached more destinations and had to promote travel to these destinations. At the same time, they had to convey to people how much quicker this was than anything previously available.

A number of very famous artists worked on travel posters in the early era, and many people collect for the artist. They’re also collectible because of their beautiful graphics – they show charming scenes and beautiful colors – and because of their destinations. They might symbolize an important time in someone’s life, be it a honeymoon, or a place they studied, or a place the family frequently visited.

Fortunately, railroads produced posters in a size—approximately 29 x 39 inches----that fits well in today’s homes and small apartments.

The Art Deco Movement from 1925 to 1939 influenced the design of most railroad posters of the time while those produced in the early 1900s were more influenced by Art Nouveau. During the first half of the 20th century, posters were powerful method of promotion.

Stylistically, railroad posters varied by region or country. The posters produced by London’s Underground during the 1920s and ’30s used Art Deco images and design to lure residents and tourists alike to flowers in Kew Gardens, theaters in the West End, and the city’s famous zoo. During the same period, the Art Deco style gave an air of mystery to Japanese railway posters which enticed travelers to visit Japan’s numerous natural parks, where waterfalls and hot springs awaited. And while depictions of trains may have been absent in those posters, sales copy with detailed descriptions of discounts were not. Even though these posters were beautiful, they always had to earn their keep as sales tools.

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