Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - July - 2009 Issue

European Posters from Burkhard Sulzen

A Cunard poster on the cover of the latest Burkhard Sulzen catalogue.


By Michael Stillman

Burkhard Sulzen has issued Katalog 13 of Schone & Seltene Plakate (Fine and Rare Posters in English). This catalogue is in German, but the good thing about posters is they are usually about visuals, not words. These are essentially items of art with a few words of explanation. Mostly, they were intended to sell you something. Usually it is a commercial product, although in some cases the product is political. There are several pre-war posters where the products were Nazism and Communism. One wonders how they found customers for these products, but sadly, too often they did. Cigarettes and alcohol were also regularly sold by poster, along with some less harmful products such as clothing, appliances, and travel. These posters provide a look at European culture, the good, the bad and the ugly, from the late 19th through the 20th century. The catalogue is a trip back in time. Here are a few samples from its pages.

Item 74 is a 1907 poster for Safir Automobilfabrik Zürich. It is hard to precisely understand the meaning of the image of a nude woman driving a Safir truck with what appears to be a giant in back. Perhaps the image is meant to convey power. The Safir Automobile Factory was located in Zurich, Switzerland, though it appears trucks were their specialty. They displayed their four-ton truck at an automotive show in Chicago in 1907, and had a distributor representing them in New York at the time. However, the trail quickly goes cold and it appears that Safir was out of business as early as 1908. Priced at €2,000 (euros, or about $2,826 in U.S. dollars).

The Cunard lines didn't have to do a lot to explain their business to the public. Everyone knew them. This circa 1920 English poster shows a gigantic ship with a group of tourists, tiny by comparison, in the foreground. The only word to appear on the poster is "Cunard." Click the thumbnail image above to see this poster on the catalogue's cover. Item 62. €3,500 (US $4,952).

Item 92 is a circa 1930 poster from the jazz age. It features the image of saxophonist, with slicked down hair of the era, to the announcement that Rene Dumont, the "Comet in Jazz Heaven," will be playing at the Café Palmhof. Dumont and the Rene Dumont Jazz Band are to music what Safir was to automobiles - obscure and mostly forgotten. But, he was cool. €580 (US $821).

Here is something else that was cool - smoking Reval cigarettes. At least around 1970 it was. The German cigarette company used images of men who, frankly, were not as cool as Rene Dumont, but must have looked stylish for this time. One has thick-framed glasses that probably made him look like an intellectual, someone smart enough to realize that cigarettes were killing him. Items 104 and 105. €210 each (US $297).

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