History of Vintage Bicycle Posters
First printed around 1895, vintage bicycle posters originated in many countries including England, Japan, Russia and the United States. French manufacturers used them to advertise their brand of bicycles. Posters advertised cycling events and bicycle parts such as Michelin ads for tires.
Few artists concentrated solely on bicycle art. Some of the most notable vintage poster artists include Leonetto Cappiello, Jean de Paleologue (P.A.L.) and Jules Chéret, though unknown artists created many great posters as well.
Collecting Bicycle Posters (Original vs. Reproduction)
Like all vintage collectibles, collecting bicycle posters takes a fair amount of research. You must be able to tell the difference between an original and a reprint. For original posters, expect to spend hundreds to thousands of dollars.
Some collectors are very happy just accumulating quality reproductions. Due to the surge in demand and decline in availability of original bicycle posters, reproductions have become a viable alternative for collectors. For $100 to $300, collectors can purchase a quality reprint made by the same lithography process as the originals.
Collectors should use caution when purchasing posters advertised using the word "vintage." Some sellers use vintage as a description of the poster's style, and not its age, which can be confusing to collectors who don't know what they're looking for.
If you're just looking for an inexpensive "vintage" style bicycle poster to hang on your wall, you can usually purchase them for $10 to $50.
To tell the difference, collectors should look for signs of wear. Original posters are almost never in perfect condition. That is not to say there are not any in good condition, but original posters were printed on very thin, newsprint-like paper. Some preserved by early collectors can be in very good shape, but look for small creases and tears. Slightly faded color is also an indication of an original.
Types of Bicycle Posters
You can choose to collect a variety of vintage bicycle posters or you can specialize. You can choose your posters by size, style, era or brand.
Original bicycle posters vary greatly in size and shape. They can be horizontal or vertical and can range from 24 to 40 inches wide and 20 to 102 inches tall. Unusual size sometimes makes a poster more valuable.
Styles of bicycle posters refer to the artistic style employed in the artwork. Most commonly, they include art nouveau or art deco. It can also refer to the subject matter in the poster.
Since bicycle posters have been in production for over a hundred years, they have changed dramatically over time. Collectors can choose a specific date range or follow a particular artist's work over time.
Another specialty can refer to posters that advertise a particular brand of bicycle. During the late 1800s, an explosion in poster advertising coincided with the attempts of bicycle manufacturers to promote their brand to the public. One of the most pervasive images from that time is the Cycles Gladiator poster that depicts a nude woman with long, flowing red hair, gliding through the night sky with her Gladiator bicycle.
Purchasing Bicycle Posters
There is a variety of ways to purchase bicycle posters. They're available online, through auction houses, dealers, garage sales, antique stores and flea markets. If you are not sure exactly what you're looking for, it's probably best to stick with a dealer who can help you find the right poster for you. It is important to research the vendor carefully. Be sure the vendor is reputable and honest.