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Eric Baker

Today, 05.23.09



In the interests of full disclosure, let me confess that I have long been a sucker for the golden age of travel posters. To me, they evoke a time, almost a century ago, when travel was actually exciting and adventurous, before metal detectors and security lines — and before you had to take your shoes off before boarding a plane. The British novelist Somerset Maugham produced some of his greatest literature during this period, stories filled with exotic characters — the plantation owners and aristocrats, not to mention the secret agents and scoundrels — that he met on his numerous trips to China, India and the Middle East. Indeed, to travel at that time was to engage in an activity that was, by all indications, considerably more civilized than it is today. 

A generation ago, intercontinental travel was an exotic world of steamer trunks and gangplanks, of distant ports and foreign train stations — an era when a journey could take days, even weeks until you reached your final destination. Tourists sought refuge in faraway lands, with ports of call ranging from Hong Kong and Burma to Prague and Venice, Tasmania and Odessa to the warm, sunny shores of Cannes and Capri. The Orient Express — which in its heyday ferried passengers from Paris to Istanbul — remains even today a symbol of intercontinental intrigue, with its sister ships on the legendary Cunard Line promising perhaps an equal level of luxury.

Turn-of-the-century travel benefitted, too, from the efforts of advertisers who employed a series of (mostly anonymous) artists to craft alluring pictures — of distant lands and faraway places — that most of us could only dream about. Combining superb illustration and hand-drawn typography, they produced dazzling images in rich vibrant colors rendered through the magic of stone lithography. Consider, for example, the Panama Pacific Lines, which traveled between New York and California across the Panama Canal. Back in the day, a one-way passage cost $120, while a first-class ticket would set you back $185.

The posters here come from the magnificent collection in the Boston Public Library. In these lean economic times, let us rejoice in the visual splendor of this spectacular, if vicarious world tour. Shoe removal, by the way, is entirely optional.
























Eric Baker Design Associates is a Manhattan-based design firm established in 1986. Eric teaches the history of graphic design and corporate identity at the School of Visual Arts, and has twice received National Endowment for the Arts Grants for independent design history projects. He is inveterate collector of books and ephemera. Editor's Note: All images link to their original source and are copyright their original owners.




Comment 25  |     |     |   Like 0  |   Tweet 0
Comments [25]
I love your article, and the more you show us a beautiful series of posters. By reading and watching these posters you made me a little travel, thank you.
Albi
05.23.09
02:05

Powerful and direct and full of romance, adventure, and mystery.
Thanks for posting a fantastic collection.
Howard Stein
05.23.09
02:22

Thanks for curating all of these; what an amazing collection of vintage eye-candy and inspiration. Bravo!
Atherton Bartelby
05.23.09
03:22

Nicely written article, Eric! But I must confess this vintage work doesn't do it for me. I cannot fathom why... I suppose the fact I was born several generations late is to blame!
Devin
05.23.09
04:41

Eric Baker Brings Good Stuff! Thank you Eric.
Brian
05.23.09
11:58

Eric Baker rhymes with QUALITY!
pat Taylor
05.24.09
10:06

Lovely article. Thank you Eric. Its so true that travel is no longer the fun it was, and has become a much more stressful undertaking than anyone imagined. Airplane travel is no fun at all, especially when compared to the charm of taking a train or ship. In those days the journey itself was a holiday and an experience, as much as the destination.

Nice to see a whole set of illustrated images. Today travel imagery has become synonymous with photography, and one rarely sees any illustration.
armeen
05.24.09
12:45

Fabulous article and collection of vintage posters! Thank you
Web Design Development Company
05.24.09
02:44

Absolutely gorgeous posters!
Eric Jasso
05.24.09
11:05

1930s travel graphics rock! The biggest problem is – I think – that we tend to forget how much effort and craftsmanship were put into these works of art back then. No Photoshop, no Illustrator, mostly spot colors, not CMYK. There was an exhibition in Melbourne on travel culture in 2008 with really nice brochures and posters, I missed to get a catalogue though. Anyway, an amazing resource for more like this is http://www.travelbrochuregraphics.com/, thought i would share this.
Oh and what is it about taking off the shoes? How annoying is that?
Max
05.25.09
07:09

These are gorgeous. Thanks for sharing them.

It is interesting that the ship in the background of "Orient Calls" looks very much like the ship in A. M. Cassandre's famous 1935 Normandie poster.
Rob Henning
05.25.09
09:02

I love those posters. Especially the Japan one--look at the speed they portrayed. Why doesn't somebody try to reintroduce this style? UA sort of has with their illustrations, but mostly it's just photos. Nice photos, but still...
cristoph mark
05.25.09
09:51

thanks, that was great. I really like the minimal use of representation, goes well with type.
faris
05.25.09
11:38

There's a company in Seattle paying homage to this style which is incredible, by the way. I believe they're called Red Lantern Press.
Kisher
05.26.09
10:48

Really beautiful pieces of design, thanks for showing them.
Dee
05.26.09
03:52

These are absolutely fantastic.
Lauren K
05.26.09
07:37

Loving the retro ads, the Switzerland one is so fun.
Keep up the great posts!
Lynna
05.28.09
03:06

Thanks so much for this article. These posters are superb.
Michael
05.28.09
03:16

What a beautiful selection - thanks for sharing! Several years ago, I was illustrating the cover for Somerset Maugham’s collection of short stories The Casuarina Tree and posters like these were my inspiration. I did my sketches in Adobe Freehand (believe it or not!), but the final artwork was hand-painted. Last year, I did a cover illustration for the journey guide for the E&O Express (train that travels between Singapore and Bangkok), again, posters like these were my reference - but my artwork was 100% digital (too many changes!). I am hoping one day a vintage travel poster exhibition will come to Singapore!
S.T. Leng
05.30.09
12:31

Thank you to share your collection with us. It's a beautiful selection of 30s posters. It left a great part for imagination, and surprise i suppose.
Franck BRUNET
06.02.09
05:37

Thanks for sharing these lovely posters. What a wonderful escape.
Lisa
06.02.09
07:03

. But come on what else has this guy designed? I'm thinking...oh, lemmee see...how about a nice subterranean helicopter
iphone wireless
12.26.09
12:30

I love all of the old poster designs also... I remember the one of "Your country needs you!" that was great!
London Sightseeing Tours
12.30.09
10:23


. But come on what else has this guy designed? I'm thinking...oh, lemmee see...how about a nice subterranean helicopter
ed hardy
01.03.10
09:54

lol..... very nice !!
aakash thapa
03.09.10
05:04



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