WPA Silk-Screen Posters, 1936-1941

Value (2005) | $10,000 Auction$15,000 Auction

GUEST:
Well, I realize that they are from the WPA period, the 1930s, here in America. And they were part of a group of posters that became available to me through two elderly ladies who had taught at the Art Institute of Chicago. And I'm hoping that maybe these were some of their designs or maybe some of their students' designs that were incorporated into the posters.

APPRAISER:
They are, in fact, the work of the WPA, from Chicago, and each one of the posters says the WPA Project, either Chicago, or in some case it'll say Illinois. Most of them are anonymous. We don't actually know who did them. Only two of these posters are signed, and to be honest, the names that are on them are not important, they're not particularly major names. These are all from 1936 to 1941, and because they're anonymous, it's sometimes hard to perfectly date them. I don't know how much you know about the WPA project.

GUEST:
Well, I am aware of the many types of things that they were doing. We have stayed at Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood, which is a total WPA project of all kinds of artists, and the murals that they did in post offices in the Midwest. I'm somewhat familiar with it.

APPRAISER:
Just a little more detail-- the WPA employed over 5,000 artists, and they produced thousands and thousands and thousands of posters. It was the way for all unemployed artists in America during the Depression to find some work. It was a great program that benefited America as a whole. And a lot of the WPA posters concentrated around cultural events. And that's largely what we have here. We have "National Art Week." We have "Understanding the Arts." We have a poster that encourages people to read more. Now, they're all silkscreens. And silkscreen is a very fragile art form. All of these posters were actually printed on board. And this is why very few of them have survived. Silkscreen actually scratches very easily. You can see a few scratches in this image, but not so bad. You've kept these in really good condition. And usually with WPA posters, the board will crack or the images will get scratched, so very few of them have survived. Now, these two posters actually appear on the Library of Congress Web page.

GUEST:
Wow.

APPRAISER:
And from their Web page I learned that this poster dates from 1940 and that this poster dates from 1941. Now, the Library of Congress has the largest collection of WPA posters in America with over 900 images. But I have to tell you, in the ten years that I've been conducting poster auctions, I have never seen so many WPA posters at once. But I usually see one at a time. If I'm lucky, in a great year, I'll see three at a time. But here we're showing five of them... You have another one here, so a total of six.

GUEST:
Plus about three or four or five more that I don't have with me.

APPRAISER:
These posters have become so popular in America now, I would estimate at auction as a group, the six pieces that we have here at $10,000 to $15,000.

GUEST:
Oh, my.

APPRAISER:
A really extraordinary slice of graphic Americana, museum-quality pieces and something that collectors are really clamoring to get their hands on.

GUEST:
Oh, my. Well, that is very exciting news.

Appraisal Details

Appraiser
Swann Auction Galleries
New York, New York
Appraised value (2005)
$10,000 Auction$15,000 Auction
Event
Houston, TX (July 16, 2005)
Period
20th Century
Form
Poster
Material
Paper

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