1939 American Railroad Travel Poster

Value (2011) | $7,000 Auction$10,000 Auction

I worked as a visual manager in a department store in Florida, and this was hanging in the men's department. When the directors of visual decided to go with a different direction, they started selling off the antiques to visual managers, whoever wanted to buy them. So I called my manager one day and said, "I like this poster and I'd like to buy it. How much would it cost?" He came up with the figure $37, and so I bought it, put it in my car and brought it home.

The poster was done in 1939, and it was designed by Leslie Ragan. He was born in Iowa, he studied in Iowa, he studied a little bit in Chicago at the Art Institute. He made his fame, really, working both for the government during the Second World War, designing war posters, and also, primarily, he was the poster designer for the New York Central Railroad.


In 1939, both in California, in San Francisco, and in New York, there were two great World's Fairs taking place. And this poster is advertising traveling through America to see the two World's Fairs. The image itself, I think, is a paean to the beauties of America, the visual splendor, not just of the United States, but of Canada and Mexico as well. Both Canadian and Mexican railroads are being advertised. This just epitomizes the fantastic visual splendor of the Americas, human, natural and structural. Near to you on the poster, there's a little stamp. That's actually a museum stamp. Some German museum would have acquired this poster, and that's their stamp and their inventory number, which we often see on posters. I'm not specifically sure what museum it is. I've seen this poster twice before, but there's something about this poster that is singularly different from the other two that I saw. Up top, it says, "See America," in the middle it says, "Railroads of the United States, Canada and Mexico," on the bottom, what I've never seen before is this, is in the German language.


And all other copies of the poster that I've seen, the bottom bit has also been in English, saying, "Visit the World's Fairs in New York and California."

Oh, wow.

Now, what this tells us is this poster, advertising American railroads, was distributed all over the world and would have been overprinted in the languages of that country. So we have to assume that it exists also in French, probably exists in Spanish, and we know now definitively that it exists in the German language. At auction, I would estimate this piece between $7,000 and $10,000.

Wow! That's fantastic.

The difference in the language doesn't make a difference in the price. It just adds to the story and it adds to the history of the poster.

Appraisal Details

Swann Auction Galleries
New York, NY
Appraised value (2011)
$7,000 Auction$10,000 Auction
Atlanta, GA (August 06, 2011)

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