Nicolette Tomkinson has been Director of Vintage Posters at the world renowned Christie's auction house since 1995. Her expertise in the market of this highly collectible genre of fine art sets her apart from the crowd. We are delighted to have a strong working relationship with the department, framing key sales to a museum quality for several years. We caught up with Nicolette to discover more about how the department has grown in recent years and their plans for the future.
Q) Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you came into this role?
A) I came to Christie’s straight after graduating from Glasgow University with a Master of Philosophy in Decorative Arts. I started my career in the Press Office and moved to the Poster department in 1995 eventually becoming a director in 2006. I still can’t quite believe I will have been at Christie’s for twenty years at the end of 2013!
Q) How has the department changed and developed since you joined in 1995?
A) In 1995 there were 2 or 3 general poster sales a year with many lower value posters being offered in one catalogue. In 1998 I instigated The Ski Sale, which is still going today 15 years later and is the only specialist Ski Sale in the world and continues to attract an enormous amount of interest from interior designers and private collectors decorating chalets. The market has changed significantly since 1995 as people are so much more aware of how great posters can look in an interior scheme.
Q) Which sales of recent years stand out in your mind as being particularly special and why?
A) `Posters With a Purpose, The London Transport Museum Sale’ on 4 October 2012 was a career highlight. I have been working with the Museum since I joined Christie’s and have always believed that they have one of the best poster collections internationally. We were honoured to be able to curate the sale, hand-picking images from the archive that we believed would raise the most money for the museum, subject to them being available in sufficient duplicate. The selection process took about 3 years and we worked very closely with the museum to promote the sale, using black and white photographs to show the posters in situ, in their original home, on station platforms and outside the tube entrances luring the new passengers underground. The auction was extremely popular, particularly with London residents. The sale raised £1million pounds and was 100% sold, a perfect result.
Q) Can you tell us about how and why these posters were originally produced?
A) The pictorial poster as we know it started life in the 1870s following advances in lithography that made colour printing possible on a large scale. Colour lithography, usually hand-drawn on to stone, continued to be the printing method employed by poster artists until the war, when ‘offset’ printing replaced it. The technique is one of the many reasons why posters are collectable today.
Q) What type and genre of posters would you advise people to start collecting today?
A) I would advise doing some research first, visiting galleries and museum exhibitions to become familiar with the enormous variety both in subject and style. There are many different reasons for collecting, some people are drawn to particular periods such as Art Deco, others prefer specific categories such as aviation and shipping lines. Many people just look for a striking image that will fit in their home.
Q) What advice would you give to collectors looking to make their first investments in the vintage posters market?
A) Posters are still relatively inexpensive and you certainly get a lot of wall coverage for your money. Buy posters in the best condition that you can find, striking images will always find a buyer. Most importantly buy what you like, display them and enjoy them. Posters are a great conversation piece and fit well into many different interiors, if you have a made a good investment it is a bonus but it should not be the primary motive.
Q) What exciting plans do you have for the future of the vintage posters department at Christie’s?
A) The Vintage Poster department is now part of Christie’s `Pop, Posters and Vintage Couture department`. In 2012 our team have been proud to have handled the sale of Daphne Guinness in June, `Posters with a Purpose. The London Transport Museum Sale’ and the `50th Anniversary of James Bond’,charity auction both in October. We are looking forward to more important single owner collections which will be announced later in 2013.
Q) Where are your favourite London haunts to relax outside of work?
A) The Estorick Gallery in North London is a great place to visit and I particularly enjoyed the recent Edward McKnight Kauffer exhibition. I also love the V&A and was particularly impressed with the Hollywood Costume exhibition. Having three young children, however, we are more likely to be found as a family on bikes cycling across Wimbledon Common and in Battersea Park!
Q) What type of work do you like to acquire for your own personal art collection?
A) I am great fan of Modern British Art and love prints by artists such as John Piper and David Hockney. I have also enjoyed the Royal Academy Summer exhibition, my best purchase being a lithograph of Battersea Power Station by Pip Moon which I bought my husband for our 1st Wedding Anniversary present. I have a small poster collection, my most treasured being `London Zoo’ which was produced to promote London’s Tramways.
Q) How important a role does framing play in the presentation and preservation of vintage posters?
A) A hand crafted frame truly elevates a poster, which was after all originally intended as a piece of temporary advertising, to a work of art in its own right. I like to think of a frame as a bespoke piece of furniture made to perfectly complement an image. Vintage posters tend to be fragile as their original function means that they were only made to last a few months. As a result it’s important that posters are framed using museum grade conservation materials.