When Literary Posters Sold Books

Courtesy of Poster House

Poster based on Jon O. Brubaker's official Children’s Book Week poster, After All - There is Nothing Like a Good Book! (ca. 1927).

When well executed, posters are effective forms of propaganda: they convince viewers to do or buy something they might not otherwise. Effective posters linger in a viewer’s memory: think Roger Kastel’s shark imagery for the 1975 thrilled Jaws or J.M. Flagg’s famous 1917 depiction of Uncle Sam exhorting “I Want YOU for U.S. Army.” Minimal text, great art, all in the goal of getting something done. And they’re everywhere, gracing billboards, subway station walls, and papering buildings along a sidewalk. Their ubiquity testifies to their effectiveness.

Since opening its doors in June 2019, New York’s Poster House has explored the outsize influence of outdoor advertising on public perception of everything from air travel to cigarettes to books, and on Monday, March 15 at 6pm, the Poster House’s chief curator Angelina Lippert will join Swann Galleries poster expert Nicholas Lowry to discuss the centuries-old advertising history of books.

Courtesy of Poster House

Posters promoting books and literacy on the whole can be equally powerful—readers of a certain age may recall the massive “Read” posters featuring celebrities that frequently flanked library walls across America--but the history of literary propaganda has swayed unsuspected literati since the 1800s.

"Literary posters are some of the most beautiful and sought-after in the world,” said Lippert. “Particularly in America, posters advertising books or literary magazines were a high point in early graphic design history, as they allowed artists like Edward Penfield or Will Bradley to create images that invited you to imagine. Rarely are they too literal, but rather these graphics act as windows into a world you will help paint in your mind with the assistance of a book. Many times, as in the case of Aubrey Beardsley's various book posters, the images have nothing to do with the actual stories, but are merely a jumping off point of bringing you as a reader into the scene."

Get caught reading at “Writ Large: How Posters Sold Books Through the Ages,” a virtual live event hosted by the Grolier Club. Though free, registration is required.