Frequently Asked Questions

Like any art form, the community of those interested in posters is broad: from artists and designers to printers and collectors.

Posters American Style curator Therese Heyman recently interviewed poster collector Merrill C. Berman of New York to learn more about the his collection and poster collecting in general. The answers to the questions can be heard in Audio by clicking on the question. Mr. Berman has generously loaned three posters from his extensive collection to Posters American Style.

We also offer additional answers to some questions about posters and the process of postermaking.

Merrill C. Berman
speaks on:

Collector's Comment
How did you begin collecting posters? (Audio 1:57)

How do you acquire posters? (Audio 0:57)

What advice would you give to someone trying to start a poster collection? (Audio 1:24)

Why did you choose to collect the three posters which appear in our exhibition?

(Choose a poster below to hear Mr. Berman's explanation.)

Penfield Poster Nitsche Poster Shahn Poster

What's next for you as a collector? (Audio 0:55)
Poster FAQ
How do posters get saved?

Collections of posters can be found at many museums and libraries. Private collectors often collect works from a particular theme or from an era that interests them.

What is "American" about posters?

American Style implies an overall approach to posters rather than a limited aesthetic of the particular conventions of design and color. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of American posters is the way they mirror and enlarge American cultural issues. They mix art and commercial interests; they communicate phrases and may picture many forms of advocacy. Although we recognize that our response to many early American posters involves nostalgia for the times and events in our history, the most significant thread in our reaction to posters in all periods is a willingness to accept the disappearance of the distinction between high and low art. This is an American Style.

Which posters are most valuable?

Value is really about what people will pay for an object. In posters, rarity is always a factor. So, if only a few copies of a particular poster were made, or if only a few still exist, then chances are that the value will be high. The subject matter can also affect the price. For example, there are very few Mickey Mouse movie posters from the early 1930s in existence, since they were rarely saved. Movie posters, when they were new, were meant to be posted while the movie played in the theater, then thrown away. Mickey Mouse remains a beloved American cultural icon, so as a result Mickey Mouse movie posters are among the most sought after and expensive posters on the market.

What is a good way to begin to make a poster?

Many of the postermakers featured in Posters American Style created works for causes they supported and believed in. Choosing a topic you feel strongly about is always a good way to start. To learn more about making your own posters, see More to It.

Is there a way to know about poster sales?

Posters can be purchased from poster dealers, auction houses, and sometimes antique dealers. Some of the poster dealers involved with our exhibition were Jack Rennart, Posters Please, and Poster America in New York City. There are also many smaller poster dealers that can be found by consulting your local telephone directory under art or posters. Several large auction houses sell posters at certain times of the year. Among these are Sotheby's, Christie's, and Swann's, all in New York City . More and more, poster dealers can be found selling their stock on the World Wide Web as well.

What is a woodblock print?

Woodblock printing involves carving a relief image in reverse on a block of wood. Ink is then applied to the carving, and the image is transferred from the inked block to the paper.

See an example of a woodblock.

What is a lithograph?

Lithography is based on the principle that oil and water do not mix. Using oil-based ink or a grease crayon, an image is drawn on a flat stone or metal plate. Next, water is applied to the surface and is repelled by the areas where oil-based images have been drawn. The entire surface is then coated with an oil-based ink that adheres only to the areas drawn in oil, ink, or crayon. The image is then printed on paper. The popularity of this process grew because thousands of exact replicas could be made that were like drawings on paper, without degradation of the image.

See an example of a lithograph.

What is a color lithograph?

Color lithography is essentially the same process as basic lithography. In this process, however, the application of each color is printed separately through careful alignment or registration.

See an example of a color lithograph.

What is an offset lithograph?

Offset lithography transfers the image to paper from a "positive" drawing (rather than from reverse or relief images used in other methods). A large rubber roller picks up the image from the plate and then rolls it onto the paper surface. Thus, the paper never actually touches the original plate image. Offset lithography largely replaced direct lithography once the technology was perfected. It made possible much larger print runs of commercial images, such as posters.

See an example of an offset lithograph.

What is a photo-offset?

Photo-offset, or photomechanical offset, was developed from the earlier process of photolithography. A photograph of the original image is passed through a half-tone screen to render it into a pattern of dots; it is then converted chemically into a lithographic image. The dotted image is mechanically printed on paper using an offset press.

See an example of a photo-offset.

What is a silkscreen?

Silkscreening, which was introduced around 1907, presses ink through a fine screen onto paper. A stencil of an image is placed on a taut screen with paper underneath. Ink is then spread on top and forced through the screen onto the paper with a squeegee. Unlike photo-offset, silkscreening allows the artist to vary the colors and patterns while printing.

See an example of a silkscreen.

What is a serigraph?

Serigraphy is the term preferred by many artists to describe screenprinting.

What is digital printmaking?

Digital printmaking, which has been used since the early 1990s, uses digital computer technology and design tools, such as image scanners, design software, and image-editing programs. Computer-generated images can be reproduced using either traditional printing methods or digital printing technology. This process offers exciting possibilities as a postermaking medium for the twenty-first century.

See an example of a digitally produced poster.

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