The catalog for a Swann Galleries travel poster auction provides a telling record of the glamour of eras past. While many of the images still resonate, many others have taken on a wistful obsolescence. Some record once-exciting forms of transportation, once-exotic locales, once-luxurious resorts. Others have lost their glamour for more idiosyncratic reasons. Consider a few posters from today's auction.
Although it advertises a Davos hotel, this poster from around 1930 is just as much a tribute to the glamour of automotive travel. The interior of the car is more interesting than the hotel facade (which to 21st-century eyes looks completely generic), which features that weirdly prominent “GARAGE” sign. As the Swann catalog notes, “The curious choice to highlight the hotel's garage strongly implies that this was early enough in the automotive era to make it fashionable to drive to the Alps.”
Like the Kurgarten Hotel in Davos, the resort featured in this poster from the same period no longer exists. “A single postcard remains illustrating this beautiful Art Deco edifice and its pool, but no other historical trace can be found except this stunning Art Deco poster,” notes the catalog.
This 1936 poster has three problems: 1) Two days is no longer an impressively speedy trip across the Atlantic. 2) The Hindenberg famously blew up. 3) There is nothing less glamorous than a swastika. On this last point, the poster designers may have had a clue. The catalog notes, “Curiously, the Hindenburg (which, by 1937, was being used as a propaganda tool as well as a means of transportation) was known to have two prominently painted swastikas on its tailfins, but here only one is depicted.”
The Nazis also ruined the reputation of the destination depicted in this poster from around 1930.
Notes the catalog:
Situated in the majestic Bavarian Alps, near the Austrian border, Berchtesgaden's reputation took a drastic turn for the worse in the 1920s, when the mountainous area became a popular Nazi high command retreat. Prior to that the region was an upscale holiday destination and resort, as evidenced by this Art Deco image of a couple at the “Königliche Villa” (Royal Villa,) an elegant and popular spa.
Finally, this 1957 poster captures a bit of Jet Age cosmopolitanism: the United Nations building as an exciting New York tourist attraction.
The building is now undergoing a $2 billion renovation to bring it up to building-code standards and improve energy efficiency. Those repairs may remove the building's asbestos and improve its fire safety, but they won’t bring back that midcentury glamour.