Nicholas Lowry Skiing Travel Poster Love - Antique Trader
Nicholas Lowry

Nicholas Lowry

Nicholas Lowry has his hands full.

It’s Take-Your-Dog-To-Work Day at Swann Auction Galleries and Lowry, the president and principal auctioneer of the third-generation family business in New York, is balancing an interview with caring for an energetic puppy. What could go wrong?

Swann specializes in works on paper – books, maps, manuscripts, drawings, prints, and the such. Right about now Tilda, Lowry’s Boston Terrier pup, is threatening to knock over her water dish on prized posters in his office.

Fortunately, Lowry is as adept at doggie day care as he is behind the podium of one of the 30-35 auctions Swann holds annually. Tilda gets some attention. Her water dish remains upright. And disaster is averted.

“You’re always hoping some puppy will choose you and that it will be love at first sight,” Lowry says about seeing Tilda for the first time. “It didn’t quite happen like that for us.”

Instead, when Lowry picked her up and held Tilda in his arms she chewed on the end of his handlebar mustache. “Well, that’s close enough,” Lowry said of their love-at-first-bite introduction. “She’s the one.”

Lowry’s ability to bond with puppies over mustache wax is as impressive as his passion for vintage posters, his other area of expertise. Thanks to his many TV appearances on Antiques Roadshow, the longtime running PBS program, Lowry is one of the most famous vintage poster experts in the country. It doesn’t hurt that his distinctive wardrobe – vividly colored three-piece plaid suits custom tailored in the UK – ample mustache and slicked back hair makes for a memorable impression.

Lowry combines the expertise and look with healthy doses of dry wit to make any stranger feel comfortable. A 2017 Antiques Roadshow promo, dubbed “Nicho’s Checkered Past,” offered a tongue-in-cheek fashion roundup through his two-decade run on the show, including the time he told a guest that seeing her rare 1930s refrigerator ads “sets my tartan all a-twitter.”

Nicholas Lowry in all his sartorial splendor on Antiques Roadshow.

Nicholas Lowry appraising vintage skiing travel posters in all his sartorial splendor on Antiques Roadshow.

But don’t let the natural showman fool you, Lowry’s grasp of Golden Age travel posters is staggering. The posters from the 1920s and 1930s, not unlike Lowry himself, are wonderfully quirky by nature.

“Art is meant to be kept and treasured,” Lowry says. “Posters by their very definition were ephemeral. They were not meant to be saved. They were printed to be hung on billboards and in train stations and then to be removed or painted over once the next campaign came along. They were never meant to be kept at all.”

Instead, Lowry explains, the posters were meant to arrest your eyes as you walk down the street and then slip into your subconscious. “They’re colorful, they’re bright, they’re eye-catching. They were made to attract your attention — to excite something in your brain and pass their message on to you. And they were made to look good.

“A handful of impassioned people saw fit to keep some and when printers had overages those were sold, but I think one of the things that makes poster collecting so exciting is that it is unintentional art. It was art that was never meant to be kept and the fact that it does remain in some form or another is rather exciting.”

Poster collecting tends to reflect personal experience with a region, a mode of transportation (think cruise lines, air travel, trains), a life experience. Lowry’s personal collecting zeal is for posters from Czechoslovakia (where his father was born) dating from the 1890s to the 1970s. Lowry lived in Prague for four years after graduating from Cornell. Today, he and his father have more than 1,000 Czech posters between them.

While growing up, Lowry’s family had a home in Brattleboro, Vermont. He learned to ski at the local resorts like family-friendly Bromley Mountain and Magic Mountain.

An avid skier in his youth, Lowry admits to recalling those carefree winter excursions fondly while now sitting behind his desk with aging knees. Even so, as a fervent poster connoisseur and specialist, Lowry was happy to share his favorite ski posters with us when asked.

“A fair amount has been written about the best European ski posters, but there were also a lot of really wonderful American posters, and the following represent my 12 all-time favorites. They are not necessarily the most expensive, nor the rarest, but posters that in one way or another really caught my professional and personal fancy.” 

Ernest Haskell, 1896

1. Ernest Haskell, 1896. This small poster (it measures only 20 inches high by 14 inches wide) isn’t advertising a ski resort or any form of tourism; it is promoting a popular magazine of the time. It is, in my opinion, the earliest American poster to depict skiing. It may in fact be the earliest ski poster from anywhere in the world. Every aspect of the woman’s ski outfit is amusing in its impracticality. The single pole was used in the early days of the sport.

2. Sascha Maurer, 1938.  This is one of the great American ski posters. The motif of skiers spelling out the names of resorts or other messages in the snow has been often used, but Sascha Maurer, who was born in and studied in Germany, brings much of the European design sensibility to this image.

2. Sascha Maurer, 1938. This is one of the great American ski posters. The motif of skiers spelling out the names of resorts or other messages in the snow has been often used, but Sascha Maurer, who was born in and studied in Germany, brings much of the European design sensibility to this image.

3. Sascha Maurer, 1938.  In addition to being a world class designer, Maurer was also an avid skier. His love for the sport is apparent in many of his posters. Maurer spent many years working for the New Haven Railroad and designed more than a dozen posters for them, many of which advertised using the railroad to go skiing. Personally, I find the dynamism of this poster so strong that it keeps the viewer from noticing that the man is skiing in a tie.

3. Sascha Maurer, 1938. In addition to being a world class designer, Maurer was also an avid skier. His love for the sport is apparent in many of his posters. Maurer spent many years working for the New Haven Railroad and designed more than a dozen posters for them, many of which advertised using the railroad to go skiing. Personally, I find the dynamism of this poster so strong that it keeps the viewer from noticing that the man is skiing in a tie.

4. T. N. Joanethis,1938.  The Dartmouth Winter Carnival may well be the longest standing winter celebration in America. It is certainly the event which has produced the largest and most important legacy of ski posters in the United States. I love the similarity between this poster and the previous example. And while imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I really am not sure which one of these came first.

4. T. N. Joanethis, 1938. The Dartmouth Winter Carnival may well be the longest standing winter celebration in America. It is certainly the event which has produced the largest and most important legacy of ski posters in the United States. I love the similarity between this poster and the previous example. And while imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, I really am not sure which one of these came first.

5. Sascha Maurer, circa 1937.  This image, another in the series designed by the artist for the railroad, is almost like a painting and yet still has all of the graphic appeal of a strong poster. It is tranquil and compelling.

5. Sascha Maurer, circa 1937. This image, another in the series designed by the artist for the railroad, is almost like a painting and yet still has all of the graphic appeal of a strong poster. It is tranquil and compelling.

6. Witold Gordon, 1932. The 1932 games in Lake Placid, NY were the first time the Winter Olympics had been held in America. Unfortunately it was held during the Depression, and not every country was able to send a full (and fully equipped) team. Posters quite often dovetail fascinatingly with history and I am always excited to discover interesting historical information that helps me appreciate posters not just as attractive images, but as important historical documents.

6. Witold Gordon, 1932. The 1932 games in Lake Placid, NY were the first time the Winter Olympics had been held in America. Unfortunately it was held during the Depression, and not every country was able to send a full (and fully equipped) team. Posters quite often dovetail fascinatingly with history and I am always excited to discover interesting historical information that helps me appreciate posters not just as attractive images, but as important historical documents.

7. William Welsh, circa 1935. This poster holds a very warm place in my heart. Not only is it an exquisite Art Deco image, but one of the first times I was broadcast on Antiques Roadshow was when the artist’s granddaughter came in with a collection of his works, including this poster.

7. William Welsh, circa 1935. This poster holds a very warm place in my heart. Not only is it an exquisite Art Deco image, but one of the first times I was broadcast on Antiques Roadshow was when the artist’s granddaughter came in with a collection of his works, including this poster.

8. Lou Hechenberger, 1941. One of two posters the artist designed to promote winter sports in New Hampshire. This poster not only boasts a very dramatic angle, but also the charming detail of the designs on the woman’s vest. It should be pointed out that people collect ski posters for a number of reasons: not only for the locations being advertised but also for the equipment and fashions that are depicted. This poster is also the sister-image to another ski poster in our upcoming auction.

8. Lou Hechenberger, 1941. One of two posters the artist designed to promote winter sports in New Hampshire. This poster not only boasts a very dramatic angle, but also the charming detail of the designs on the woman’s vest. It should be pointed out that people collect ski posters for a number of reasons: not only for the locations being advertised but also for the equipment and fashions that are depicted. This poster is also the sister-image to another ski poster in our upcoming auction.

9. Dwight Shepler, circa 1940.  Ski posters were by no means only relegated to the American Northeast. Out West, the resort that relied the most heavily on poster advertising was Sun Valley. This is no surprise as the resort was built by the railroad company (it opened in 1936) as a place for travelers to stop on their way out West. Railroad companies have used posters for promotion since the 1880s, so they would naturally gravitate towards that medium to promote the newest jewel in their crown.

9. Dwight Shepler, circa 1940. Ski posters were by no means only relegated to the American Northeast. Out West, the resort that relied the most heavily on poster advertising was Sun Valley. This is no surprise as the resort was built by the railroad company (it opened in 1936) as a place for travelers to stop on their way out West. Railroad companies have used posters for promotion since the 1880s, so they would naturally gravitate towards that medium to promote the newest jewel in their crown.

10. Augustus Moser, circa 1936.  Posters for Sun Valley were produced by the Union Pacific Railroad, which would imply that quite a number would have been printed to hang in stations and ticket offices all up and down their line. However, in many cases only a very small handful of each poster exists. Such is the case with this image, and the other two Sun Valley posters featured here. Their beauty and rarity ensure that they are always very popular among both collectors and institutions seeking to acquire them.

10. Augustus Moser, circa 1936. Posters for Sun Valley were produced by the Union Pacific Railroad, which would imply that quite a number would have been printed to hang in stations and ticket offices all up and down their line. However, in many cases only a very small handful of each poster exists. Such is the case with this image, and the other two Sun Valley posters featured here. Their beauty and rarity ensure that they are always very popular among both collectors and institutions seeking to acquire them.

11. Phil von Phul, circa 1940.  Another of the very rare Sun Valley posters. True railroad buffs will recognize that the logo which appears on all three of these Sun Valley posters is the logo the Union Pacific used in the mid to late 1930s.

11. Phil von Phul, circa 1940. Another of the very rare Sun Valley posters. True railroad buffs will recognize that the logo which appears on all three of these Sun Valley posters is the logo the Union Pacific used in the mid to late 1930s.

12. Herbert Bayer, 1946.  The great Bauhaus designer Herbert Bayer immigrated to America and ultimately settled in Aspen, Colorado. He designed two posters for the resort. He is one of the most famous artists to have ever designed a ski poster in America and this poster beautifully showcases the photomontage technique that he mastered in Europe.

12. Herbert Bayer, 1946. The great Bauhaus designer Herbert Bayer immigrated to America and ultimately settled in Aspen, Colorado. He designed two posters for the resort. He is one of the most famous artists to have ever designed a ski poster in America and this poster beautifully showcases the photomontage technique that he mastered in Europe.