Posters have been an advertisement source for years and years. Many early musical performances were promoted with handbills and leaflets. In the early 19th century, performances were promoted on black and white letterpress posters. There are arguably many eras of concert posters, but this article will focus on the eras that start right after World War II.
The music touring and recording industry grew quickly after World War II. Big band, R&B, and, country musical acts were playing in ballrooms, theaters, and nightclubs across the country. As one can imagine, there became an increased demand for advertising materials. These early styles of concert posters were created in the boxing style, a “no-frills” type of design
Music Genres: Rock n’ Roll, Blues, R&B, Jazz, Big Band, Country
Poster Style: Simple block lettering with unadorned photographs of the performers. Often printed on cardboard. 1-2 colors.
Dimensions: 14″ x 22″
Values & Rarity: Small quantities. Rare to find these posters in mint condition. Were designed to go up on phone poles outside of venues. Life expectancy was about three weeks.
Notable Artists/Printers: Globe Poster Company, Hatch Show Print, Murray Poster, Posters Inc.
Psychedelic concert posters are the most desirable concert posters of all eras. Highly sought after, these posters are often replicated and can sell for thousands of dollars. This era is considered the height of the concert poster art era. This era ran, roughly, from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s.
Music Genres: Folk, Bluegrass, Rock
Poster Style: Bubbled, flowing letters. Words merged with bizarre images. Loud colors. Highly distorted visuals.
Dimensions: Poster (11″ x 17″), Handbill (8.5″ x 11″), and Postcard
Values & Rarity: Produced in small quantities. Original printings are more valuable than reprints. Bill Graham numbered posters were often limited editions and will be worth more. It should be close to mint condition as possible. Tears, folds, trimmed edges can reduce the value. Ensure you can guarantee the authenticity of the poster and know the provenance of the poster.
Notable Artists/Printers: Rick Griffin, Wes Wilson, Stanley Mouse, Alton Kelley, Victor Moscoso
Punk concert posters couldn’t have been more different from psychedelic posters. The gritty, caustic black and white posters that were often shocking and rough embodied the anti-establishment movement of this era.
Music Genres: Punk
Poster Style: Black & white. Funny, odd, and politically motivated artwork. Collage work. Loud and messy. DIY-ransom note typographical style.
Dimensions: Handbill (8.5″ x 11″)
Values & Rarity: Produced in small quantities. Good condition punk posters are rare. They were stapled or taped to telephone poles and then disposed of for the next set of posters. As you might imagine, that makes preserved copies (and not reprints) hard to find.
Notable Artists/Printers: Raymond Pettibon, Jamie Reid, Art Chantry, Mabuhay Gardens
New Wave Era
New Wave concert posters were a suburban version of punk concert posters and were a successor to punk posters.
Music Genres: Garage rock, new wave
Poster Style: Primary shapes, bright colors, patterns, and layering. Witty imagery.
Dimensions: Handbill (8.5″ x 11″)
Values & Rarity: Produced in small quantities. Like punk, these posters were stapled up and used to promote concerts and then were trashed.
Notable Artists/Printers: Tim Barrett, John Seabury, David Barker, Su. Suttle
Music Genres: Alternative rock, grunge rock,
Poster Style: Many silkscreened, interesting, and at times bizarre modern art. Utilized the psychedelic style of the ’60s with a modern twist
Dimensions: Poster (11″ x 17″)
Values & Rarity: Produced in limited quantities.
Notable Artists/Printers: Mike King, Frank Kozik, Emek, Mark Arminski, Chuck Sperry
This brief guide will help you navigate the eras of concert posters. Keep on the lookout for a deeper dive into each era in the coming weeks and read all about concert poster grading here!