Disaster, Demise and Scarcity: Rare Posters of Titanic at Auction

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A subject of fascination since its dramatic demise during its maiden voyage, the legacy of White Star Line’s Titanic has continued to ripple throughout the auction world for years. While ephemera related to the Titanic appears with some frequency at auction, posters depicting the doomed ocean liner are relatively rare for several reasons: first, many images of White Star Line’s Olympic-class ocean liners depict Titanic’s sister ship, Olympic, which was launched seven months prior to Titanic; additionally, many posters and images of the Titanic were taken down and destroyed by White Star Line in the wake of her sinking. Even given the disaster, considering the fame of the ship it’s surprising that so few posters of it survive. We’ve identified less than ten distinct posters.

In addition to holding records for several Titanic posters at auction, Swann has two Titanic posters in our upcoming sale of Rare & Important Travel Posters

Lot 82: Montague Birrell Black, [White Star Line / Olympic & Titanic], circa 1910. 


This image of White Star Line’s Olympic-class liners, based on a painting by Montague Birrell Black, shows the sister ships Olympic and Titanic passing at sea, with Olympic in the foreground and her sister Titanic visible in the distance. Black’s painting became the basis for posters and postcards for White Star Line, with the posters originally bearing the caption “White Star Line / Olympic 45,000 tons – Titanic 45,000 tons the Largest Steamers in the world,” on a green border surrounding the image. The posters were printed in a relatively small number, intended to hang in White Star Offices, and just a handful have survives. The text-bearing green borders were most likely removed after the catastrophic maiden voyage of the Titanic. This example, however, is framed in an original White Star Line company frame. 


Lot 81: James Scrimgeour Mann, [White Star Line / R.M.S. Olympic & Titanic], circa 1911. 


Ocean liner companies would often promote sister ships, such as the nearly identical Olympic and Titanic, by issuing posters in anticipation of their launch. In this instance, the poster advertises both gigantic ships, but depicts the Olympic, recognizable here by her open upper promenade. By the time the sister Titanic was launched she weighed 46,329 tons, not the advertised 45,000, due to the decision to enclose one of her upper decks. This poster has appeared twice before at auction in Europe, with the exterior mat in Swedish promoting White Star Line’s Swedish ticket agent, suggesting the company used the image in multiple countries by changing the mat to reflect the information in different languages. This exact copy has appeared once before at auction and is the only example with an English mat to ever come to auction.

Sale 2261-Lot 93: White Star Line / Titanic, by an unknown designer, 1912. Sold November 11, 2011 for $72,000. 



Swann has previously sold two other images advertising Titanic, the broadside above and another image by painter Montague Birrell Black, both of which set auction records. 

Sale 2230-Lot 60: Montague Birrell Black, White Star Line / “Olympic & Titanic,” circa 1910. Sold November 15, 2010 for $36,000. 



For more dynamic travel and ocean liner posters, take a look at our complete catalogue