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Posters, as defined by Library and Archives Canada, are divided into two categories: broadsides, that is, a piece of printed paper that is wholly textual in nature; and posters, which contain both graphic and textual elements, with both intended to be placed on display for informational purposes. LAC is the child of two former institutions: historically, the former National Library of Canada collected broadsides, while the former National Archives of Canada collected posters. Nowadays, LAC acquires all forms of posters in three ways: as part of a legal deposit program, within the government records acquisition program, and through the donation and purchase of materials from both private organizations and individuals.
Figure 4: Campaign poster commenting on the Liberal Party's sound financial management. The National Liberal Bureau. Ottawa, 1930
Posters have a long history, going back to the invention of printing in Western Europe. They began to be produced widely at the beginning of the 16th century, and contributed in no small part to political and social debates in European society for the next three centuries. The use of posters, particularly for political purposes, was widespread, as they were often the weapon of opposition. But governments also used the power of the poster for their own purposes-to issue edicts, seek out criminals, or announce new regulations. Increasingly, posters also began to be used for commercial purposes: to announce plays, festivals, musical entertainment and other social events.
Figure 5: Canadian Illustrated News advertisement for the New Style, Automatic printing press. May, 1877
Figure 6: Souvenir of the Grande Fête Nationale des Canadiens français. Montréal, Quebec. June 24, 1880
Figure 7: Advertisement for the ballet In the Land of the Spirits, produced by Canadian Native Arts Foundation and the National Arts Centre, ca. 1992
The limitations of the printing medium meant that most posters were textual in nature until the 19th century. In Germany in 1798, Alois Senefelder invented lithography, a new medium for printing mass quantities of posters that could also combine text and image on one stone. Lithography rapidly developed into a colour printing medium, using multiple stones, and with the invention of steam presses in the 1850s, thousands of posters could be produced in an hour. Developments in printing in Germany, France, Britain and the United States made the art of the poster grow increasingly complex, while designs became more aesthetically pleasing than ever. Nineteenth-century commercial developments, including the first department stores (1824), railways (1830), large-scale hotels, travelling circuses and theatrical performances, and, finally, specialized display tools for poster advertising, all led to a massive increase in the number and range of posters produced. The number of printing companies in Canada quadrupled from 1850 to 1900, and the rise of the modern advertising agency-Britain's Carlton Studios, which was co-founded by four Canadians in 1902, soon became the world's largest advertising agency-contributed to the growth in production and distribution of posters as a medium of mass persuasion.
Figure 8: Advertisement for E.B. Eddy's Manufacturing & Lumbering Establishment, Hull, P.Q, ca. 1884
Figure 9: Advertisement for Canadian Pacific's Empress Steamers ocean liner service, from England to Canada, 1920
In Canada, the history of the art of the poster touches on every aspect of daily life. The production and printing of broadsides was the most common form of public notification in the 18th and early 19th centuries, used for many purposes. The production of posters (broadsides with pictures) became the method of choice from the 1860s onward to deliver the message of businesses, political parties, governments and other public enterprises to a wider public. A general policy of industrial protectionism in the 1850s enabled the fledgling Canadian printing industry to develop in the face of foreign companies, and the immigration to Canada of skilled artisans, particularly from Great Britain and Germany, also helped the industry develop. Posters became more complex and attractive. Political posters in the 1891 election campaign, for example, set the tone for almost all large advertising campaigns from then onwards. The image of a flag-draped Sir John A. Macdonald ("The Old Flag, The Old Party, The Old Leader") became an iconic symbol of late 19th-century politics, much as the "Trudeau as Che Guevara" poster from the 1968 election campaign became a symbol of politics in the 1960s. In Toronto and Montréal, and to a lesser extent, Hamilton, the number of companies engaged in the chromolithographic printing trade grew rapidly.
Figure 10: Advertisement for farmland in Canada, specifically in Manitoba, Canadian Northwest and British Columbia, ca. 1890
Figure 11: Campaign poster commenting on the Liberal Party reducing duties and prices. The National Liberal Bureau. Ottawa, 1930
Figure 12: Empire Marketing Board advertisment for a salmon cannery on the Pacific Coast of Canada, 1926 - 1934
Figure 13: Conservative campaign poster supporting old policies, leader and allegiance to Britain, 1891
Figure 14: Campaign poster featuring image of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, based on artwork of Che Guevara, 1968
For generations, Canadians have been exposed to the First World War through the recruiting and Victory Loan posters featuring the new Canadian Army-the heroes of St. Julien, Vimy, and Passchendaele-and the men and women who operated the industrial plants, worked in the shipyards, and donated funds to keep the war effort going. The Second World War saw the art of the poster rise to new heights, with artists such as A.J. Casson, Harry Mayerovitch, Charles Comfort and Henry Eveleigh celebrated for the quality and effectiveness of their work.
Figure 15: Victory Bonds poster, "Our Export Trade Is Vital. Buy Victory Bonds," 1916-1918
Figure 16: Local recruitment poster, Hamilton, Ontario, 1915 - 1916
Figure 17: Second World War poster for Canada's war effort and hydro-electricity production
Figure 18: "Ce qu'il faut pour vaincre" poster designed to increase morale and support for the war, featuring Lieutenant-Colonel Menard, 1943
Figure 19: "Men of Valor - They Fight for You" poster designed to increase morale and support for the war featuring Capt. Fred Slocombe, January 1943.
Figure 20: Recruitment billboard for the Canadian Women's Army Corps with the slogan: "It's Our World and Our War"
As early as the 1880s, the Canadian Pacific Railway saw potential in posters to advertise Canada's natural beauty to tourists, and to lure potential immigrants from all over the world. Popular entertainment, in the form of sporting events, circuses, carnivals and fairs, theatrical and dance performances, musicals, recitals and art exhibitions, to name but a few, were advertised through posters. As the 20th century advanced, few urban streets were spared the sight of posters and other printed ephemera on billboards, in store windows, on sidewalk hoardings, and on lampposts and electricity poles. By the 1920s and 1930s, professional advertising agencies became prominent, and individual poster designers started to be recognized for their work and innovation.
Figure 21: Advertisement for Canadian Pacific mentioning outdoor holiday activities, 1925
Figure 22: Advertisement for Rexall Drugs, Milk of Magnesia product
Figure 23: Advertisement for Kellogg's cereal products: Rice Krispies, Krumbles, Pep, Bran Flakes, and Corn Flakes
Figure 24: Advertisement for Regal-Amber Lager Beer
Nowadays, it isn't so easy to tell the story of this graphic phenomenon. The artist C.W. Jefferys wrote in 1945 that:
I am not sure that future opinion of the contemporary art of our day will not consider the advertising poster, the window and counter card as most representative... A hundred or two hundred years hence such work, I venture to predict, may be deemed to be more typical of the art of our time than some of the more pretentious paintings which hang in our public galleries and museums.
But unfortunately, broadsides and posters were always intended to be topical and cheap to produce, with no expectation of long-term survival; they have always been ephemeral. Although there are examples of posters printed in runs of 100,000 or more, specimens of such posters may survive in only one or two public institutions. One of the reasons this website was created is that the holdings of LAC contain so many unique items-all other copies have disappeared.
Figure 25: Prohibition handout, Plebiscite Series, No. 5. Dominion Women's Christian Temperance Union. Toronto, Ontario
Figure 26: Advertisement for "Posters from Three Wars" exhibition. National Gallery of Canada, 1969
Figure 27: Advertisement for the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, 1980
This website's intent is to examine the art of the broadside and the poster in a series of themes. Within each theme, we will provide a brief introduction and include examples that are arranged chronologically, according to milestones in the evolution of design or associated with individual artists and publishers. We will examine some works in detail, and make links to designers' fonds, preliminary designs, notes, photos and other material. This effort to explain the process of producing a poster aims to enhance the appreciation this medium so richly deserves.
Library and Archives Canada
Art and Photography
11 August 2009
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