They witnessed wars, riots and epidemics. They launched companies, Olympics and empires, and tapped into cultural movements. They should’ve crumbled into dust long ago.
But they live on inside David Pollack Vintage Posters, a gallery on King Street in downtown Wilmington that serves as a time capsule into some of the globe’s pivotal moments.
Owner David Pollack sells original posters from a wide swath of genres and eras, from the 1890s through the turn of the 21st century, with over 150,000 pieces in total (25,000 of which are housed in the gallery).
These aren’t your run-of-the-mill dorm room posters. What Pollack and his customers consider original and vintage posters were created for a client for a specific—and temporary—use. That includes travel promotion, advertising, propaganda (war, political, protest, etc.), sports and many other themes that span the world. Price points are from about $150 up to $30,000. Niche categories like movie posters aren’t exactly a specialty—though Pollack carries a couple thousand for good measure.
“Anything I have shouldn’t exist,” he says. “It should have been pasted on a wall and then destroyed.”
These are surviving artifacts where art and history intersect.
“To this day, if you go to an airport and as you’re walking through the jetway to the airplane, they have posters in there,” Pollack says. “If you notice, they’re literally glued to the wall. Those can’t be saved. So the things we have, for whatever reason, weren’t used. These are ephemeral.”
From World War I American propaganda posters urging civilians to buy government bonds to German World War II posters pushing the poison of anti-Semitism, Pollack’s inventory serves as a stark visual reminder of some of humanity’s darkest hours. These works also capture the spirit of protest, progress and love.
Pollack has donated over 300 pieces to the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., and posters capturing the civil rights era and Black history often go to African American institutions and collections.
A bold, inspiring poster inside Pollack’s shop features an illustrated portrait of a Tuskegee Airman (with the presumed likeness of Airman William Diez). It stands as one of the rarest and greatest African American posters from World War II, he says.
“And it’s things like that that I care about, that I’m interested in,” he says. “And [these posters] are relevant to the story from both sides. You want to preserve that.”
A former New York commercial photographer, Pollack has published several books and articles on posters and historic documents, and has lectured on graphic design. He’s the former president of the International Vintage Poster Dealers Association and today serves as board president of the Delaware Art Museum.
“Anything I have shouldn’t exist.…It should have been pasted on a wall and then destroyed.”
Clearly, the man has a good eye.
History aside, that’s the appeal of Pollack’s inventory. The posters contain stunning colors, provoking imagery and some of the 20th century’s boldest and strangest art styles.
A midcentury series of posters commissioned for General Dynamics are mind-bendingly beautiful—kaleidoscopic in places and stark in others, and featuring the art of graphic design pioneer Erik Nitsche.
Airlines—especially TWA, United Airlines, Air France and Air India, Pollack says, did great graphics in the 1950s and ’60s. Also hanging on the wall of his by-appointment-only King Street gallery is a showstopping Swiss health care poster urging safe sex (and the “power of love”) during the AIDS epidemic.