The circa 1924 job-related motivational poster sold for $1,125 recently at Swann Galleries in New York City.

Swann Galleries

WHAT: A circa 1924 poster that recently sold for $1,125 at Swann Galleries features a heroic bust of George Washington floating in clouds above the Capitol and Washington Monument. Text exhorts workers, stating, “He stood for right” and “He paid the price.” We don’t quite get how that applies to the first president, but “He Always Finished the Job” at the bottom conveys the message.

MORE: U.S. commercial posters differed from earlier European and Continental lithographed posters. Far more prosaic and direct, most were vehicles for a message. Some collectors hunt for catchy phrases such as “Loose Lips Sink Ships,” “Food: Don’t Waste It,” or “Tell Nobody, Not Even Her.”

Printed in Chicago by Mather & Company, a firm that specialized in motivational posters, this work measures 47.75 inches by 36.25 inches. Combining a revered leader with a motivational message, it was probably intended for schools or workplaces.

SMART COLLECTORS KNOW: Most American message posters fit a genre. As a result, collectors buy what appeals, from war enlistment to bonds or rationing to anti-Nazi propaganda; you name it. High-style design typical of a period is also popular.

HOT TIP: Workplace decoration has moved from posters that moralize to sleek, mid-century efficiency; and later, cool colors, plants and running water decor. Today, the pendulum is back to a look of minimalism and efficiency.

BOTTOM LINE: Vintage posters can be had at all price levels. In this sale, results ranged from $11,250 for a circa 1900 French Art Nouveau advertising poster by Alphonse Mucha to $281 for a Canadian World War II poster featuring a pointing sailor and a message reading, “YOU can help me build a ship.”