Olympic-themed posters becoming collectable

With messages of inspiration, Olympics posters both old and new are gaining in popularity.

Rachel Whiteread composed a pattern of overlapping rings in the Olympic colours. The rings explore the emblem of the Olympic Games, and also represent marks left by drinking bottles or glasses.
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There are now two weeks to go until London 2012 kicks off in style, and the excitement is growing - not just in sport but in the design world, too.

At the end of last year, 12 of the UK's leading artists, including Turner Prize winners Martin Creed, Rachel Whiteread and Chris Ofili, alongside the famously controversial Tracey Emin, were commissioned to celebrate the Olympics and Paralympics by creating contemporary posters summing up the sporting pride surrounding the 2012 Games.

The posters are all vastly distinct. Emin's is pretty and poignant - bearing no direct sporting motif - with the words "You inspire me with your determination and I love you" scruffily handwritten above a sketch of two birds outlined in a smoky black ink. Organisers said her piece was a "charming and tender tribute" to the Games.

Whiteread, who happened to be the first woman to win the Turner Prize, has designed a colourful patterned poster, made up of overlapping circles representing the Olympic rings, which also look like the stains left behind from glasses on a table. Meanwhile, Ofili's poster is dedicated to the "unknown runners" of the city who run outside his window - with a mythical black and white creature striking a strong running pose.

This year's Olympic posters, which are all on sale for £7 (Dh41) at the Tate Britain, are proving hugely popular. But it's not just contemporary Olympic art that's so coveted - vintage Olympic posters have also been increasing in popularity. In March, London's financial district of Canary Wharf kick-started its build-up to London 2012 with an exhibition (on tour from the Victoria and Albert Museum) celebrating a century of Olympic posters.

Sally Williams, the public art consultant at the Canary Wharf Group, says the posters carry broad popular appeal with their ability to relay messages through strong imagery. "The posters provide a fascinating record of our world," she says. "They are a visual document of sport and art, politics and place, commerce and culture."

Vintage Olympic posters are also increasingly collectable, as seen at a recent Olympic memorabilia auction held at Christie's in London. Total sales clocked in at more than £1 million (Dh5.7m), with the most expensive poster, advertising the London Games of 1908, selling for an impressive £15,000.

The first Olympic poster was officially commissioned a century ago to celebrate the Stockholm Games of 1912 - apparently, the 1908 poster for the London Games wasn't officially Olympics-endorsed. Swedish designer Olle Hjortzberg was told to create a poster that would show Sweden as a dynamic and strong country. His print, of a proud muscular man waving an Olympic ribbon, carries all the traits that are associated with the vintage vibe so popular today - classic typography, strong colours and an art nouveau finish. One of these sold for £2,500 at Christie's.

According to Jim Lapides, the owner of the International Poster Gallery in Boston, Massachusetts, you can expect to pay anything between $100 and $2,000 for posters from 1964 onwards, while most pre-Second World War posters sell for up to $8,000.

"Olympic posters are first and foremost advertisements, but many are collected around the world as masterpieces of illustration and graphic design," he says. "The Olympics themselves are one of the most exciting subjects to many collectors - sport at its highest and purest level. Also, the posters are beautifully printed stone lithographs featuring rich textures and bright colours, often done by the best designers in the host nation. The drama and excitement surrounding the Olympics over more than 100 years make the posters more collectable than ever."

However, if you don't have the cash to spare to start an Olympic poster collection, it is still entirely possible to get into the spirit of the Games and add some sporting flair to your home. Allposters.com has a vast range of reproduction Olympic posters from as little as £5.99, including the iconic London 1948 Games print, which shows the Olympic rings on top of Big Ben and a very kitsch range of post-1950s Olympic posters with fantastic typography for graphic art fans.

Look out in particular for Mexico's 1968 Winter Olympics poster (a real throwback to the Sixties, with a swirling black and white hypnotic design) and Los Angeles's 1932 poster, which is simple and unfussy, in white and blue.

Try ILoveRetro.co.uk for the most famous Olympic prints, including Franz Wurbel's 1936 poster for the controversial Berlin Olympics held just before the Second World War, which shows a laurel-crowned athlete towering over a chariot. Most of the originals of this were destroyed during the war.

There are also plenty of Olympics-inspired prints and posters for your walls that specifically celebrate 2012, without resorting to tacky tourist memorabilia. London-based Swiss artist Ursula Hitz (www.ursulahitz.com) has created typographic screen prints of a giant Games torch out of words, listing an A to Z of all the sports that will be played.

Meanwhile, the quirky printing company Mr PS (www.mr-ps.co.uk) is celebrating the Olympics with a nod to nostalgia, with a specially designed tea-towel featuring a nonchalant champion sportsman in a 1920s swimming costume, above the words "Going For Gold".

"It's our take on the Olympics," says designer Megan Price. "There are tight restrictions regarding Olympics-inspired merchandise, so we didn't want to do anything too obvious. It's a tongue-in-cheek look at the sporting competition which fits into our retro, British style."

The London 2012 Festival website, www.london2012.com/festival, has information on how to buy the limited edition prints or posters as well as information about the exhibition of Olympic and Paralympic Posters at Tate Britain during the London 2012 Festival