Instead of the famous Wants you text on the classic First World War recruiting poster, the example offered at Dorset auction house Onslows on May 28 was subtly different: Your country needs you. Also confusing was the title London Opinion above Kitchener rather than Britons in suitably chunky red lettering.
This was the first news stand version created by Alfred Leete as an advert for the September 5, 1914, edition of London Opinion magazine, later adapted to the now much more well-known poster version.
Pre-sale, Patrick Bogue of Onslows had said: “This is the elusive missing link and holy grail of First World War posters. We are extremely excited to announce that this rarity has at last turned up. We think this news-stand version is even rarer than the handful of known examples of the recruiting poster.”
Leete’s 2ft 6in x 20in (76 x 51cm) design was so striking when it appeared on the news stands it was commandeered by the government’s Parliamentary Recruiting Committee and permission was sought to use it as a recruiting poster.
The published poster was also printed by the Victoria Printing Company, suggesting that the magazine owner gave consent for its reproduction making it a condition that the printing contract went to the magazine’s own printers.
It had been consigned to Onslows as part of a collection of 64 First World War posters.
Estimated at £2000-4000, it took £11,000 (plus 25% premium). “It sold via a commission bid by Onslows and was bought by a private buyer on behalf of a London museum,” said Bogue. “It had been underbid by numerous online bidders to around £5000, then a phone bid to around £8000, then a commission underbidder who is a collector.”
Onslows has also sold three of the better-known Britons posters – the first for a ‘record price’ of £24,000 in 2014. The same year a further ‘better condition’ example turned up in Edinburgh and was sold by private sale to the underbidder for £14,000.
Another then turned up in 2019 along with some other Great War posters, taking £14,000 (bought by an Australian bidder who aimed to loan it to the Australian War Memorial, joining another copy Down Under at the State Library of Victoria in Melbourne).
Two others are held by London’s Imperial War Museum and the Robert Opie collection.