Whether they’re passed out on the streets, stuffed into lockers, or covering our bedroom walls, posters are an important part of our lives. Crammed between the usually-crowded China Red and the Mudville 9 Saloon, Philip Williams Posters, located at 122 Chambers Street, is often unnoticed by Stuyvesant students, or offhandedly dismissed as “that poster place.” What students don’t know is that every day, they are passing something of a museum, one of the largest and most diverse poster collections in the world.
Philip Williams Posters was founded 35 years ago on the Upper West Side, and moved to its current Tribeca location three years ago. The museum is said to house the largest vintage poster gallery in the world. The original gallery featured a variety of posters, dating back to the 1870s, ranging in categories from “animals” to “work ethic.” Philip Williams, the owner and the museum’s namesake, is an avid collector and has traveled all over the world to build his enormous collection.
“Posters are a great art form,” Williams said. “They give you a feel for the time period and are much more personal than other kinds of art.”
The walls of the museum are covered with original posters from every era imaginable, ranging in price from 15 to several thousand dollars.
Along with several old American posters, Williams has managed to accumulate hundreds of originals from many foreign countries, including the former Soviet Union. The section devoted to political posters, for example, features dozens of socialist realist posters from the early Soviet era. One such item, valued at approximately 2,000 dollars, is a propaganda poster from the 1930s, encouraging the viewers to support Stalin’s new five-year-plan. Other posters include advertisements for both American and foreign films, flyers advertising musicians, and British and American World War I-era posters.
Walking through Philip Williams Posters is unlike visiting any other museum. While other museums offer a range of art that can give you a subjective viewpoint of a certain historical era, walking through this collection makes you feel like you are entering a different time period with every step. Instead of focusing on the artist’s inner struggles or beliefs, posters give you a feel for the sentiments and values of each era throughout history, bringing you closer in touch with them.
Though there are hundreds of posters on the walls of the museum, the visitor is only seeing a small fraction of the museum’s vast collection.
“We have a lot of originals. Only a few of the originals hang on the walls. The rest are in safe boxes,” said Kaira, an employee, who declined to give her last name.
Aside from just about any poster imaginable, the museum also exhibits and sells unconventional and quirky postcards, sculptures, paintings and figurines. A colorful painting hanging on the wall shows a series of cartoonish drawings of influential twentieth century figures such as Pablo Picasso and Muhammad Ali. Another side of the unique store houses a strange brown clay figurine of Jesus in green garments on the cross. The strange, yet interesting hodge-podge of slightly unusual art somehow mixes together very successfully.
A few Stuyvesant students have stopped in on several occasions for some poster-window shopping, or even to buy a few of the unique items.
“It’s a pretty unique place for the area,” senior George Kruchin said. “The posters there are diverse and really catch your eye.”
“If I were to decorate my room, I would definitely go there,” senior Tasfia Nayem said. “The posters and figurines [are] really cool and there’s lots of variety.”
If you are hunting down a 19th century poster promoting the Chinese Exclusion Act or simply can’t live without the collector’s edition 50th anniversary poster of I Love Lucy, Philip Williams Posters has the perfect poster for everyo