pilatustitle2021 - Pilatus posters

No not the highly praised small aircraft but the mountain instead! The vast range of Swiss transport posters is immensely fascinating. They’re no doubt meant to entice visitors to the Alps but they too are a class in their own right in terms of transport history, for they tell us much about the many different lines being advertised and indeed their history too, as well as the culture and thinking of the various periods of the 19th and 20th Centuries. There’s the Simplon, the Gotthard, Rochers de Naye, Montreux Oberland Bernois, and others noted for their classic posters, but here we focus on one specific location and that’s the mountain known as Pilatus – the symbol of the city of Lucerne in central Switzerland.

The Pilatus Railway, dubbed ‘a train with a death wish,’ has been operating safely since 1889. It hasn’t altered much since it was electrified in 1937, but substantial changes are coming in the next couple years, including a fleet of faster and more powerful trains. The railway begins at Alpnachstad and ascends for slightly over two and a half miles to Pilatus Kulm station, just below the Esel and Tomlishorn peaks.

Despite the line having opened in 1889 there appears to be no advertising posters for the new railway extant until 1892. The Swiss Poster Museum does however indicate indicate that the first few Pilatusbahn posters are basically the same, its just the year that alters. Thus in terms of the first poster shown below for 1892, the previous ones for 1891, 1890 and 1899 would have been the same save for the year printed on the timetable panel.

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Artist: Johannes Weber. 1892 poster which was apparently based on those for 1889-1891. Source: Scripophily.

Weber was a proficient early transport poster illustrator, however he also did still life and portraiture. Here’s a couple of his other works on Wiki. Weber was clearly chosen as the artist to create the first run of Pilatusbahn posters for one simple reason. he too had created a series of drawings chronicling the construction of the railway up the mountain. One of those is shown below:

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One of Weber’s drawings showing workers precariously perched on the cliff face of the Esel as they build a route for the new line. Source: Scripophily.

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Artist: R. Winkler. 1894. This isn’t exactly a poster but more likely a publicity handout, as it featured a timetable and other information the rear side. Source: Abe Books.

Very little is known about this artist, apart from the fact he did a number of Pilatus posters.

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Artist: R. Winkler 1900. A very nice and romantic notion of the mountain. Classic styling which although uses many common elements does manage to be somewhat different mainly because of the colours and font used. Source: Swiss Poster Museum.

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Artist: R. Winkler 1906. Pilatusbahn. Source: Poster Auctioneer.

Similar poster (slightly different colour) for 1908 seen here.

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Artist: Unknown. Probably c1910. The railway is making use of its credentials as the steepest rack line in the world. Source: Pinterest.

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Artist: Unknown. 1911. Not exactly a poster either but a fold out leaflet. The radical changes of the last few seasons posters get undone by this return to classical form. Its a lovely one though! The Pilatusbahn’s credentials as the world’s steepest rack railway are added too. One other change is the addition of the Hotel Bellevue at the top of the mountain. This apparently wasn’t used again until the sixties when it was once again featured – somewhat ironic because the hotel suffered a major fire and had to be demolished. Source: Scripophily.

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One of the panorama illustrations inside the 1911 fold out leaflet. It features a nice rendering of the summit and the mountains beyond, but also has a picture of one of the steam trains at Aemsigenalp (now known simply as Amsigen.) Source: Scripophily.

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Artist: Wilhelm Friedrich Burger. Likely to be a handout with a timetable printed on the rear. This is said to be from 1914 according to Poster Auctioneer (although the the Swiss Poster Museum claims its 1900!) Source: Poster Auctioneer.

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Artist: Unknown. This is a 1918 (possibly 1919) poster for Burlingham Travel Pictures. Source: Arnold Zwicky blog.

It seems the poster may have been based on one of the postcards issued by the railway company.

Who was Burlingham? This was a US journalist and cinematographer known as Frederick Burlingham. He was initially sent to Europe to cover various aspects on the continent’s travel and culture. In due course Burlingham set up his own business and duly covered a number of Swiss lines such as Montreux – Rochers de Naye (1913), the Bernina railway (1914), the Jungfrau railway (1916) the Gornergrat and the Pilatus railways (1918.) There were no doubt others. Sadly nearly all of his work is now lost.

Burlingham on Wikipedia.

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The same Burlingham poster in slightly different format probably for US audiences. Its quite likely the image on this poster was used by the Pilatusbahn too. Source: St. Mary’s Motherwell.

One may notice the logo at the bottom corner of the poster. It says ‘Sherry Service’ and the text beneath cites ‘Distributed through Wm L. Sherry Service.’ There’s so little information on this however Sherry’s were a film distribution company and apparently they did publicity too. They were based at 729 – 7th Avenue, New York. According to a mention in Moving Picture World (June 1919), on p2026 Sherry and Burlingham are shown as collaborators, whilst on p2028 and 2029 of the same issue both the Gornergrat and Pilatus films are classed as Sherry-Burlingham collaborations.

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Artist: Otto Landolt. Said to be the 1920s but it could easily be the early 1930s – or even later as those trains look like the electric railcars. Its difficult to know as other representations of the steam trains also make them look like the later stock. Source: Amazon.

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Artist: Karl Otto Ernst. Date probably early 1930s. This is a rare depiction of the Pilatus railway as it climbs the final section to the summit station adjacent to the old Hotel Bellevue. Probably published in the last years of steam operation. This poster is not generally found on the internet however is based on a low resolution & wonky sample I retrieved off Ebay. With several hours work I created this reproduction of the original.

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Karl Otto Ernst (Switzerland) Pilatusbahn 1933. Source: Germann Auktionshaus.

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Artist: Unknown. Probably early to mid 1930s. Those do look somewhat like the electric trains but they’re not. Apparently the above image was also used for luggage labels. Source: Pinterest.

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Artist: Unknown. 1934 possibly. A rare one that it used an actual photograph instead of some artist depiction. Source: Poster Auctioneer.

Note the steam trains lined up on the sidings just below the summit station, which only had one platform that was able to hold two trains. These sidings were used to stable trains so they could prepare for the downhill trip and the operation was much like that at Alpnachstad. At the summit the trains would descend briefly to exit the platforms and then use a traverser to gain the stabling sidings. One other interest in this picture is the building sited just off the railway was in fact a mess room for the railway staff. Its a building that was in use only a few years.

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Poster 1935ish. Apparently unknown. Like a number of the other posters the printer is A. Trüb of Aarau. Source: Poster Auctioneer.

Notice how the posters change from showing steam trains to showing the mountain itself once again? I presume (though may not be correct) this is during the transition period when the line was converted from steam to electric operation, and the company didn’t want to depict one or the other traction in case the conversion didn’t get pulled off for some reason. You know, delays do happen!

Not only that it may be that the mountain was once again depicted in red to demonstrate electrical power. Red is certainly a concurring theme as we shall see in the section covering the electric train era on the mountain.

The history of A. Trüb of Aarau is featured on this page.

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Even our own railway the LNER muscled in on the popularity of the iconic Swiss mountain by having the company’s initials emblazoned on the same poster! There’s examples of other UK based railway companies advertising other Swiss lines or resorts however those have a bit more text and information including perhaps booking details. This one however seems a little odd as it doesn’t even feature the LNER logo and the font isn’t correct. Perhaps the LNER were limited as to what they could print? Source: International Poster Gallery.

Next: Pilatus posters #2 – the electric train era.

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