Promotional poster for the 1939-40 Golden Gate International Expo in San Francisco — an icon of late Art Deco poster art.

Golden Gate International Exposition 1940. May 25 to September 29. Treasure Island on San Francisco Bay


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SKU: NL-00928 Category: Tag:
Date: 1940
Place: Not listed
Dimensions: 66 x 90 cm (26 x 35.5 in)
Condition Rating: VG+


An impacting poster that not only embodies Californian optimism, but which heralds the end of art deco and the beginnings of realism in poster art. As an icon of its time, it summons a brighter future from an otherwise ubiquitous darkness.

The focal point of this evocative and colorful poster promoting the second half of the 1939-1940 Golden Gate International Exposition (GGIE) features a giant statue of a golden goddess standing at the top of a monumental flight of stairs, which lead into an enormous hall. The entryway is flanked by massive pillars and adorned with a star-patterned drape above the entrance. A crowd of people are approaching the statue and entryway from below. The image represents the main hall of the exposition, which took place on an entirely new island in the Bay that was constructed specifically for this event.

Treasure Island was built in 1936-37 just off the northeastern tip of the San Francisco Promontory. It was essentially constructed on top of the Yerba Buena shoals, which barely broke the surface and constituted an increasing shipping hazard in foggy weather. For the exposition, the island was endowed with monumental architecture comprising a mixture of classicist and modernist styles, as well colossal statues, such as the one seen in the poster. A plaque on the island still relays the story of how: “…Tall towers, gigantic goddesses and dazzling lighting effects turned the island into a magic city”.

The reason that the GGIE was deemed worthy of the huge cost was that in addition to increasing the city’s landmass and solving the shoal issue outlined above, it constituted an opulent celebration of the “…ascendancy of California and San Francisco as economic, political and cultural forces in the increasingly important Pacific region”. Following the successful exposition, which ran from February 18th 1939 until September 29th 1940, the island was converted to a U.S. Naval Base which opened in 1942, just in time for the great Pacific battles of World War II. The Treasure Island base functioned as the extended arm for the Presidio and became a crucial node in Pacific naval defense. It was closed in 1997.

Overall, this original antique poster is scarce and beautiful, and in excellent condition. It would make a fabulous decorative piece and/or addition to any collection of posters pertaining to Art Deco or San Francisco history.


Cornelius “Neil” Cogswell Sampson

The poster carries the signature of Sampson in the lower right of the image. This refers to artist Cornelius “Neil” Cogswell Sampson, who worked on several posters, brochures, and other printed materials for the Golden Gate expo. In fact, it was also this same image that adorned the frontispiece of the formal exposition brochures, which were produced in very large numbers. As map dealers, we happily also note that the brochure also included a pictorial map of California drawn by Sampson and titled “AMERICA GOES Westward and Fairward in ‘40”.

Condition Description

Archivally mounted on modern poster linen. Some creasing in the image flattened and stabilized by the backing.