Antonio Ruggerino: Sydney's vintage poster king

Antonio Ruggerino: Sydney's vintage poster king

The art collector's search for pre-war European romance turned on a single chance encounter

A vintage poster of Antonio RuggerinoA reflection of Antonio Ruggerino's obsession.

“I can’t stop collecting -- it’s a drug,” says Antonio Ruggerino, smiling at his apartment wall. “It’s a passion.”

Ruggerino’s obsession is vintage posters -- especially advertisments during Europe’s Belle Époque era. These vibrant, illustrated artworks touted everything from opera to olive oil on bar walls, cafes and boulevards from Paris to Rome.

Ruggerino, a 35-year-old Sydney chef,  became aware of these highly prized collectables when he received a house-warming gift: a 1920s Pelican Cigarettes poster.

After then buying a rare, 1906 Maurin "Green Devil" by Italian Leonetto Cappiello -- “He’s the godfather of the modern poster world” -- Ruggerino was hooked. 

Armed with little more than a wad of cash and whimsical desire to crack the poster market, the then 27-year-old Ruggerino flew to France.

“I jumped on the plane not knowing anything about posters,” he says. “I didn’t know any dealers. I knew nothing.”

Fate intervenes

Luck was on his side. After a hapless afternoon trawling the streets, he stopped at a cafe and talked to a man sitting next to him.

“He asked me what I was doing in Paris and I said, ‘Well, I’m here to buy vintage posters,’” Ruggerino says. “He said, ‘Really? Well, I’m here to sell vintage posters.’”

Stunned by his stroke of fate, Ruggerino agreed to meet the dealer that afternoon to explore the underground art markets of Paris.

“We were walking through alleyways and there were homeless people and gangs everywhere,” he says. “We got to this big garage door and he makes a phone call, and the door started to open. Suddenly, I saw posters. It was like a dream.”

Today, Ruggerino is one of Australia’s only vintage poster dealers -- the rogue newcomer cracked the boutique industry.

Along with running Verde restaurant in East Sydney, he sells posters at national fairs and exhibits a selection at the Sydney Antique Centre in Darlinghurst.

But his true love is his private collection.

Sifting through roll after roll of posters on the floor of his apartment, Ruggerino admits he’s lost track of the amount he’s collected over the years.

Some of his favorites -- mostly by Italian artist Leonetto Cappiello -- adorn the walls of his Bondi flat. Others hang on his friends' walls.

“My lawyer’s office is full of posters,” he says.

The vintage poster he won't sell

So which poster does he prize the most?

A vintage 1970s poster -- "The Vichy.""The Vichy," Ruggerino's most prized poster. Despite handsome offers, he refuses to sell.

“The Vichy,” he says, without skipping a beat. “It’s a two-piece bus panel from the 1970s, advertising a festival in Vichy, France.

"The condition is amazing -- the colors are so vibrant. It’s almost like it’s never been seen by the sun. It brings such an amazing energy to the room and it’s so rare. The amount of people who want to buy it from me is unbelievable, but I won’t sell.”

Antonio’s collection can be viewed on his website or by visiting the gallery at the Sydney Antique Centre, 531 South Dowling St., Surry Hills; +61 (0)2 9361 3244

CNN Partner Hotels

Destination Berlin

World War II bunker and former margarine factory among cutting edge venues in ever-changing city