The earliest posters were not commercial posters. They were almost always handwritten or printed text announcing an event of social or local importance. Very soon after the introduction of lithography and colorful images to posters, business interests began using custom poster printing to regularly promote their products or services to potential customers.
Since the early 1890's, commercial posters have been widespread across Europe. From the newly invented bicycles to the ancient rodeos and bullfights, posters advertising events and products of commercial interest became common throughout continental Europe and Britain. During the era of the so called Belle Époque, or Beautiful Era, colorful posters became even more popular. The Masters of the Poster (Maîtres de l'Affiche) series created by Jules Chéret during the last five years of the 19th century was a great commercial success, and today, it's widely considered to be an influential publication of that era. The same period also saw the depiction of women in more flamboyant and avante garde styles, especially in the works of Alphonse Mucha and Eugène Grasset. Their use of stylized figures and the New Art style was extremely influential in making the use of feminine images popular and acceptable in the culture. Other commercial poster artists whose works became socially and politically significant were Théophile Steinlen, Albert Guillaume, and Leonetto Cappiello.
While even commercial posters developed into an art form in Europe, the poster industry of the United States focused mainly on being practical. When Europe was creating colorful posters with images to showcase commercial products, American posters were mostly text based and plain, simply delivering a commercial message without any decoration or artwork. Most of these posters were utilitarian, had little to boast about in terms of quality, and except for their historical value, are not considered worthwhile collector’s items so far as art is concerned.