Selling our country to the world has shifted from "cure" to "pure", a new exhibition of tourism posters has shown - but then some things haven't changed at all in a century of marketing.

Around 50 lithograths, produced by some of the country's leading commercial artists between the 1920s and 1960s, are being showcased in a new exhibition which opened at Rotorua Museum at the weekend.

It comes as the successful 100% Pure New Zealand campaign, now in its 16th year, is overhauled this month with a new font based on a kauri design by master carver Rangi Kipa.

Marcus King, Maori Chief, c 1950 (left). Dennis Beytagh, New Zealand, 1960 (right). Photos / Tourist Department
Marcus King, Maori Chief, c 1950 (left). Dennis Beytagh, New Zealand, 1960 (right). Photos / Tourist Department

The new exhibition, titled Selling the Dream, features many works that draw on the same marketing themes as today, with a few interesting exceptions.

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One 1931 poster titled "Nature's Cure" promoted strange natural health remedies such as a "multi-polar electric bath" and back-rubs with a "high-frequency valve" hose, along with Rotorua's historic Blue Baths.

Other lithographs show Maori carvings from Rotorua juxtaposed in front of Mt Cook, fishermen hauling in trout and scenic portraits of South Island land marks.

Many of them feature in the coffee table book Selling the Dream: The Art of Early New Zealand Tourism by Peter Alsop, Gary Stewart and Dave Bamford.

Museum deputy director Pamela Lovis said the collection had been first shown at Canterbury Museum, and it was fitting that their first North Island showing was in the country's tourism capital.

Examples of the lithographs on display at the Rotorua Museum. Photos / Alan Gibson
Examples of the lithographs on display at the Rotorua Museum. Photos / Alan Gibson

"These works are extraordinary and show how we were trying to portray New Zealand in a number of themes, from scenic wonderland to fisherman's paradise."

According to Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand, the earliest record of annual international tourist numbers was 5,233 in 1903, with campaigns centering on the mountains, forests, lakes and geysers of the so-called "wonder country".

A new YouTube video from the 100% Pure New Zealand campaign echoed that slogan, describing Aotearoa as a place "where wonder grows".

Nearly three million overseas tourists visited in the year to last month, bringing in $10.3 billion and making up 15.3 per cent of the country's total export earnings.

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