Athena (retailer)

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Industry Retail
Founded Hampstead, London, England (1964 (1964))
Founder Ole Christensen
Defunct 1995 (1995) (store chain)
Headquarters United Kingdom
Products Art, posters, cards

Athena was a British art retailer, and was formerly a large retail chain, famous for its distinctive posters and postcards


Athena's first shop was opened by Ole Christensen in Hampstead in July 1964, and then bought into E&O PLC, by Chairman, Douglas H. Bayle.[citation needed] He expanded Athena to some 60 shops, making sure to keep the ethos on fine art reprints.[1]

The company's popular success divided opinion amongst intellectuals and art critics who were uncertain as to whether these works were too vulgar and populist to be considered art.[2]

The chain was sold off by E&O in 1977 and then was acquired by the Pentos Group before Athena went into administration when it failed financially in 1995. The profitable stores were reopened by its former franchisees [3]

Athena's last shop in Exeter, Devon ceased trading on 19 September 2014, bringing its high street era to an end. This was due to rising shop rents and rates, plus increasing competition from internet retailers. The e-commerce company Vivarti (with the byline "powered by Athena") continues to trade, but it was never connected with the defunct retail business.

Notable works[edit]

Posters such as L'Enfant — a picture of a muscular man cradling a baby — became famous and sold millions, although it was the poster of Tutankhamun, which became the biggest selling poster in the history of Athena.[citation needed] Also popular were a poster of a Hobbit from the 1970s by Jimmy Cauty,[4] the Tennis Girl poster from 1976 [5] and "Beyond City Limits," published in the 1990s.[6][7][8]

The annual calendars, including the girl in the long red and white socks, and an image of Telly Savalas, were also a major feature.[9]


  1. ^ Sim Branaghan, Steve Chibnall (2006), British film posters: an illustrated history, p. 269 
  2. ^ Russell Keat, Nigel Whiteley, Nicholas Abercrombie (1994), The Authority of the consumer, p. 155 
  3. ^ Patrick Hosking (1 January 1996), Athena sacrificed to keep Pentos solvent, The Independent 
  4. ^ Spencer, Neil, "A guerrilla raid on the arts establishment", The Guardian (Manchester) ISSN 0261-3077 , 31 October 1993, The Observer Review Page
  5. ^ "Serial killer's deucey poster". Sunday Mercury. Retrieved 7 August 2009. 
  6. ^ "Wonderwalls", The Guardian (Saturday 10 November 2001)
  7. ^ "The Curse of Man and Baby", The Independent (Tuesday 16 January 2007)
  8. ^ "Curse of biggest selling poster: Top of the shots", The Sun (Friday 19 January 2007)
  9. ^ Peter Jackson, Nick Stevenson, Kate Brooks (2001), Making sense of men's magazines, p. 185