Getting the measure

I got somewhat over-excited towards the end of last week, when Mr Crownfolio pointed out this in a forthcoming auction.

Paul Nash 1960s reprint of rye marshes shell poster

Clearly this is a framed Paul Nash Shell poster of Rye Marches, and the reason I was getting into such a tizzy about it was that it had turned up at an automobile auction near Chippenham, with a valuation of just £80-120, and with a seeming mis-dating to the 1960s.

Now given that these posters usually go for several hundreds of pounds, sometimes thousands, I thought that this might be our only chance to buy one, so I started eyeing up the Crownfolio savings (still currently earmarked for things like doors and carpets) with a view to bidding on both that, and the Ben Nicholson which was accompanying it in the sale.

Ben Nicholson guardsman poster shell 1960s reprint

It seemed – almost – plausible that an auctioneer who specialised in cars might get this wrong, even if we might have been outbid at the actual sale itself.  (The internet is, after all a double-edged sword; it allows us to find things in obscure auctions, but it also lets every other blighter find them too.)

But then I took a closer look at the listings.  And it turned out that the auctioneers were right after all, curse them.

These aren’t 1930s posters at all, they are much later reprints.  How could I tell?  From the measurements.  A ‘proper’ Shell poster has dimensions of 30″ x 45″, their own rather unique size meant to fit the side of a lorry.  But the posters on sale here are 20″ x 30″.  So there is no way that they can be the real thing.

At which point I calmed down.  But it did make me realise how often Mr Crownfolio and I use the measurements as a way of judging when we’re considering posters, and I thought that this was something worth pointing out on here.

This probably isn’t a new idea to most of you, and of course there are lots of other ways of evaluating a poster when it’s there on paper and can be examined properly.  But should an apparent bargain turn up at a far-flung auction, or appear on eBay, the size can be a very big clue as to whether this is the bargain of all time or a great big flapping turkey of the first order.

Of course, we’ve nonetheless still bought a few turkeys in our time (at least one of which has been a reprinted World War Two poster), but I think that probably goes with the territory of buying from eBay.  Sadly Mr Crownfolio and I both have the amnesia caused by acute embarrassment, and can’t remember the details.  Sorry about that; maybe I’ll go and dig it out one day and you can all laugh at us.

That said though, if you do want to look at the Paul Nash or the Ben Nicholson on your wall, and you’d like it to take up a bit less space than normal, then there will be a couple of bargains going at Castle Combe later this week.  Just as long as you know what you’re getting.

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There’s a certain amount of urgency to this post as the next Bloomsbury poster auction is tomorrow (Tuesday).  I do wish I could get a bit more excited about the Bloomsbury Auctions, I really do, as they really ought to be the missing piece of the jigsaw, the auctions which hoover up all the lower-priced pieces of good design which Christies no longer deign to touch.  But somehow, it just doesn’t quite work.

Nonetheless, shall  we get stuck in and see what we can turn up?  Perhaps we should begin with this post-war Shell poster, seeing as I was over in that direction this weekend.

HOOPER, George (1910-1994) YOU CAN BE SURE OF SHELL, Kintbury, Berks  lithographic poster post-war
George Hooper, est £200-300

It’s rather hard to decide where to go next, in part because the poster part of the auction (there are film posters first, but I’m ignoring those) is arranged in alphabetical order of artists.  Which is I admit entirely logical, but does make it hard to construct any kind of narrative out of the whole thing beyond saying that there are posters.   Mind you, I think that if this selection of stuff was arranged in almost any order, it would still feel scattergun, it’s just that kind of sale.

So, here is a poster I like for no good reason other than it’s kitsch and quintessentially 1950s.

Vintage BOAC poster dogs
Anonymous, est. £300-500

So if the bulldog represents Britain, and the poodle Europe, what is the black one up to?  Answers on a postcard please to the usual address.

Meanwhile this one is a classic, and a deserved one too.

GAMES, Abram (1914-1996) SEE BRITAIN BY TRAIN, British Railways  lithographic poster in colours, 1951, printed by The Baynard Press
Abram Games, 1951, est. £200-400

Although by rights that should mean that it is worth more than the dogs, but there you go.

The one feature worth noting is that once again they’ve landed a whole haul of small GPO posters (for the last outbreak, see here).

As last time, they come in lots of ten with only one of each photographed, which isn’t really an enormous lot of use if you are thinking of bidding on them.

BROWNING A POSTAL VIEW OF LONDON, GPO  lithographic poster in colours, c.1950
Browning, 1950, est. £150-250

FARNHILL BY AIR MAIL, GPO  lithographic poster in colours, c.1950
Farnhill, 1950, est. £150-250

ARMENGOL, AT ANY POST OFFICE, GPO  lithographic poster in colours, 1951, printed by J.D.& Co
Armengol, 1951, est. £150-250

This set are definitely not as stellar as the last selection.  Even though there is an Eckersley amongst them, it’s not one of his greats.


ECKERSLEY, Tom (1914-1997 POST OFFICE SERVICES, GPO  lithographic poster in colours, 1952
Tom Eckersley, 1952, est. £150-250

Other than that, however, it is a miscellany.  There are three of Henrion’s posters for Punch – I’ve chosen this one because it is the least frequently seen of them.

FHK Henrion, est. £150-250

They are an interesting case, though, these posters as they appear quite regularly on the market, which leads me to suspect that they must have been sold or given away at some point.  Perhaps a trawl through early 1950s Punch might reveal the answer.

Also available are two very nice London Transport posters by Betty Swanwick.

SWANWICK, Betty (1915-1989) WILD or SAVAGE, London Underground  lithographic poster in colours, printed by Curwen Press,
Betty Swanwick, est. £200-400

SWANWICK, Betty WOOLWICH FERRY  lithographic poster in colours, 1949, printed by Curwen Pres
Betty Swanwick, 1949, est. £300-500

For once I agree with the estimates, as the second one, Woolwich Ferry, is by far the better of the two and would look wonderful on the wall, should any of you be tempted.

There is also further proof that P&O and the Orient Line commissioned a lot of very good design before the war, even if I can’t tell you any more about it than that.

ANONYMOUS ORIENT LINE TO THE MEDITERRANEAN  lithographic poster swallow cruises by 20000 ton steamers
Anonymous, est. £150-250

There’s also a chance once again to appreciate the hallucinogenic colour choices of Percy Drake Brookshaw.

BROOKSHAW, Percy Drake ((1907-1993) YOUR WINDOW OPENS THROUGH COOKS  lithographic poster in colours, c.1950, printed by Jordison & Co.
Percy Drake Brookshaw, c.1950, est. £150-250.

Along with a tram poster.

BROWN, Gregory (1887-1941) HORNIMAN MUSEUM, London Underground  lithographic poster in colours, 1934, printed by Crescens Robinson & Co. Ltd. London
Gregory Brown, 1934, set. £200-400

And that’s basically your lot.

One final thing to say, though, which is I hope you are appreciating this blog post as it is the most expensive one I have ever written.  Half way through, my computer keeled over once again and this time it looks terminal (or at least rather too expensive to repair).  So I have been to the Big Town and come back with a new laptop, all in time to get this piece out before the auction begins tomorrow.  It’s not every blog that gives service like that, you know.

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Today,  I think have the cheapest item ever presented on Quad Royal.  Instead of paying hundreds of pounds for a poster, you can get one of these little beauties for just £2.50.

Daphne Padden southend bus poster card Beast In Show

Or if that doesn’t tickle your fancy, how about this one instead?

Daphne Padden go shopping by  bus poster card Beast In Show

Once again, these appear thanks to the sterling work of Beast In Show (the non-teatowel wing of To Dry For) who, as you may well remember, have already worked with us to turn Daphne Padden’s designs into tea towels and placemats.  In case you don’t remember, they go something like this.

To Dry For Daphne Padden Gardener tea towel

Daphne Padden Autumn place mats Beast in Show

They are so enthusiastic about her designs (and frankly why wouldn’t any sane person be) that there is now a range of Daphne Padden cards available as well.


They are all lovely, and I can’t really choose a favourite, but I do just have to draw your attention to the one below, because there just aren’t enough psychedelic breakfasts in the world.


There are loads and loads of them – way more than I can stuff into one blog post, however hard I try.

Daphne Padden vintage bus poster design Scarborough card

You can see them all – and indeed buy them – on the Beast In Show website.  You have nothing to lose (at least compared to buying a poster you don’t).

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Better for a shower

Apologies about the delay between broadcasts, my computer had some kind of nervous breakdown and had to be sent away to a sanatorium for a few days. Pleasingly, it is now back and recovered, which means that together it and I can get stuck into the vast heap of auctions which are coming up in the next month or so.

First – and it rather has to be given that the sale is on Saturday – is the GCR Autumn Auction. Which isn’t as exciting as their auctions have been, as it mostly consists of a lot of quite standard railway posters.

British Railways BR(S) double royal poster, LYNTON & LYNMOUTH, by Harry Riley
Harry Riley, est. £150-300

Interspersed with pictures of trains.

Midland Pullman poster Wolstenholme British Railways poster blue train
Wolstenholme, est. £150-300

And the odd piece of unashamed naffness.

Network south east carriage cleaning poster better for a shower
Anon, est. £50-80

Scattered amongst all of this, however, are a few items of interest. To start with, there are several posters for That Abroad, but unusually these are ones issued by British railway companies.

Having lived in Copenhagen for a few years, these two Frank Masons have an inevitable sentimental appeal.

LNER double royal poster, COPENHAGEN, via Harwich-Esbjerg, by Frank. H. Mason
Frank Mason, est. £150-300

LNER double royal poster, HOLIDAYS IN DENMARK, FANO, by Frank H. Mason
Frank Mason, est. £150-300

While this one for France is simply rather good.

BR(S) 1948 double royal poster, SANDS ACROSS THE SEA, Brittany, Normandy, Picardy, by Clodagh Sparrow
Clodagh Sparrow, 1948, est. £100-200

I know nothing at all about Clodagh Sparrow, and the internet can’t tell me much either. She apparently did some number of designs for the LMS in the 1930s, and a couple for London Transport too.  So if anyone knows any more than this, I’d love to hear.

But anyway, back to the main event. There are a couple of posters in the auction I quite like.

BR(M) double royal poster, ISLE OF MAN , by Beaven, promoting fishing, golf, dancing and the islands beaches
Beaven, has to be 1950s, est. £100-200

BR(M) double royal poster, THE EDEN VALLEY, Near Appleby, Westmoreland, by A.J.Wilson
A J Wilson, est. £100-200

In the case of the second one, that’s probably as much due to the lettering as anything else.

Also of interest, simply because it’s not the kind of thing that comes up very often, is this holiday brochures poster.

BR poster, HOLIDAY GUIDES, by Cusden, a colourful image featuring Holiday Haunts style volumes
Cusden, est. £80-120

Although I am intrigued as to why, of all the posters in the world, someone has chosen to mount this one on linen.

The auction also includes a random ATS poster.

World War two ats propaganda poster
Anon, est. £100-200

It’s not my favourite wartime poster ever – there are better ATS ones if I am honest – but I mention this because the next upcoming railwayana auction (GWR, in November if you want an advance peek) also has some World War Two posters included, so this may be a recurring theme. Equally of course it could just be coincidence.

Finally, there is one London Transport poster, which is by John Bainbridge and is the best thing in the whole sale.

John Bainbridge London Transport poster windsor
John Bainbridge, 1956, est. £80-120

I’ve promised a post about him one of these days, and I really must do that as he is a sorely under-rated artist.  But that will have to wait, as my next post will almost certainly have to cover a few more auctions.

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Dog days

Todaay’s offering is two wonderful posters by Patrick Tilley.  This one – from 1959 – I’ve never seem in colour before.

Patrick Tilley The Times Top People Dog

Although Ido seem to remember it in the relevant Modern Publicity.

This one is dated a year later and I don’t think I’ve ever seen it before anywhere.

Patrick Tilley Top People Take The Times greek poster

So there you go, a Quad Royal first.  And can I also commend Patrick Tilley for putting dates on his poster; if every designer did that my life would be a great deal easier.

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I was Lord Kitchener’s Thing

Exhibit A today is an ad from our local paper.

newspaper ad with Lord Kitchener From World War One Poster

It’s here, clearly, to illustrate the after-life of posters.  The slogan and image derive, after all, from a poster which will be a hundred years old next year, and yet is still part of our mental furniture.  What’s going on?

The original is of course this design by Alfred Leete.

Alfred Leete Lord Kitchener poster as we all remember it

Except it isn’t what you might think.  Despite the images that we all carry around in our heads, this drawing almost certainly never existed as a poster.  It was designed as a front cover for the mass market magazine  London Opinion, and was so popular that it was turned into a postcard and also a print.

There were certainly lots of pictures of Lord Kitchener plastered out on the streets in 1914.

Lord Kitchener says WW1 recruiting poster

Not just in Britain, either.  Here he is being forceful in New Zealand.

Kitchener banner in New Zealand

There were also lots of posters using the slogan ‘Your Country Needs You’.

Your Country Needs You anonymous World War One recruiting poster

Your Country Needs You anonymous World War One recruiting poster

But they never existed together on the same poster.  This – as sold at Onslows earlier this summer – is as close as they got to being in the same place.

Alfred Leete (1882-1933) Britons (Kitchener) "Wants You" Join Your Country's Army ! God Save the King, original recruiting poster printed by the Victoria House Printing Company Co. Ltd. September 1914

Plus there is also this number, which does at least combine the wording at the image.

Lord Kitchener world war one recruiting poster leete

Neither of which, however, are the poster of our popular imaginations, though.  That’s this one, isn’t it?

Another Lod Kitchener poster

Except this is in fact a mock-up, produced quite recently.   Aaargh.  So how did this poster, which didn’t exist, end up in my newspaper?

The argument about the exact form and origin of the poster has raged all over the internet and newspapers in this centenary year.  I mentioned it before, when the Britons poster came up for sale at Onslows, and I don’t pretend to understand the precise ins and outs of it.  But that’s OK, because this isn’t really what interests me the most.  What I find intriguing is why this particular version – which may or may not have been pasted on walls in 1914 – still haunts us today.  I’m not sure I have a definitive answer, but the search does take us along a few interesting byways.

The first of these does, however,  involve going back to the argument.  An entire book has been written about Lord Kitchener and his pointing finger, Your Country Needs You, which I have read so that you don’t have to.  The conclusion is that there may have been a very few privately printed versions out there, although these were few in comparison with the millions of government posters that rolled off the presses, and researchers have yet to find a photograph of one glued to a wall.

But old soldiers being interviewed in the years after the war, when asked about why they volunteered, reply with some regularity that it was because of the poster of Lord Kitchener pointing his finger and saying ‘Your Country Needs You’, which they tend to remember as being plastered on every available surface.  So what’s going on?  It’s easy to see how people might conflate the slogan and the pictures of Kitchener, and maybe even mix those up with the London Opinion cover.  But it seems unlikely that everyone performed exactly the same trick of memory on their own.

The book argues convincingly that this is all the Imperial War Museum’s fault.  The museum was founded in 1917 specifically to record the events of the Great War and as a commemoration of all of those who died.  As part of this, it collected the recruitment posters of the time  (there were quite a few out there to be collected, warehouses full of them in fact, left over after conscription had been introduced).  It also managed to collect the London Opinion print, and mis-catalogued it as a poster.  Thus categorised, the iconic image was displayed as a poster in a number of post-war exhibitions.  And by these means the memories of returning soldiers were collectively constructed.

Imperial war museum poster exhibition poster graft on galleries

All of which is interesting and starts to explain why a non-existent image has entered the collective consciousness in the first place.  But why did it persist, and for so long?

One reason that the book suggests is that pictures of a person looking directly at you while pointing their finger are very effective.  Which is true.  (There’s a good selection on the Wikipedia page on the poster if you want to test this theory out.)  Which is probably why the U.S.A copied the Kitchener image for its own recruitment purposes in 1916.

Uncle Sam wants you original poster

Once this has happened, the two posters probably start feeding off each other.  The Uncle Sam poster is, if anything, an even greater icon in America than the Kitchener poster is over here.  It has been reproduced and parodied in an almost infinite number of ways since 1918, particularly where wars and governments are concerned.

Time magazine cover Bush as Uncle Sam

Some of which, I am sure, travels over here and makes us remember our own iconic pointing finger in the form of Kitchener.

Uncle Sam and Kitchener parody

But there’s more to it than that.  Because one of the interesting things about the Kitchener image is that it isn’t always there.  Once all the soldiers have returned, and the patriotic lies of the propaganda have been dismissed, the poster seems to have been mostly forgotten about for a good forty-odd years.  People have looked, but not found any visual references in the inter-war period and then for another decade or two after World War Two has ended.

So what happens to change this?  The answer is the 1960s, or to be more precise 1963-4, when two specific things happen.

One is a boutique on Portobello Road.

I was Lord KItchener's Valet shop sign v&A

This first shop was such a roaring success that they expanded to Carnaby Street and, later, the Kings Road, where the shop had the even better name of ‘I Was Lord Kitchener’s Thing’.

I was Lord Kitchener's Thing Kings Road

I have very nearly written this entire blog post just so that I can post that photo, but never mind.

But why, why Lord Kitchener?  The answer, I think, lies in both the specifics of the early 1960s and the almost universal adolescent urge to get up your parents noses.

I’ve written about the early 1960s before.  It’s the moment when the first generation comes of age who didn’t live through the war, not even a little tiny bit of it.  They’re bored of hearing about the deprivations and the community spirit, they’re bored of self-sacrifice and drab.  And most of all they are bored of hearing about the army.  Because what does Lord Kitchener’s Valet sell at first?  Surplus army uniforms.

And was this meant to irritate the grown-ups?  Of course it was.  A contemporary magazine article makes this clear.

Lord Kitchener of Khartoum would undoubtedly turn in his grave if he knew he was giving his name to a “with-it” boutique in London’s Portobello Road, and he would probably be even more horrified if he knew the boutique was selling the uniform of the British Army as the latest ‘mod’ gear.

The goading worked, too.  In 1966 a ‘Muswell Hill youth’ received a conditional discharge after being stopped for wearing a Scots Guards tunic.  But by  then it was far too late: John Lennon, Eric Clapton and Mick Jagger all bought uniforms there and the red tunics and gold braid were everywhere.  ‘I think it looked fashionable and smart,’ said Muswell Hill Youth, and it almost certainly did.

So the overwhelming urge to stick two fingers up at the British establishment, at their parents’ generation and the war is clear, but why did Lord Kitchener have to be brought into it all?  Why wasn’t he old hat, so to speak?

The answer is, I think, that there was still a problem with attacking the Second World War, even for these bolshie youths.  This was because those who had fought in World War Two had been very, very Right.  They had vanquished Hitler, brought peace and prosperity, liberated the concentration camps. No one could argue with that.  So instead the children of the 1960s had to skip back twenty five years, and pick their enemies from a much more equivocal war, where the generals had made mistakes, where little had been achieved and one in which those soldiers who had returned lamented the futility of the whole thing.  In short, you wouldn’t dare say a word against Montgomery, not for a long time yet, and so it is Lord Kitchener instead who acts as proxy for that entire wartime generation.

All of which makes even more sense in the light of the other early 1960s appearance of Kitchener.  This was 1963, and it happens in Oh What A Lovely War!  He was on stage.

Murray-Melvin-in-Oh-What--A Lovely War

And more importantly, he was all over the publicity and posters.

Exterior of Theatre Royal during the original production of Oh What a Lovely war

Joan Littlewood’s entire career sprang from the urge to go against established opinion.  And by turning her fire on the army, this also allowed her to take aim at various other previously sacrosanct institutions like the Empire and the upper classes.  But even for an iconoclast like her, picking a fight with the most recent war would have been a step too far.  And so, once again, it is Lord Kitchener’s image, with all that this represents, which takes the flak.

By this point, the meaning of the poster has gone through several transformations.  At first – for most people, there were of course always dissenters – this was a simple appeal from a national hero.  After the war, returning soldiers revolted against the high-flown patriotic rhetoric that had brought them into the basest hell of the trenches, and the posters became a prime exhibit of how they had been lied to, Kitchener included.

But by the time it returns in the 1960s, the posters now stand for even more than this, representing upper class twittery and the follies of the gold-braided, Empire ruling establishment.  For a long time, the poster gets parodied (and this is true of the American version too) when someone wants to point out that our rulers are taking us on the wrong path.  This is true even today.

Cameron Kitchener poster

But now the image is so much part of our mental equipment that it can be used for almost anything.  Including, it seems advertising storage.  Which is where we came in.

This is such a complicated issue that I’ve left out lots of relevant things, including the repeated rise and fall of Kitchener’s own reputation.  I’ve also been forced well out of my normal range, and so owe particular thanks to a couple of other internet sites, including this great post about I Was Lord Kitchener’s Valet and this long but very expert discussion of the Kitchener poster.  It’s also become clear that I would like to know a lot more about Joan Littlewood and the reception of Oh What A Lovely War! but then I have to stop somewhere, at least for now.  So if you do have any thoughts to add to this, I’d love to hear them.

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