out of the attic

Apologies for the break, I’ve been away and went in such a rush that I didn’t even have time to put the ‘out of office’ notice up here.  There will be proper posting later this week, but I’ve just popped in briefly to point at this.

Barbara Jones mural sociology 1961

It’s a Barbara Jones mural from 1961, entitled Sociology and produced for the Turin International Labour Exhibition of that year; it’s rather large at over four metres by three, and it’s on sale at Christies next month.

Now attentive readers of this blog – and indeed attentive exhibition viewers – will remember this mural because it formed part of the British Murals and Decorative Painting Exhibition at Liss Fine Art last year, where it was for sale, should you have wanted it, for a ‘price on request’.  Now it’s estimated at £3,000 – 5,000.  Mr Crownfolio has sized up the house and concluded, reluctantly, that we have nowhere to put it, so it’s all yours to bid on.

Should you be a fan of Barbara Jones, though, it’s probably worth you looking at the whole sale, which goes under the title of Out of the Ordinary and is frankly a bit barking, in a rather wonderful way.  Once you’ve picked your way past the giant taxidermied spider crab, the holograms and the giant cigar box in the shape of Harrods, you could bid on items ranging from Paul McCartney’s old front door from the 1950s to the 14th century heraldic arms of the Earl of Bohun, via all manner of memorabilia, oddities and, sometimes, tat.  It’s as though the most idiosyncratic museum in the country, the V&A on acid, had decided to go to a boot sale.

Apart from the Barbara Jones, I can imagine a few of you also being tempted to try for this.

Festival of Britain Railing

Which isn’t a rusty piece of 1980s something or other, but a piece of railing from the Festival of Britain.  £1,500 – 1,800, since you ask.

It’s eccentric, but I can’t help thinking that the assorted miscellania is exactly the kind of company that Barbara Jones would have appreciated.  And had she been curating a modern-day Black Eyes and Lemonade, she might have been able to find quite a lot of her material right here, from the slot machine to the signage.

Slot machine Christiesshoe bar sign

And of course the illuminated peacock’s head.

illuminated peacock

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Tennis, surfing and elephants

What with it being summer and all that, things have quietened down a bit on the auction front this month, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing going on.  Next week, Swann Galleries have a sale, with a few items of interest to this blog included.

Like every other recent sale, the anniversary of World War One means that there are a fair number of recruiting posters in there.  (Where did they all come from this year?  Have auctioneers been stockpiling them for decades?  Or are they actually as common as anything?).

DAVID HENRY SOUTER (1862-1935) IT'S NICE IN THE SURF BUT WHAT ABOUT THE MEN IN THE TRENCHES / GO AND HELP. 1917.
David Henry Souter, 1917, est $800-1,200

That one, you will not be entirely surprised to learn, is Australian, rather than British.

These inevitably lead on to World War Two posters, of which this is probably my favourite just because it’s an interesting and unusual poster for the time (as written about here, before)

NEVER WAS SO MUCH OWED BY SO MANY TO SO FEW." Circa 1940.  30x20 inches, 76 1/4x50 3/4 cm. Lowe & Brydone, Ltd., London.
Anonymous, 1940, est. $800-1,200

And hey, guess what, there’s one of these too.  Again.

DESIGNER UNKNOWN KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON. 1939.
Anonymous, 1939, est. $12,000-18,000

For a rare poster, there aren’t half a lot of them about.  So many, in fact, that I have lost track of what they are selling for.  But I still don’t want one.

What does distinguish this sale from any other though is the enormous quantity of – wait for it – tennis posters.  And these aren’t just posters for equipment, tournaments and so on, but any poster that might have even the slightest glimpse of a tennis racquet in it.  Which means that it includes this Tom Purvis design for Austin Reed.

TOM PURVIS (1888-1959) AUSTIN REED'S OF REGENT STREET. Circa 1930.  poster
Tom Purvis, c.1930, est $3,000-4,000

There are also a surprising number of British seaside posters of the 1950s on offer too.  Most of them have been featured on this blog at some time or other, but this one is new to me.

HARRY RILEY (1895-?) WESTON - SUPER - MARE. Circa 1960. 40x24 3/4 inches, 101 1/2x63 cm. Waterlow & Sons, Limited, poster
Harry Riley, 1960, est. $600-900

I love, just love, the pointy hat in the background there.  Where can I get one?

This one is also worth noting, because when it’s offered for sale at Christies or Onslows, it tends to go for considerably more than this estimate, so there might be a chance of a (relative) bargain.

ALFRED LAMBART (1902-1970) NEWQUAY / ON THE CORNISH COAST. 1937. poster
Alfred Lambart, 1937, est. $1,000-1,500

And that’s about your lot.  Unless of course you want an elephant on a Vespa?

poster ESIGNER UNKNOWN VESPA.  39x27 inches, 99x68 1/2 cm. Giuseppe Lang, Genova.
Anoonymous, est. $700-1,000

Who wouldn’t, really?

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Miscellania

It’s too hot to think properly.  So it’s lucky then that some interesting bits and bobs connected with past posts have come my way.

Firstly, Hans Unger.  Four years ago now, I wrote a piece about his life and his work not just in graphic design but also stained glass.   It’s worth going back to read that post, even if you’ve looked at before, simply for the comments, which are still arriving even now.  Clearly he was a man who was beloved by very many people.

The post came about because Mr Crownfolio had been reading about Unger’s work on St Columba’s Church in Chester.  Their website person, Bernard Payne, got in touch recently and has sent me two more photographs of Unger’s work for the church.

Hans Unger Stained Glass st columba's church chester

Hans Unger stained glass st columba's church chester

Sadly, these two windows aren’t in existence any more – they were taken out in 1986 because the timber was rotting and the mullions deteriorating, and clearly no one at the time thought they were worth saving.  Which is a great shame.

Also a while back, I posted about the symbolism of blue skies on post-war airline posters like these two Lewitt-Hims.

Lewitt Him, vintage airline travel poster 1948 Poster Connection

Vintage Lewitt Him BOAC poster 1948

My speculation was that, after the Second World War, these clear blue skies might have had more meaning that we might at first suspect.  Now the fighters and the bombers were gone, there were no more looping white trails signifying a dogfight any more.  The skies, and by association the aeroplanes that fly in them, were now safe, to be celebrated rather than feared.

So I was very pleased with the discovery I made when I was researching James de Holden Stone the other day.  In 1945, when the war ended, he was the Art Director of Vogue, and this was the cover he designed for their October issue.

James de Holden Stone Vogue cover October 1945

And this is how Vogue themselves described it:

With the war in Europe and the Far East finally having come to an end in September, Vogue has no suitable cover commissioned for this issue. James de Holden-Stone, the magazine’s art director, makes his point aptly with a painting of blue skies – denoting the end of the blitz over London.

The cover comes, incidentally, from a whole archive of them which is now online and well worth a browse through, even though it is a bit of a pig to search (the link starts you off in the 1950s, just to make it a bit easier).

Finally, while we are on the subject of ways to waste time on the internet, Mr Crownfolio has been disappearing into the British Newspaper Archive in order to find out more about the history of our house.  And from his searches I can also tell you that Daphne Padden was a bridesmaid in Bathwick, in 1934.  She wore blue taffeta and was given a vanity case and a rope of pearls for her troubles.  Sadly that’s all that the archive can tell us about her.  I do wish I knew more.

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Product

The lovely Daphne Padden tea towels that To Dry For produced along with us have now been on sale for a year, and, I am pleased to report, are doing very well.  So much so that you can now by Daphne Padden stuff in Heals and Liberty’s.  Which is only as it should be really.

To Dry For Daphne Padden kitchen baking tea towel

In fact, they’ve done so well, that we’re branching out, in the form of these rather wonderful place mats, from some different Daphne Padden designs.

Spring Daphne Padden mats Beast in Show

Not just the summer design either, also its spring and autumn companions.

Daphne Padden spring mats Beast in Show

 

Daphne Padden Autumn place mats Beast in Show

 

If you”d like to buy them, click on the relevant image here on the Beast in Show website.  The place mats are available right now, the coasters following any moment.  And I can certify that they are all lovely, as we are already using a set of each here at Crownfolio HQ (well we would, wouldn’t we).  Or you could hassle your local shop to stock them, in the interests of good taste and everyone owning as much Daphne Padden design as they can manage.  Which has to be a good thing, don’t you think?

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Go!

Auction time again, and it’s the turn of Onslows, whose next sale is exactly a week today.

Much of which, however, is not aimed at those, like me, of a later twentieth century persuasion.  As you may have noticed, there is an anniversary on, and so the vast majority of the sale is made up of World War One recruiting posters and ephemera.  It is a comprehensive haul.

Go! Its Your Duty Lad Join To-Day, original Parliamentary Recruiting Committee poster No 109 printed by David Allen & Sons Ltd August 1915
Anonymous, 1915, est. £300-500

At some future point I may end up with opinions about World War One recruiting posters – I have even bought a book about them, which is unfortunately dense and not that interesting – but even so, that moment hasn’t quite arrived.

E J Kealey (Active 1914-1930's) Women of Britain say - "Go !", original Parliamentary Recruiting Committee poster No 75 printed by Hill Siffken & Co November March 1915
E J Kealey, 1915, est £500-600

Although I have chosen both of these posters (out of over three hundred WW1 lots on offer) to demonstrate one point, which is that this conflict – unlike the Second World War  - was very much the concern of men only.  Women could persuade, they could watch and weep, but they were observers, not participants.  (This did shift a little bit later on in the conflict, but not much).  All of which must have made the next war, only just over twenty years later, a startling contrast.  Not only was it the case that every single member of the population was mobilised for the war effort, but women were in uniforms, posted abroad, even conscripted.  The changes in women’s status would probably seem insignificant to us today, but then the shifts must have felt huge.

I suppose I also have to mention this.

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
Alfred Leete, 1914, est. £10,000-15,000

That’s not only on account of the estimate, either.  Despite the fact that this is perhaps one of the best-known posters in British history, whole swathes of the internet are devoted to debating whether or not it actually ever was a poster.  There is even a book which sets out to prove that it never existed as a poster, really and – if I have read it right – it’s all the fault of the Imperial War Museum that we think it did.

Onslows have come down quite firmly on the side of it being a poster.

This rare and iconic poster is one of only four known to exist, there are examples in the Imperial War Museum, State Library of Victoria Melbourne and the Robert Opie Collection. Last year it was wrongly reported in the press that the poster’s existence was a urban myth and was never used as a recruiting poster this was not the case. Proof of the poster being displayed publicly in 1914 has now come to light in two photographs, one showing the poster on a hoarding with other’s published by the Parliamentary Recruiting poster at Liverpool Station 15.12.1914 and the other posted on pillars of Chester’s Town Hall. It would be reasonable to say that the rarity of this poster could be put down to the numbers printed being far less than the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee issued posters of which there was a surplus available for sale after the war. The poster for sale is pure ephemera as it would appear to have been torn down from display either in disgust or as a future collectors item.

But then they would say that, wouldn’t they, what with having a poster to sell.  The truth is, I suspect, somewhere in the middle (isn’t it always).  The image started as a magazine cover, but somehow or other there were a few posters knocking around.  However what did happen – and for me this is the really interesting bit – the image was so powerful that, despite the limited numbers, it became the single image that people remembered when they thought about recruiting posters after the way.  There are a lot of reasons for this, number one being that the walls in 1914 and 1915 were saturated with other images of Lord Kitchener, and also, as the book suggests, the Imperial War Museum got a copy and exhibited heavily just after the war.  So lesson number one is that memories can be influenced after the event and cannot always be relied upon.

But what’s even more fascinating for me is the way that posters generate their own mythology, and quite often we believe things about them that simply aren’t true.  The unravelling of the Kitchener story has a parallel in the story of Keep Calm and Carry On, where, in the same way, the story that everyone believed about the poster representing a classic British stiff upper lip in the face of invasion turned out to be utter confected cobblers.  In fact, the poster arose from the fear that the entire population of Britain was going to have a nervous collapse in the face of any enemy bombing.  It’s just hindsight that gave us another story, just as in the case of Kitchener.

But I digress.  Mind you, it doesn’t matter too much if I do, as even the rest of the sale doesn’t contain much that I can get excited about.  There are lots of World War Two posters as well, and mostly of the variety that involve pictures of guns and tanks, so we will need to look elsewhere for our fun.

I do like all of these Central Office of Information posters very much though, so much so that we already have the middle one hanging on the wall.

Eckersley (Tom 1914-1979) Keep Britain Tidy, original poster printed for COI HMSO by Stafford circa 1955
Tom Eckersley, 1955, est. £100-150

Royston Cooper (1931-1985) Keep Britain Tidy, original poster printed for COI HMSO by J Weiner circa 1955
Royston Cooper, 1955, est. £70-100

Hans Unger (1915-1974) Keep Britain Tidy, original poster printed for COI HMSO by Curwen circa 1955
Hans Unger, 1955, est. £80-120

The dating is from the catalogue, and I’m not entirely sure I agree with it, but don’t have any proof one way or the other.  Anyone else got any thoughts?

I quite like this Frank Newbould, although mostly because I am becoming interested in the Empire Exhibition.

Frank Newbould (1887-1951) Tour the Empire at Wembley, original poster printed for the British Empire Exhibition by Chorley & Pickersgill 1924/5
Frank Newbould, 1925, est.  £400-500

While I like this one for no good reason at all, except that it’s jolly.

Anon Raleigh Coronation Easter Parade, Ad 2829 printed by James Cond circa 1953
Anonymous, 1953, est. £50-60

Elsewhere, there is the usual fare of travel, railway and Shell school posters.

David Gentleman, Ridgeway shell poster for schools
David Gentleman, est £40-60 (three posters)

And, this month, precisely two London Transport posters, both by F Gregory Brown.

F Gregory Brown (1887-1941) Gravesend, original poster printed for LT by Baynard 1937
F Gregory Brown, 1937, est. £300-350

That’s rather good, though, isn’t it?

And finally, there are also cruise posters, where this bit of Orient Line modernism stands out from the rather more traditional crowd.

De Holden Stone Orient Line Cruises To the Mediterranean by Orion Orontes and Orcades, original poster
James de Holden Stone, est. £250-350

I can’t tell you much about James de Holden Stone, except that he was art director for Vogue in 1945 and taught at the Royal College of Art.  As ever, if anyone can add to that, please do.  Not least because I’ve found one thing which means that we’ll be coming back to him quite soon.

 

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Dressing for the beach

With the summer approaching, beachwear is a topic on the minds of many blogs. Fear not, I am going to spare you my opinion on bikini vs swimsuit; in fact this post is more about suit versus swimsuit.  Or, to put things a different way, why we look at so many seaside posters with too much of a modern eye.

Posters like this, for example.

vintage railway Poster `Margate - Britain`s Finest Resort - Go By Train`

For an audience today, seeing this poster from the distance of fifty years or more, what is being advertised is the joy of Margate beach.  And this is true, except that we are missing something very crucial.  These people are being daringly  modern and middle class, not just in their choice of sunglasses but in their entire choice of beach wear.  Because when we take a look at actual people on Margate beach in the 1950s, they look rather different.

Margate beach

Children and teenagers might wear swimming costumes, but everyone else wears clothes, and quite a lot of them too.

This wasn’t a peculiarity of Margate beach either, smart formal was the dress code up and down the country in the 1950s.

Filey beach 1950s

In Filey not even the children got swimsuits it seems.

Now, there are some interesting reasons as to why this might be.  Back in the 1950s, your smartest clothes didn’t automatically equal ‘working clothes’.    Working clothes were grimy, hard-wearing and, well, blue-collar overalls.  So your suit was something that you could relax into, an alternative, a sign that you were no longer at work.  More than that, it was a status symbol which proved that you could afford clothes that went beyond the simply practical.  In some ways, the suit and smart dresses were the sartorial equivalent of the ‘best parlour’ at home: not necessarily the best use of resources and often overly formal, but essential if you wished to be respectable.

Paradoxically, though, the suit on the beach is at the same time a sign of being working class, of not having unlimited means.  Because while it may be telling people that the wearer owns more than just their working clothes, it also indicates that they don’t have the means to afford ‘leisure’ clothing either.  These well-dressed beach goers occupy a very particular place in the British class structure, and their clothes speak of it.

All of which puts a very different slant on posters like these.

Hunstanton British Railways poster 1960

These families are not average, they are modern and aspirational.

And look at this trio, they are so upmarket that they not only have swimsuits but leisure clothes as well.

R M Lander Morecambe British Railways poster

Mind you, Morecambe always fancied itself as an upper-class resort.  Although not so posh that everyone was expected to have a cozzie.

Morecambe anonymous holiday poster family on beach

The family here are quite happy to conform to the cultural norms of the time, although I do think he must be quite hot in that tank top.

In fact, when I start to peer at the 1950s holiday posters, there is more clothes wearing going on than I had expected.

Aberystwyth, BR (WR) poster, 1960. Artwork by Harry Riley.

Poster produced for British Railways (BR) Eastern Region (ER), promoting the Humberside seaside resort of Cleethorpes, showing an aerial view of the town and coastline, overlayed with images of holidaymakers engaged in various activities. Included are children making sandcastles, riding on donkeys and carousel horses, families relaxing in deckchairs, a man playing golf and the winner of a beauty contest. Artwork by Blake. Printed by Jordison & Co Ltd, London & Middlesbrough.

All of which may help us to look at these posters differently, and so it should, but that’s not the half of it.  Because if the swimsuit wearers of the 1950s were middle class and modern.

Glenn Steward Teighnmouth British Railways poster

What does this then make Tom Purvis’s swimsuit wearers of the 1930s?

ÔEast Coast by LNERÕ, LNER poster, 1930s.Poster produced for London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) to promote rail travel to the East Coast of England. The poster sows two women sitting under a large red beach umbrella. Artwork by Tom Purvis (1888-1957), who rallied for the professionalisation of commercial art. In 1930 he was one of the group of artists who founded the Society of Industrial Artists, which campaigned for improved standards of training for commercial artists in order to broaden their scope of employment. He became one of the first Royal Designers for Industry in 1936. Dimensions: 1016 mm x 1270 mm.

Very posh and very modern indeed, that’s what.  They can afford swimwear at a time when, it seems from the photographs, most people went to the beach in their overcoat.

working class seaside

There are, of course, so many signifiers of modernity in a Tom Purvis poster that one could write an entire thesis about them: the love of the outdoors, the new fashion for getting a sun tan, the flat bright colours – I could go on almost indefinitely, and probably will some other day.  Nonetheless I do think the swimming costumes would have been very striking at the time and would have made the poster dramatic and innovative in a way that we simply cannot appreciate today without putting some thought into it.

For me, though, the posters that most benefit from this reappraisal are Fortunino Matania’s posters for Southport, which until now I’ve considered to be rather dull workings out of Art Deco which fetch too much money at auction.

 Cheshire Lines Railway poster. Southport by Fortunino MataniaÕ, railway poster, c 1930s.

Just look at these people.  They have a lido, modern hats, swimming costumes and shorts; they are wearing not enough clothes while outdoors.  In short, they could not be more fashionable, upper class and modern if they swanned up to the swimming pool in a Rolls Royce car.

Of course they’re saving that for the next poster, when they get to the hotel.

Poster produced for the London, Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS) to promote winter travel to Southport, Merseyside. The poster is illustrated with a painting of fashionably dressed women and men leaving the Garrick Theatre in Lord Street. Artwork by Fortunino Matania, who was born in Naples, but from the age of twenty worked in Paris and then in London. King George V (1865-1936) was impressed with Matania's work and invited him to cover his tour of India. 'Southport, For a Holiday In WintertimeÕ, LMS poster, 1925.

Southport, like Morecambe, rather fancied itself as being a cut above some other resorts (not least its near neighbour Blackpool) so Matania wasn’t the only poster designer to dress it up in the costumes of high fashion.  Here’s Alfred Lambart’s take on a very similar theme.

 Liverpool Overhead Railway poster promoting cheap fares via ÔThe Most Interesting RouteÕ. The LOR (1893-1956) became the first electrically-worked elevated railway, the first to use an escalator, automatic signalling and a colour light system. Until its closure in 1956 the line remained independent, even from nationalisation. Artwork by Alfred Lambart.  SouthportÕ, LOR poster, 1923-1947.

You might have thought that trippers from Liverpool might have lowered the exclusive tone somewhat, but then who am I to say?

If you want to judge for yourself, this is what Southport Lido looked like in reality; I think there is actually quite a lot of clothes-wearing going on beyond the front row.

Southport lido in 1930

Further proof of how exciting and different these swimsuit posters would have seemed comes in the form of other posters of a similar period, which were very happy to show beach goers wearing a more normal amount of clothes, at least by inter-war standards.

London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) poster. Artwork by Dame Laura Knight (1877-1970) 'The Yorkshire Coast', LNER poster, 1923-1947.

This one is by Dame Laura Knight, proving that you can be modern even without swimsuits for all.

But this is my total favourite, by Stanislaus Brien.

Poster produced by London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) to promote train services to the East Coast of England. Artwork by Brien. East CoastÕ, LNER poster, 1932.

This is not just on account of the fact that all the adults are fully covered in smart clothes and hats, but also because the beach is full, crammed with families and children and grandparents.  In fact it’s the only poster I’ve ever seen which bears any resemblance to photographs of a day out at the beach between the wars.  And yet it is done in the style of Leger: modern, but clothed and truthful.  And, it has to be said, pretty much unique in the poster record.  I’m not sure it looks that enticing to modern eyes.

But it is our modern eyes that are the problem.  Because just as we fail to see swimsuits as daring and signifiers of the future, we shrink with horror at a crowded beach.  (Why the beaches were so crowded is another story for another day, but one which is intimately connected to the railwayness of railway posters.)  And in doing so, we completely fail to see these posters, both from the 1930s and the 1950s, as they were intended at the time.  Does that matter?  In the end, perhaps not really, especially if you simply want an amusing print to hang on the wall.  But if we do take the time to see what they might have meant in their own time, how much more interesting they become.

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