Life (and design) During Wartime

Just because posters were produced at a time when some of the very best designers were working, it doesn’t mean that they were all great design, or even interesting.  This thought was brought on by a collection of posters on sale in Lewes next week.

The idea – 20 lots of wartime and post-war HMSO posters – sounds wonderful.  The reality is, sadly, rather less appealing.  The vast majority of the posters are pictures of tanks, aeroplanes or people fighting.  Dramatic, probably effective, but not for me.  Even the home front ones are anonymous, and more social history than art:

Let Your Shopping Help Our Shipping vintage WW2 poster (lot 591)

There are a collection of H.M. Batemans as well,

Don't be Fuelish vintage WW2 poster (lot 599)

But to my mind, the best posters are a set of anonymous recruiting posters for the ATS, which I’ve never seen before.

vintage WW2 ATS recruiting poster (lot 606)

which are a rather nice mix of photomontage and snappy type.  If anyone has any info on the designer, do let me know; even the Imperial War Museum have them down as anonymous.

vintage WW2 ATS recruiting poster

But I still don’t even like these enough to go to the trouble of putting an absentee bid in and then, somehow, getting them transported from Lewes to Crownfolio HQ.

However, they’re still a salutary reminder about the quality of graphic design in the war vs the quantity.  I, certainly, have a tendency to imagine a bombed-out London plastered with one beautiful poster after another, all the work of Abram Games, Lewitt-Him or James Fitton.  The reality, however, probably looked nothing like that, and most walls were covered with exhortations, pictures of planes, speeches from Churchill and rather average illustrations.  The ones we cherish now were the exception, not the rule.

Still, some of them were great.  In the course of researching the auction lots, I came across this, a Henrion I’d never seen before.

Henrion artists and russia ww2 vintage poster

Now if that comes up for auction, even in the Orkneys, I’ll be making a serious bid.

  • One of the ATS posters coming up for sale next week (the motorcycle messenger) is by Beverley Pick. I don’t know if this applies to all of the ATS posters.

  • Ah, thank you, I will do some investigating. Do you know much about Beverley Pick – anything will be more than I do, despite owning at least 3 posters.

  • Not much – I think she did some London Transport designs after the war. I have an original ATS poster (the one mentioned above) and it has Pick’s name on it – that’s the sum of my knowledge I’m afraid!

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