The relationship between archives and the internet is not always a one way street. What gets most discussion is how, and whether, archives are putting their catalogues and content on line. But in the meantime, the internet itself is also becoming the archive.
Here’s a fascinating example. It’s something I’ve touched on before, but it’s such an extraordinary (and well-hidden) resource that it deserves its own post.
Way, way down in the bowels of the Sothebys website, their catalogues now go backfor more than 10 years. And so they include the 2002 sale of many of the original paintings commissioned by Shell for its post-war educational posters.
Now, this isn’t your typical poster sale. To start with, Shell didn’t really commission the usual run of poster artists for their educational posters, the people concerned are mostly illustrators. Some of the finest illustrators working in the 1950s and 60s, to be precise, like David Gentleman, S R Badmin, Tristram Hillier and Rowland Hilder.
Perhaps the best-known illustrations for sale were the images of individual counties, which were covers for the Shell Guides as well as centre-pieces for the associated posters.
S R Badmin, Derbyshire
Rowland Hilder, Kent
Richard Eurich, Cornwall
I don’t think I’ve ever come across the Worcestershire one before (and I would have noticed it if I had, not only is it a great piece of design, but Worcester is where the Crownfolio family came from, back in the day). The Eurich, meanwhile, was the most expensive of the county illustrations, going for a quite spectacular £12,925.
But detailed illustration did seem to be what the buyers wanted most. The highest-prices went to the S R Badmin images of trees through the year. Here’s February (£14,100) and September (£10,340).
Although Tristram Hillier’s Fossils also went for £14,100, but that’s because it’s genius.
While David Gentleman’s Roads series (which I love almost the best) went for hardly anything.
And why Ermine Street fetched £3,290 while the Ridgeway fetched only £999, I will never understand. Why pay more for tarmac?
But to some degree, the prices aren’t the most interesting thing about the auction. What I like most about the archive is that it is there at all. Here, for the last time, all of Shell’s illustrations are gathered together, from the famous ones,
Rowland Hilder, Sussex
to some that I never knew existed.
David Conner, Rousham Court
It should have been a book. But at least it is still out there on the web.