You Can Be Sure of Shell

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 original illustration for shell county guide
S R Badmin, Derbyshire

Rowland Hilder Kent illustration for Shell County Guide
Rowland Hilder, Kent

Ian Henderson, Worcester illustration Shell County Guide
Ian Henderson, Worcestershire

Richard Eurich, Cornwall illustration Shell County Guides
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).

S R Badmin trees and shrubs February original shell poster illustration

S R Badmin shell poster illustration trees and shrubs september

Although Tristram Hillier’s Fossils also went for £14,100, but that’s because it’s genius.

Tristram Hillier Fossils shell educational poster illustration

While David Gentleman’s Roads series (which I love almost the best) went for hardly anything.

David Gentleman Ridgeway shell poster llustration

David Gentleman Ermine Street Shell poster illustration

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 shell County guide poster illustration
Rowland Hilder, Sussex

to some that I never knew existed.

David Conner Rousham Court shell illustration
David Conner, Rousham Court

It should have been a book.  But at least it is still out there on the web.

  • I am so glad somebody remembers. It is still as clear as day to me. Yes, I am still around, and after the ‘Shell Guide to Worcestershire’ (1964), I won second prize in the ‘Shell’ (National) poster competition (1965)—but where those posters now are is anyone’s guess? I now live and paint in New South Wales ‘high country’ in Australia, and my paintings can be found on my web site at It would be great is ‘Shell’ re-commissioned a few of us oldies to do some more cover designs. (I have, by the way, the book of Shell County Guides dated circa 1965.) Do you remember when County Guides were sold in UK garages for 1/-. Gee…. I’m old! Ian Henderson DCA

  • I like your comment ref. David Gentleman’s Roads series – “Why pay for tarmac?” It was for precisely this reason that I did not bid for his Bath Road. However I am the happy owner of his Berkshire Ridgeway!

  • You are very lucky, and I can only wish that I had even thought about collecting this kind of thing in 2002.

  • I’ve come across your blog whilst researching a couple of poster prints that I’ve just bought – Shell guide to the roads of Britain – Sewstern Lane and the Berkshire Ridgeway. Intersting to note that the Sewstern Lane (Leicestershire) doesn’t appear in the 2002 Sotheby’s catalogue. The posters are visible on the Henry Sotheran website.

  • They’re both very lovely – and yes, not everything was included in that sale and I don’t know why. I wonder where that one is.

  • Hi there -are these prices for prints of the original artwork of for the paintings?? Thank you!

  • Yes, those are the prices that the original artworks went for, although more than ten years ago and I suspect that if the sale was run again today, the values would be a lot higher.

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