Bracket Semaphore Signal

I’ve said it before, but there are too many auctions around right now.  And another day brings another catalogue in the post, this time for Talisman Railwayana Auctions.

This pre-war Ralph Mott poster is for me, the nicest piece in it.

Ralph Mott GWR factory sites poster

That’s a rather good, and unusual, bit of modernist design used for a splendidly appropriate theme.  Roll out the gleaming new factories and let us hurtle into the technical future along gleaming railway lines.

There are, though, other ways of looking at it.

Dramatic artwork of a modern factory building by Ralph Mott with ‘King’ and Pannier tank steam locos and a bracket semaphore signal.

That’s the catalogue speaking.  Truly we are in the world of railwayana here.  There probably is a bracket semaphore signal itself in the catalogue somewhere; there’s certainly nearly everything else you’d need to build a railway.

There are also some posters too, but you’ll mostly have look yourselves, because all the catalogue pictures are like this:

Talisman illustration 1

Apart from the booking office grill and the bottle of commemorative railway champagne, there’s also a rather nice Pembrokeshire poster top right.  However, I don’t have the time or energy needed to find each poster as an individual image, so I’m not going to talk about them.  But they are there.  Although, once again, without any form of estimate at all.  I am almost getting used to this as normal for railwayana auctions, even though I am sure it makes me less likely to bid if I have no idea at all what they are expecting.  However, this catalogue introduces an additional twist, because telephone bidding is offered in the auction, but only for lots estimated at £250 or more.  So there is an estimate out there, somewhere, it’s just that they don’t want to tell us.  Sigh.

Rather than rack my brains over any of that, I thought I’d look for the collected works of Ralph Mott instead. And Mr Mott turns out to be rather good; operating on the borderline between modernism and deco in the years leading up to WW2.

Earlier Holidays Ralph Mott GWR

Ralph Mott North Stafford Hotel image of geniu

I like that hotel one very much indeed.  Even better is this, for the Lancashire Industrial Development Council and the Travel association.

Ralph Mott lancashire poster

I’m unsure whether they want me to holiday in Lancashire or build a factory there, but it’s still stunning.  Ralph Mott is also responsible for one of the iconic railway images of the time.  If you like trains, that is.

Ralph Mott speed to the west GWR image artwork

He even diversifies into a more romantic style at times, particularly where abroad is concerned.

Ralph Mott continent poster

Ralph Mott the continent two

But there is a twist in the tale.  Because even though several reputable sites, including Christies, give Mott’s dates as 1888-1959, he never actually existed as a person.

What did exist was the artists’ agency of Ralph & Mott, who worked for all manner of people including railway companies and magazine publishers, and who used the pseudonym of Ralph Mott for some of their best designs and posters.

What’s even more interesting, is the discovery that Reginald Montague Lander was their studio manager, and one of the designers.  This 1935 advertising brochure (it is a brochure advertising advertising itself, if that makes sense) seems to suggest that it is Mr Ralph and Mr Mott who do most of the work though.

Ralph Mott from advertising brochure

Ralph Mott spread 2 advertising brochure

Apologies for breaking up the double page spread, but the book is too big for the scanner.

I’d need to take a proper look at the dates, but it looks as though the Ralph & Mott agency did most of their work before World War Two – this 1950 poster is the only exception I can find.

Ralph Mott parties of eight vintage railway poster

Perhaps they never really managed to get back to their previous pre-eminence after the war.  This would also fit with the fact that the vast majority of Lander’s signed work is post-war (the NMSI site says that he worked for them 1930-39).  But then there’s this GWR poster which he did sign.

R M Lander vintage GWR poster Ross on Wye

There’s more research to be done here, not just on the dates but also the question of which other artists worked for the studio.  And I am slightly hoping that someone else has done all of it already.  Does anyone have any leads?

  • That’s rather fine, isn’t it – they/he/it seem to have done quite a few covers but I hadn’t seen many of them about. Although I’ll probably end up with a collection before I know it…

  • Yes, I have that advertising brochure with the Ralph Mott ad. It is interesting as it shows so many examples of their work. One it doesn’t show – you may be surprised to know – is the 1933 LMS Midland Hotel (Morecambe) poster.
    According to an article in an advertising journal from the 1930s – this poster was designed by Ralph Mott!
    It is sometimes (incorrectly in my view) compared to the work of McKnight Kauffer. He (McKK) was, however, commissioned, by the Midland Hotel architect Oliver Hill, to produced two posters of the Midland Hotel. But it appears that this commission was not followed through.

  • That’s really interesting, as if I’ve ever seen it attributed, I think it’s been to Oliver Hill himself. And it also makes complete sense stylistically too; it fits so well with the posters above, especially the Stoke Hotel one. (The more I look at that one, the stranger I think it is. Imagine advertising a hotel now with a diagram of a piece of industrial machinery…)

  • Alan Bennett in May 2014 issue of Backtrack refers to the work of the Ralph Mott Studio and reproduces some of their images produced for the Great Western Railway in 1935.

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