Swiss eye

I’ve mentioned Poster-Auctioneer before in passing – they’re a specialist poster auction house in Switzerland.  And until now I thought they only sold Swiss posters (for Swiss people, etc).  But either I hadn’t looked at their website properly, or they’ve expanded it, because now they have a poster shop with plenty of things for immediate sale.

There are still lots of posters of mountains, skiing and cheese, naturally, but a rather useful search function lets you filter out posters by subject.  And should you select Public Suburban Traffic, you’ll come across something rather interesting, a set of more than forty pre-war London Transport posters.

Hampton Court vintage london transport photographic poster 1938 Kew Gardens vintage London Transport poster photographic 1938
Anonymous, 1938, €120 each

What makes them interesting is that what’s on offer here isn’t a collection of  the usual suspects.  Instead, these look like the pre-war output of London Transport selected with what I can only describe as a Swiss eye, one which is much more interested in photography and type than illustration or whimsy.

It's a pleasure vintage london Transport photographic poster 1938
Anonymous, 1938, €120

The result is a very different version of London Transport’s output.  There are plenty of posters here I’ve never seen before, even though each and every one of them is represented in the London Transport Museum Collection.

Summer Chicken vintage London Transport photographic poster 1938
Anonymous, 1938, €90

While others only crop up very rarely.

Maurice Beck Staff Insurance vintage London Transport poster 1931
Maurice Beck, 1931, €120

The Petrol Tax poster from this set did come up for sale at the Swann Galleries earlier this year, but Poster-Auctioneer have all three on offer.

There are also some interesting designers represented, like Richard Beck, with both halves of this pair poster up for sale.

Richard Beck vintage London Transport poster Richard Beck vintage London transport poster
Richard Beck, 1938, €230 each

Even better are these two posters by Milner Gray.  These seem to be the only two posters he ever designed for London Transport, and both are being offered by Poster Auctioneer.

Milner Gray shopping hours vintage London Transport Poster, 1938 Shop Early vintage London Transport poster 1938 Milner Gray
Milner Gray, 1938, €120 each

Now the sharp-eyed of you will have noticed that the vast majority of these posters date from 1938.  I can’t actually explain this, but I do have a vision of a Swiss designer coming over to Britain just before the war, and spending quite a lot of money at the London Transport Shop before he returned home.

Beath Timber exhibition vintage London Transport poster 1937
Beath, 1937, €180

But however this collection came together, it’s an interesting proof of the fact that you find what you are looking for.  A British designer or design historian would argue that, even in London Transport, British modernism never quite happened.  But to a Swiss eye, out and about in the capital in 1938, it was very much there, and he carried the proof back with him.

Eckersley Lombers Geolological museum 1938 vintage London Transport poster
Eckersley Lombers, 1938, €120

This also makes the date even more intriguing.  Perhaps a form of continental modernism was about to flower in Britain, only to be cut short by the war?  It’s unprovable, but these posters certainly make the idea seem possible.

Of course, the collection is also not quite as didactic and tidy as I am making it seem.  In addition to the photographic and typographical posters, there are also some pair posters from after the war, which are much more romantic.  I particularly like this John Wood pair poster from 1950.

John Wood Vintage London Transport Pair poster churches 1950
John Wood, 1950, €250

There’s more flamboyance than that too if you want it.

Denys Nichols vintage London transport pair poster 1950
Denys Nichols, 1950, €240

Another shopping trip perhaps, a recognition that the world had changed after the war.  Or perhaps the modernism had all but disappeared from the walls of the Underground.  We’ll never know.  But I’m very grateful to whoever did put together this collection of posters, because it’s allowed me to see British design in the late 1930s from the outside – and from a very different point of view.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *