U-Turn (on the river)

As I am sure many of you will remember, when we debated the subject of reproduction posters, and London Transport reproductions in particular, I said something about how I really wouldn’t want to buy a poster with ‘This is a Reproduction’ stamped all over the bottom.

It turns out that I am wrong, because we’ve just bought two.  Worse than that, we might even frame them.  It’s all down to the quality of the illustrations though, and these are spectacularly great ones by John Burningham.

John Burningham A Day On the River vintage London Transport poster 1965

The originals are both from 1965 and were probably both reprinted in about 1971.  Above is A Day On The River, but I like Winter even better than that.

Winter John Burningham vintage London Transport poster 1965

While I am on the subject of John Burningham, can I also recommend his illustrated and very good autobiography.  Not many artists or designers are able to write so fluently about the process of designing and making, so it is well worth the (slightly coffee-table) price.  From this you can find out that designing posters for London Transport in the early 1960s was his first real leg-up to a career in illustration.   This is his first ever poster, from 1961, courtesy of the London Transport Museum site.

John Burningham Rush Hour vintage London Transport poster 1961

Even though the posters are lovely, I’m still a bit surprised at our volte face.  The only consolation is that we are in illustrious company, as Rennies have a copy of A Day on the River on sale on their website.  Perhaps reproductions are the new vintage poster.  Or perhaps just John Burningham reproductions are.

  • Yes – you can go up to say the Imperial War Museum or the London Transport and get any number of nice reproduction posters, often at under £10, well printed and being smaller than the originals affordably frameable. So why does one feel that such reproductions are in some way naff? After all the original posters especially the wartime ones in particular were often printed on really thin cheap paper and they were never meant as one off art objects. It all flouts the Walter Benjaman ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’ theory doesn’t it?

  • Benjamin must be spinning in his grave with fury. I did wonder about this on the blog a while ago –


    although without coming to many more conclusions than that. Pierre Bourdieu is also quite interesting on the way that the people who he would call the intellectuals and the bourgeoisie extend the definitions of art so that they can own it.


    Although none of those really answer your question entirely. What do you reckon?

  • Having purchased a couple of LT reproduction posters (loudly proclaimed as such at the foot of the image) as ‘rejects’ from you & mrcrownfolio, I have followed this argument with interest. The Bourdieu text is new to me, though. And I think he has the matter in a nutshell (maybe a very large & complicated nutshell …). For me, the guiding principle is the fact that the posters were printed using the original plates & are therefore artwork just as the artist originally intended. But I am also aware of a lurking awareness of the sheer relish involved in ‘going against the flow’ & esteeming something on my own terms, an esteem that I really wouldn’t extend to a photographic reproduction – whatever its size. These latter are art without the necessary craft to make the intention & execution ‘whole’. So, I still get to be snobby about ‘Art’ but I can also afford to put these posters on my wall!

    Speaking of size, though, I strongly suspect (but haven’t yet checked by measuring) that these LT repro prints are just a little bit too large to fit in a DR frame .. its that pesky legend at the foot of the image …

    The Burninghams are quite lovely & I would have been proud to call them my own if I could have afforded to import them! They are something quite special (especially the umbelliferous winter landscape) … & we may never see an original … so, may you have many years of enjoyment of them & never regret your purchase!

    (with apologies for posting twice … got carried away by Bourdieu’s argument …)

  • Liz is right that the reproduction will never look exactly the same owing to the use of different plates, inks, paper etc though the still difference in artistic terms (by which I mean the core image) may not really be of a significant difference I suspect we all fetishise such small details more than we should. In the case of the posters above the reproduction line is so prominent it is arguably almost better than if the poster were pretending to be the original with a discrete line about it being a repro.

    As an aside here is another possible conundrum I have quite a few books with nice illustrations in by the likes of Barbara Jones etc. Taking the books apart and framing the images seems like an act of vandalism and yet scanning them and then printing them on some decent paper which produces rather nice prints seems also ‘wrong’

  • I actually find the ‘This is a Reproduction …” line quite charming. All in the spirit of Art for All, LT is proud to announce it has reproduced its fine posters for the delectation of discerning customers! I dimly recall that posters were available for sale in the days of my London childhood – possibly at Baker Street? That was where the Lost Property repository resided, a facility full of romance in my eyes … lost city gents’ brollies by the dozen, the occasional briefcase stuffed with irreplaceable papers involving national secrets, hats of all shapes & sizes, maybe even the odd exotic – a suffed squirrel or an elephant’s foot umbrella stand …There must have been posters directing people to this cavern of wonders? Surely?

  • Thanks for all the comments, everyone. LIz – I agree, Bourdieu’s description is pretty applicable to how we collect too. I would say that he deserves to be better known, but the book is so big and verbose that he did bring his obscurity on himself a bit. Your summary is also pretty accurate – “So I get to be snobby about art but I can also afford to put these posters on the wall, is pretty much why we got started! And perhaps we should be more Benjamin-esque and appreciate the Reproduction line like you do.

    Sanderson – generally I agree with you about the slightly different quality of a reproduction. In the case of this specific set of LT posters, though, they were produced from the original plates by the same printers, so are closer to a reprint in some ways. There are differences – I did manage to put two of them together a while back to compare:


    But they are still in a very different league to the photographic reproductions on sale in the LT Museum now (and let’s not even think about the stuff on eBay).

    As for the books, I agree. It is wrong, very wrong, but also tempting. And a particular problem with someone like Barbara Jones who didn’t design posters much. I think you just need to find some very battered copies out there somewhere.

    And finally, yes there are lots of lovely LT posters for Lost Property, all here on the LT Museum site.


    We’re lucky enough to have one by Tom Eckersley, but I can’t get photos into the comments, so here it is on their site instead!


  • Thankyou for the link to the wonderful array of Lost Property posters – outside of your own choice, there is definitely an umbrella & elephant theme running there!

    A propos of your U-turn – have you seen this?


    Three cheers! There will be an exhibition of John Burningham’s work at the LT museum this autumn. So, a chance to see those very elusive originals, maybe … and a freshly minted new Burningham poster to wit

  • Three cheers indeed – thanks for flagging that Burningham exhibition up, we will definitely be there over half term!

    And glad you like the lost property ones – I always feel that there must be acres of posters on their site that I haven’t seen yet, it’s just that I haven’t put the right search query in to find them. Perhaps if I try umbrella, or indeed elephant…

  • Half term Burningham-related activities look like tons of fun & I look forward to a possible future blog about it all!

    On the matter of ‘breaking’ books for their plates: a plea to Sanderson to resist temptation & leave your beautiful illustrated books intact – not only is it “wrong, very wrong” (& financially unwise!) to destroy the harmonious marriage of book & plate, but if you later regret it, the damage can never be undone. Irreversible loss.

    I have been thinking off & on recently about this conundrum myself & wonder whether the solution lies in the manner of the book’s display. Have the best of both worlds – keep the book AND see the artwork! Bookseller’s suppliers sell clear acrylic stands for displaying books open at enticing pages, as well as the simpler sort which merely prop up the volume & present the book cover. The Penguin Paperback Spotters’ Guild on Flickr had a discussion on how to display those iconic cover designs – I shall check anon & see if there are any useful links. Another benefit of this approach is the ease ( & economy) of changing the pictorial display at frequent intervals.

    I’ve convinced myself with my argument, anyway!

  • As promised I checked the Penguin Spotters Guild discussion – actually it has little on it, but there are a couple of wall mounted book display options.

    This is a product I’ve not come across before – good for paperbacks & slim sm.8vo hardbacks:


    or, from IKEA, a picture ledge which should work just as well for books:


    This is available in a choice of 3 colours & two shelf lengths – all at modest cost.

    There we are, then. I hope somebody, at least, has found this enlightening!

  • Hrrmph. The Lost Property Office which when I visited c.1999 was stepping back into Edwardian times. And now is like a GP’s surgery. Ugh. Progress for you…

  • Apologies in advance for the length of this post. I tried to make it shorter, but it made even less sense when I did.

    Basically, it’s about post-war poster sales by London Transport, Purchase Tax, and a 3 am theory about the ‘This is a reproduction…” text…

    From Claire Dobbin’s Art for All? essay in London Transport Posters – a century of Art and Design a brief overview of LT poster sales to the general public might be:
    1 – LT sold posters from a shop before WW2;
    2 – The shop was shut, and poster sales stopped during the war, probably because of paper rationing;
    3 – Post war, shop stays shut but LT sells postcards and mounted prints of selected posters;
    4 – In 1950, “as a result of negotiations with the Treasury” LT can sell actual posters to cultural organisations, schools &c, but not individuals;
    5 – In 1964, LT were “permitted” to start selling posters to the public, and the poster shop opened again.

    From a number of order forms left in my dad’s files, I’ve gleaned rather too much information:
    A- In 1951, the posters, prints and postcards were sold by mail or from 91 Petty France (near St James’ Park station). The range of posters was limited – in June 1951 there were 18 LT posters ‘available’, of which 12 were out of print, at 5s plus 6d p&p, and 3 maps – Festival of Britain, Central London, Visitor’s London – at 7/6d.

    B- catalogue listing all the prints (6″x 5″) and postcards (4″ x 6″) available, apparently printed in late 1962 or early 1963, but with a January 1964 supplement, states “We regret that Purchase Tax regulations do not allow the sale of full size London Transport posters to the general public”. Purchase Tax was a variable rate tax started as a war-time attempt to stop people buying luxuries and shift workers into more important industries; as you’d expect with a for-the-duration-only tax, the authorities forgot to stop it (until they replaced with VAT).

    C- Two typewritten lists of posters available, giving 32 and 41 posters (dated 1953 to 1964) respectively, give the price per poster as “10/- including Purchase Tax”. A tiny but properly printed note sandwiched between these two list in the file states:
    “Full size copies of some recent London Transport posters are now available for sale at 10/- each, including purchase tax. Each poster is overprinted with ‘This is a reproduction of a London Transport poster’.
    All new London Transport posters will be available in this form and at this price.”

    D- Going back to the print and postcard catalogue, someone has crossed out the list of organizations who can buy posters, and changed the price per poster from 5s to 10s; I would suggest this was because the catalogue was sent out after LT were “allowed” to sell posters to the public, and before they’d printed a new edition of the print/card catalogue.


    Clearly something in the way Purchase Tax worked meant that the Treasury thought London Transport posters were for the use of London Transport, until the negotiations with the Treasury allowed the limited sales to schools &c. Dobbin says LT was “permitted” sell posters to the public in 1964, not that that they simply decided for themselves; as the price changes from 5/- to 10/- inc including purchase tax, is it not probable that the Treasury was doing the permitting?

    All of which makes me wonder if the annoying “This is a reproduction…” text was something imposed upon LT by the Treasury. If so, it’s a shame they didn’t go for “Purchase Tax Paid” instead. I’m also mildly intrigued by the “Each poster is overprinted with” phrase – if that means that finished posters were defaced to brand them as fit for the public, then some “reproductions” could be first generation originals. Certainly, they seem to be saying that they’re going to sell copies of new posters to the public at the same time as they appear on LT property, just as they did in pre-war.

  • Thank you for all of that – it’s so useful that it deserves to be tackled in a blog post, not an answer on here.

    But I’m not entirely sure that the reproduction wording was imposed by the Treasury – there seemed to be a consensus on here when it was discussed (I’ll find the post at some point) that these were reprints but from the original plates, sold from the old LT museum in Clapham, and mostly done in 1971. If you have a look at the two links at the top of the page, I think most of the info is in those two posts.

  • Yes, but no, but…

    I’ll come back to this when you blog it properly (and, I hope, more concisely), but my point is there appears to be evidence that they were selling posters designed and used by LT in 1964 with an overprinted text in 1964 (as well as some older posters). Not the 1971 thing at all.

    And, now it’s not 3am I see that LT could have chosen the overprint out of some strange malignancy or a fear that people would mistake their friends living rooms for underground stations if they saw a standard LT poster. I’d prefer to blame the Treasury on principle, though.

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