The importance of being dull

Still the auctions keep coming at us.  Although today’s first offering is a bit left field, as Lawrence’s of Bletchingly have a really quite massive set of World War Two Propaganda posters on offer in their next sale.  But it’s a set of posters I rather like, mainly because they are very, very dull.

Take the one on the left, here.  This is about strikes in the mining industry, which were a real problem during the war.

World war two propaganda poster illegal stoppages men wanted for stretcher parties

I doubt that would ever get illustrated, except perhaps in a fairly detailed book about the mining industry during World War Two.  And that’s if they ever found a copy – it doesn’t seem to be in the IWM collections, certainly not in the digitised set anyway.  And so it’s dull, but it’s actually quite important.

Sometimes it still boggles me that there is no complete record of what posters were produced during the war (I mean, what’s their excuse?) and, more than that, we still don’t really have any idea.  So posters like this can just pop up and, perhaps, be seen for the first time since 1945.  And so this poster may be dull, but it’s also important.

There are plenty more where that came from too.

Quicker Turnaround World War Two propaganda poster

This one isn’t in the IWM digitised collections either, but there are six copies in this auction.

The story of how they survived is as follows (with thanks to Lawrences for being so helpful).

The posterswere discovered in a chest of drawers which had been kept in a garage.  Surprisingly they have survived on the whole in very good condition, although many do show signs of age and some appear to have been displayed at the time of the war.  There are also many which have not been used and we can only guess were surplus to requirements.  Two envelopes and some labels are visible within the collection and are addressed to HM Inspector of Taxes, Hendon.  I should imagine that the collection had not seen the light of day for nearly 70 years.

From the selection offered, I am guessing that Mr Inspector of Taxes was an air raid warden, as a lot of the posters relate to that.

Strip posters what to do in an air raid, world war two propaganda

And I think we can see some official document here.

eyes poster and official ARP documentation

But he clearly got sent a lot of other stuff too, as what’s on offer covers a huge range from the run-up to the war, through to the war itself and then the financial aftermath as well.

Fill the Ships to Fill the shops World War Two propaganda poster

There is only one poster that I would buy on aesthetic grounds, which is this classic Lewitt-Him.

Lewitt Him Shanks Pony Walk Short Distances poster world war two

Unlike most of the others, it has an estimate, in this case a fairly reasonable £100-200.   Although it is in the slightly more lurid (and if I am remembering rightly, later) colour way and version, which I have to say I like less.

Lewitt Him Shanks Pony Walk Short Distances poster world war two

But that’s not the star turn.  Because what else was in the drawer, but this?

Keep Calm and Carry On poster

And not once, but six times.  Each now with an estimate of £400-600.

I have to say though, that I can’t really see the point of buying an original of these, unless you are a museum.  Because restored, framed and on the wall, everyone is just going to assume that you’ve bought a reprint.  And I can’t see the satisfaction of knowing that you have an original being worth several hundred quid.  Although this is mainly because I can’t really see the point of buying it at all.

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3 Comments

  1. martin steenson
    Posted June 10, 2014 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

    Well somebody paid £15,000 for a copy at Christies a few weeks ago!

  2. James
    Posted June 11, 2014 at 10:05 am | Permalink

    “Because restored, framed and on the wall, everyone is just going to assume that you’ve bought a reprint. ”

    Errr doesn’t this apply to *any* poster?! What’s the point of collecting old posters when you can get nice new, clean copies that don’t require restoration?

  3. crownfolio
    Posted June 11, 2014 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    Yes, it will be interesting to see what these do go for – although the increasing number of discoveries must dilute the market a bit. And of course everything I say is of course filtered through my own personal opinion that it’s a daft thing to buy.

    So yes, the reproduction problem is there for every poster (although I have to say that with a few of ours they are the only ones I have ever seen anywhere, including in museums). It’s just that with Keep Calm the ratio of reproductions to originals must be thousands if not millions to one, so the assumption is going to be there just a little bit more…

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