Inequalities

I know that it’s been said before on here, but it’s a thought that’s worth repeating.  Not all old posters are nice.  Not all of them are examples of great graphic design either.  Some of them are, quite frankly, mediocre.

Book Early and Go northwestern

I’ve been reminded of this truth by a lot of coach posters which has just come up in an auction (the auction itself was today, but I’m not suggesting that you’d want to buy them).  They are described as:

Approx. 20 various posters, mainly for coach tours to UK seaside and city destinations (Blackpool, London, Glasgow). All with wear – staining, torn edges and corners, to varying degrees. Approx. average size 29” x 20 ½”

But none of them are the usual suspects.  There’s no Daphne Paddens here, nor anything by Harry Stevens or Studio Seven either.

London coach poster north western midland red

In part I think that this is because a good number of these posters are actually pre-war.

Kendal poster archer ribble coaches

Southport Coach poster North Western Coaches 1930s

But even the ones that might date to post 1945 aren’t the same as the ones we are used to seeing.

Bridlington Coach poster North Western Coaches

They’re produced by northern coach companies to start with.

Yellow coaches map poster

Almost all the posters that I like and which get sold at auction and on eBay are, it’s worth noting, for more southerly companies.

Harry Stevens vintage east anglia coach poster 1950s

Now I have a theory about this – which has to remain a theory for the moment because I can’t face the prospect of researching the histories of various bus companies and their takeovers.  I think that the good quality coach posters are an aberration rather than the norm, because they were all the work of one bus company, and that’s Tillings.

They were a huge conglomerate, who ran a vast number of local bus and coach companies in the years before and after the Second World War.  (Can I just say that I’ve had to look up several bus history pages in order to make that statement, including one which invited me to listen to a man singing a song about Eastern Counties buses, so I’m already well out of my comfort zone here).  The posters I like – so the Paddens and the Stevens and so on – are, I am pretty sure, all produced for Tillings companies.

Lovely Royal Blue Daphne Padden coach poster

So it’s not that coach posters tend to be good design.  It’s Tillings’ coach posters that were good.  I like to imagine them being commissioned by some unknown coach guru, equivalent to Frank Pick at LT, or Jack Beddington at Shell, but who has, sadly, disappeared from history.

Meanwhile, in other, Northern, coach companies, the same standards of taste were not being applied.

594

All of which proves, once again, that we have to apply a lot of critical thought to the posters that we’re presented with in archives (and, frankly, by blogs like this).  They are sifted and sifted again: by what happens to survive, by what people decide is worth keeping, by what gets photographed and digitised, and by what ‘curators’ like me decide to show.  But that isn’t the whole picture, by quite a long chalk, and whenever something marginalised like this comes up, we should pay close attention.

Oh, and while I’ve been writing this blog post today, the auction has been and gone.  So I can now tell you that the posters fetched, £320, well over the estimate of £150-200.  Which also goes to show that taste is a very variable thing.

You can be sure of Australia

I learned something new the other day.  Which is that the Shell Educational Posters – which I mention on here so often that I can’t be doing with chasing up all the links – aren’t just a British phenomenon.

The University of Melbourne have just digitised their Shell archive and a lot of the most visual artefacts are viewable online.  That includes these.

Shell Australia educational poster R Malcolm Warner 1959 Ayers Rock

And what they turn out to be are Shell posters about Australia.

They’re not exactly like the UK ones, because the dimensions are rather different (to me they look more like magazine ads than posters, but they are catalogued as posters so posters they must be).  But the layout, the typeface and the whole organising principles are the same.

Shell South Australia Wildflowers Poster R Malcolm Warner 1959

They aren’t just confined to wildflowers, either.  There are also a set of Australian birds.

Shell Educational poster birds of Western Australia R Malcolm Warner

Along with, naturally, shells and other such underwater things.

Shell Educational Poster R Malcolm Warner 1959 shells

They’re all by R. Malcolm Warner, about whom I know very little except that he was an Australian war artist.  But stylistically, his work sits very well with the British pictures from similar series.

What’s particularly nice about the archive is that some of the ancillary material has been collected as well.  So we know that some of the illustrations were used on Shell road maps.

Shell Road Maps australia 1950s

As well as some kind of collectible cards.

Collect Shell Australia cards wildflowers

And that’s about all I have to say about them really; this post is mostly to express my amazement and surprise that these examples from the other side of the world exist at all.

You can look at the full selection on the University of Melbourne’s website, although be warned, the interface is a bit idiosyncratic.

And many thanks to Kiara King, who pointed me via Twitter to the University’s blog, and hence on to the whole collection.

Done

Well I went up Leeds at the end of last week, to give a talk at the Marks and Spencer archive about Daphne Padden.

This was a lot of fun, even if I’m not entirely sure that I fulfilled the alleged title of the talk, which was about Daphne Padden and design in the 1960s and 1970s.

Daphne Padden Marks and Spencers Christmas cake design

I did cover Daphne Padden’s work for Marks and Spencers, but that didn’t take very long at all, because we don’t really know very much about it.  Which isn’t just me not trying very hard, but between me knowing about Daphne Padden and the archive knowing all about M&S, there still isn’t very much information out there at all.

Daphne Padden M&S angel sandwich design and finished

And that, in the end, was one of the main themes of the talk: just how little we know about designers and design of this period, despite all the best intentions of archives, academics and people like me.  Served with a large dose of my general thoughts on archives, not knowing things and why coach posters are brilliant, most of which will be familiar to any regular reader of this blog

Daphne Padden Royal Blue vintage coach poster sailor 1957

 

I was considering posting the talk on here, but that’s before I delivered it and realised that it was a rambling and somewhat opionated mess that probably wouldn’t play that well without the facial expressions and apologies.

But I did meet lots of lovely audience people there too, who asked interesting questions, so I’m happy to answer any questions on here if anyone wants.  Although be warned in advance, quite a few of the answers tend to be, we just don’t know.

 

 

Talking yoghurt

Apologies for the gap in transmissions, real life has a way of interfering sometimes.

This is just a quick post to remind you all that I will be speaking at the Marks and Spencers archive next month, on April 24th, about Daphne Padden’s career and her work for M&S, with particular reference to this yoghurt pot.

Daphne Padden Yoghurt pot design for Marks and Spencer

And whatever else comes into my head at the time, I don’t doubt.

Full details here, and please do come and say hello if you are there.  The yoghurt pot will also be making a personal appearance.

Be really cool, man, archive

The recent announcement from the British Postal Museum and Archive announcing that they have upgraded their online catalogue may not have been the most retweeted 140 characters in the history of Twitter.  But the news is actually quite exciting.

On an entirely practical level the images are now larger than a postage stamp. The particular joy of this is that I can now get a proper look at the van posters, which are some of my favourite things in the world.

henrion-reindeer-long

I wonder if any of these have survived outside of the BPMA’s collections?  I’ve never come across one out in the wild.

1951 Alick Knight post early robin poster GPO

More than that, a whole lot of new material also seems to have been catalogued for the first time.  I had no idea that Barbara Jones had ever designed a poster for the GPO, but the evidence is there in full colour.

Barbara Jones GPO poster mermaid inland postcards

It’s from 1956, since you ask.

In addition, for the first time the catalogue now includes some Post Office Savings Bank posters.  This is clearly still a work in progress as, currently, there’s nothing in there by Daphne Padden and she did some of her best work for the POSB.

Daphne Padden post office savings bank poster with rabbits and owl.

What is in there, though, when you search for POSB posters, is a lot of work by Stan Krol, quite a bit of which I’ve never seen before.

Stan Krol post office savings bank poster 1960 guitar

With both posters and artwork included.

Stan Krol eureka gpo poster artwork 1960

All of which is a salutary reminder.   It’s not just that archives themselves are important, but also the way they are arranged and made accessible.  Because both of these things can change the way we think about the past.

Let’s just start with the contents.  A couple of years ago, I wrote about Stan Krol, saying that I couldn’t find out that much about the man or his output.  Obviously, pages of Stan Krol posters in the BPMA catalogue rather changes things.

stan krol telephonists job artwork GPO 1951

Morever, in the new, exciting BPMA catalogue, the results also come up differently.  Back in the day, the archive used to sort the results, so that the artwork would come up first, then the posters.  So I would skip through the artwork, and just look at the posters instead.

1968 Tom Eckersley detector van van poster

But now the two come up intermingled, which means that I don’t miss items like this Tom Eckersley internal poster, which shows as artwork but not as finished poster.

Tom Eckersley GPO internal poster mailbags 1950

All of which will, I am sure, make other differences to the way I think as well, even if I I don’t entirely know what the results will be yet.  Watch this space.

The biggest change of all, of course, is just the fact that online archives exist in the first place.  This blog, and I’m sure much else besides, simply wouldn’t exist without them.

GPO Gay Christmas van poster

If I had to travel from London to York and all points in between simply to see posters, it’s just not going to happen without a private income or a job that is prepared to pay for me to do it.  Neither of which things exist.  So online archives enable me, and many many other people, to think more widely and to see more points of reference.  But there is another more subtle benefit too, which is that they also allow people like me to choose.

Prior to this, the only way I would have been able to see any GPO posters would have been either in auction catalogues, or in books.  In each case, the posters would have been pre-selected.  But give me an archive and a computer, and I am at liberty to decide which items I find interesting.  So, perhaps, I am less likely to fall in with the accepted canon of ‘good’ posters as a result, and history ends up being written slightly differently.  Which is clearly a good thing.

Schlegel export drive gpo poster 1950

So hurrah for the lovely new BPMA catalogue and archives in general.

Games Giant postcards van poster 1961

But wonderful as all of this is, we mustn’t let this blind us to the fact that not everything is archived.  This may sound like a truism but it’s actually a really important point, and it’s something I think about a lot in connection with Daphne Padden.

Daphne Padden POSB poster knight

Her work has been massively under-recognised over the years, and her profile still isn’t as high as it should be.  Now there were plenty of reasons for this – and being a woman working on the outskirts of London must have played a considerable part.  But a big part of it has to be because she just worked for the wrong people.

Daphne Padden lytham st Annes British Railway poster

Railway posters were sold and collected when they were produced, and nowadays they are traded at auction, reproduced in books and as fridge magnets, and kept in a socking great archive in York (now there’s an interface that could still do with taking a long hard look at itself).  But she only ever did a few of those.

Daphne Padden isle of Man BRitish railways poster

Instead her main customer were the coach companies.  And where is the coach archive, I hear you ask?  Well exactly.

Daphne Padden Royal Blue vintage coach poster sailor 1957

There isn’t a collection of these anywhere; hardly any survive and it’s possible that the most comprehensive selection (now that the Malcolm Guest collection got sold) is in our spare room.  Which is ridiculous.

Coach tour rabbits Daphne padden coach poster

And because my spare room doesn’t have an archivist or – more to the point – doesn’t actually contain more than a couple of dozen coach posters when hundreds were produced, people don’t know about these designs.  So they don’t get reproduced in books, or as fridge magnets, and in the end they disappear from view.

Daphne Padden Southend coach poster

Along with the designers, like Daphne Padden, who produced them.

Spring coach poster Daphne Padden

So while we can have a lot of fun with the archives that are there, it’s always worth using them with half a mind to the ones that don’t exist.

Postal Art

There is more to life than auctions. as proved by what Mr Crownfolio found on his internet wanderings recently.

GPO Art

What that link takes you to is a short Pathe film about, amazingly, the poster art of the GPO, dating from 1959.  Which means that you get treated to things like this Ruskin Spear.

Ruskin spear postman painting for GPO poster from pathe newsreal

This is the original, sitting on the walls of the GPO Head Office, where you can also find this rather lovely view of Iwerne Minster by John Minton as well.

John Minton painting of Iwerne Minster for GPO poster design on Pathe newsreel

But don’t worry, as the very period commentary will tell you, if you want to see art works like this without travelling to London, just pop into your local Post Office where these posters will be on display.

GPO posters on display from pathe newsreel 1959

The featured set of posters, mostly done by ‘arty’ artists, were apparently intended to give the viewer an awareness of place, which would in turn lead them to address their letters in the correct fashion.  Apparently.

But that’s not all there is on offer, the film also features the range of Greetings Telegrams which the GPO now offers, and it’s possible to play the game of Spot-the-Barbara-Jones-birdie (posted before here if you want a closer look).

Mixed GPO greetings telegrams from Pathe film including Barbara Jones

Sadly, the designer that they choose to feature isn’t Ms Jones herself, but one Shirley Thompson.  She’s shown working with F.B. Savage, head of the design department, on a Valentine’s Telegram.  But oh, just look at that office.

GPO art office from pathe film

I’d happily take anything they’ve got in there.  Frustratingly, though I can’t quite work out what they’ve got tucked down the side of the desk there.  It ought by rights to be one of these.

Tom Eckersley cat ornament poster GPO pack parcels carefully

Tom Eckersley toby jug please pack parcesl carefully GPO poster

Except neither of them quite match.  Is it a first draft?  Or is it something else altogther?  I can’t find anything more likely in the BPMA catalogue so if anyone can provide a positive identification, please do.

This film is by no means the end of things either, I can see just from its own page that there is another short film entitled ARP Posters.

Early ARP poster woman from Pathe newsreel

 

It’s a soundless set of rushes, just showing a set of early ARP posters in various ways.  But it’s valuable nonetheless.  I’ve never seen some of these posters before.

ARP egg timer poster from Pathe newsreel

 

I wonder what else lurks within their archives, waiting to be discovered?