Getting the measure

I got somewhat over-excited towards the end of last week, when Mr Crownfolio pointed out this in a forthcoming auction.

Paul Nash 1960s reprint of rye marshes shell poster

Clearly this is a framed Paul Nash Shell poster of Rye Marches, and the reason I was getting into such a tizzy about it was that it had turned up at an automobile auction near Chippenham, with a valuation of just £80-120, and with a seeming mis-dating to the 1960s.

Now given that these posters usually go for several hundreds of pounds, sometimes thousands, I thought that this might be our only chance to buy one, so I started eyeing up the Crownfolio savings (still currently earmarked for things like doors and carpets) with a view to bidding on both that, and the Ben Nicholson which was accompanying it in the sale.

Ben Nicholson guardsman poster shell 1960s reprint

It seemed – almost – plausible that an auctioneer who specialised in cars might get this wrong, even if we might have been outbid at the actual sale itself.  (The internet is, after all a double-edged sword; it allows us to find things in obscure auctions, but it also lets every other blighter find them too.)

But then I took a closer look at the listings.  And it turned out that the auctioneers were right after all, curse them.

These aren’t 1930s posters at all, they are much later reprints.  How could I tell?  From the measurements.  A ‘proper’ Shell poster has dimensions of 30″ x 45″, their own rather unique size meant to fit the side of a lorry.  But the posters on sale here are 20″ x 30″.  So there is no way that they can be the real thing.

At which point I calmed down.  But it did make me realise how often Mr Crownfolio and I use the measurements as a way of judging when we’re considering posters, and I thought that this was something worth pointing out on here.

This probably isn’t a new idea to most of you, and of course there are lots of other ways of evaluating a poster when it’s there on paper and can be examined properly.  But should an apparent bargain turn up at a far-flung auction, or appear on eBay, the size can be a very big clue as to whether this is the bargain of all time or a great big flapping turkey of the first order.

Of course, we’ve nonetheless still bought a few turkeys in our time (at least one of which has been a reprinted World War Two poster), but I think that probably goes with the territory of buying from eBay.  Sadly Mr Crownfolio and I both have the amnesia caused by acute embarrassment, and can’t remember the details.  Sorry about that; maybe I’ll go and dig it out one day and you can all laugh at us.

That said though, if you do want to look at the Paul Nash or the Ben Nicholson on your wall, and you’d like it to take up a bit less space than normal, then there will be a couple of bargains going at Castle Combe later this week.  Just as long as you know what you’re getting.


There’s a certain amount of urgency to this post as the next Bloomsbury poster auction is tomorrow (Tuesday).  I do wish I could get a bit more excited about the Bloomsbury Auctions, I really do, as they really ought to be the missing piece of the jigsaw, the auctions which hoover up all the lower-priced pieces of good design which Christies no longer deign to touch.  But somehow, it just doesn’t quite work.

Nonetheless, shall  we get stuck in and see what we can turn up?  Perhaps we should begin with this post-war Shell poster, seeing as I was over in that direction this weekend.

HOOPER, George (1910-1994) YOU CAN BE SURE OF SHELL, Kintbury, Berks  lithographic poster post-war
George Hooper, est £200-300

It’s rather hard to decide where to go next, in part because the poster part of the auction (there are film posters first, but I’m ignoring those) is arranged in alphabetical order of artists.  Which is I admit entirely logical, but does make it hard to construct any kind of narrative out of the whole thing beyond saying that there are posters.   Mind you, I think that if this selection of stuff was arranged in almost any order, it would still feel scattergun, it’s just that kind of sale.

So, here is a poster I like for no good reason other than it’s kitsch and quintessentially 1950s.

Vintage BOAC poster dogs
Anonymous, est. £300-500

So if the bulldog represents Britain, and the poodle Europe, what is the black one up to?  Answers on a postcard please to the usual address.

Meanwhile this one is a classic, and a deserved one too.

GAMES, Abram (1914-1996) SEE BRITAIN BY TRAIN, British Railways  lithographic poster in colours, 1951, printed by The Baynard Press
Abram Games, 1951, est. £200-400

Although by rights that should mean that it is worth more than the dogs, but there you go.

The one feature worth noting is that once again they’ve landed a whole haul of small GPO posters (for the last outbreak, see here).

As last time, they come in lots of ten with only one of each photographed, which isn’t really an enormous lot of use if you are thinking of bidding on them.

BROWNING A POSTAL VIEW OF LONDON, GPO  lithographic poster in colours, c.1950
Browning, 1950, est. £150-250

FARNHILL BY AIR MAIL, GPO  lithographic poster in colours, c.1950
Farnhill, 1950, est. £150-250

ARMENGOL, AT ANY POST OFFICE, GPO  lithographic poster in colours, 1951, printed by J.D.& Co
Armengol, 1951, est. £150-250

This set are definitely not as stellar as the last selection.  Even though there is an Eckersley amongst them, it’s not one of his greats.


ECKERSLEY, Tom (1914-1997 POST OFFICE SERVICES, GPO  lithographic poster in colours, 1952
Tom Eckersley, 1952, est. £150-250

Other than that, however, it is a miscellany.  There are three of Henrion’s posters for Punch – I’ve chosen this one because it is the least frequently seen of them.

FHK Henrion, est. £150-250

They are an interesting case, though, these posters as they appear quite regularly on the market, which leads me to suspect that they must have been sold or given away at some point.  Perhaps a trawl through early 1950s Punch might reveal the answer.

Also available are two very nice London Transport posters by Betty Swanwick.

SWANWICK, Betty (1915-1989) WILD or SAVAGE, London Underground  lithographic poster in colours, printed by Curwen Press,
Betty Swanwick, est. £200-400

SWANWICK, Betty WOOLWICH FERRY  lithographic poster in colours, 1949, printed by Curwen Pres
Betty Swanwick, 1949, est. £300-500

For once I agree with the estimates, as the second one, Woolwich Ferry, is by far the better of the two and would look wonderful on the wall, should any of you be tempted.

There is also further proof that P&O and the Orient Line commissioned a lot of very good design before the war, even if I can’t tell you any more about it than that.

ANONYMOUS ORIENT LINE TO THE MEDITERRANEAN  lithographic poster swallow cruises by 20000 ton steamers
Anonymous, est. £150-250

There’s also a chance once again to appreciate the hallucinogenic colour choices of Percy Drake Brookshaw.

BROOKSHAW, Percy Drake ((1907-1993) YOUR WINDOW OPENS THROUGH COOKS  lithographic poster in colours, c.1950, printed by Jordison & Co.
Percy Drake Brookshaw, c.1950, est. £150-250.

Along with a tram poster.

BROWN, Gregory (1887-1941) HORNIMAN MUSEUM, London Underground  lithographic poster in colours, 1934, printed by Crescens Robinson & Co. Ltd. London
Gregory Brown, 1934, set. £200-400

And that’s basically your lot.

One final thing to say, though, which is I hope you are appreciating this blog post as it is the most expensive one I have ever written.  Half way through, my computer keeled over once again and this time it looks terminal (or at least rather too expensive to repair).  So I have been to the Big Town and come back with a new laptop, all in time to get this piece out before the auction begins tomorrow.  It’s not every blog that gives service like that, you know.

English School

I am in the middle of trying to construct a post about the afterlife of World War One posters, which is too complicated and thus taking me longer than I thought.  But in the meantime this has popped up at auction.

Weetabix poster original oil painting


It isn’t a poster, but the original (and somewhat battered) oil painting for a poster.  And it arrives accompanied by several others.

Bathchelors foods original oil painting for poster

Swan vestas original oil painting for posters


What particularly tickles me, though, is that the auction house is resolutely describing them as though they were normal oil paintings.  20th Century English School.  Oil on unstretched canvas.  A description which might lull you into a false sense of security, and even bidding given that they are all estimated at £50-100 each.

Because unlike an ordinary oil painting, these are huge.  Gigantic in fact.  The two below are each more than two and a half meters high.

Allenburys Throat pastilles original oil painting for posterRoyal Exchange Assurance original oil painting for poster

Most of the rest come in at well over two meters.  It’s insanity.

Prudential original oil painting for poster

But it would be a great shame if these disappeared for next to no money, because while they are not the most beautiful images I have ever encountered (I may be understating things here), they are rare survivals and thus important documentation about how advertising worked between the wars.  To my mind, rather than being knocked down for next to nothing because no one has the wallspace for them, these paintings belong in an archive or a museum.  Let’s hope they get there.


out of the attic

Apologies for the break, I’ve been away and went in such a rush that I didn’t even have time to put the ‘out of office’ notice up here.  There will be proper posting later this week, but I’ve just popped in briefly to point at this.

Barbara Jones mural sociology 1961

It’s a Barbara Jones mural from 1961, entitled Sociology and produced for the Turin International Labour Exhibition of that year; it’s rather large at over four metres by three, and it’s on sale at Christies next month.

Now attentive readers of this blog – and indeed attentive exhibition viewers – will remember this mural because it formed part of the British Murals and Decorative Painting Exhibition at Liss Fine Art last year, where it was for sale, should you have wanted it, for a ‘price on request’.  Now it’s estimated at £3,000 – 5,000.  Mr Crownfolio has sized up the house and concluded, reluctantly, that we have nowhere to put it, so it’s all yours to bid on.

Should you be a fan of Barbara Jones, though, it’s probably worth you looking at the whole sale, which goes under the title of Out of the Ordinary and is frankly a bit barking, in a rather wonderful way.  Once you’ve picked your way past the giant taxidermied spider crab, the holograms and the giant cigar box in the shape of Harrods, you could bid on items ranging from Paul McCartney’s old front door from the 1950s to the 14th century heraldic arms of the Earl of Bohun, via all manner of memorabilia, oddities and, sometimes, tat.  It’s as though the most idiosyncratic museum in the country, the V&A on acid, had decided to go to a boot sale.

Apart from the Barbara Jones, I can imagine a few of you also being tempted to try for this.

Festival of Britain Railing

Which isn’t a rusty piece of 1980s something or other, but a piece of railing from the Festival of Britain.  £1,500 – 1,800, since you ask.

It’s eccentric, but I can’t help thinking that the assorted miscellania is exactly the kind of company that Barbara Jones would have appreciated.  And had she been curating a modern-day Black Eyes and Lemonade, she might have been able to find quite a lot of her material right here, from the slot machine to the signage.

Slot machine Christiesshoe bar sign

And of course the illuminated peacock’s head.

illuminated peacock


Auction time again, and it’s the turn of Onslows, whose next sale is exactly a week today.

Much of which, however, is not aimed at those, like me, of a later twentieth century persuasion.  As you may have noticed, there is an anniversary on, and so the vast majority of the sale is made up of World War One recruiting posters and ephemera.  It is a comprehensive haul.

Go! Its Your Duty Lad Join To-Day, original Parliamentary Recruiting Committee poster No 109 printed by David Allen & Sons Ltd August 1915
Anonymous, 1915, est. £300-500

At some future point I may end up with opinions about World War One recruiting posters – I have even bought a book about them, which is unfortunately dense and not that interesting – but even so, that moment hasn’t quite arrived.

E J Kealey (Active 1914-1930's) Women of Britain say - "Go !", original Parliamentary Recruiting Committee poster No 75 printed by Hill Siffken & Co November March 1915
E J Kealey, 1915, est £500-600

Although I have chosen both of these posters (out of over three hundred WW1 lots on offer) to demonstrate one point, which is that this conflict – unlike the Second World War  – was very much the concern of men only.  Women could persuade, they could watch and weep, but they were observers, not participants.  (This did shift a little bit later on in the conflict, but not much).  All of which must have made the next war, only just over twenty years later, a startling contrast.  Not only was it the case that every single member of the population was mobilised for the war effort, but women were in uniforms, posted abroad, even conscripted.  The changes in women’s status would probably seem insignificant to us today, but then the shifts must have felt huge.

I suppose I also have to mention this.

Alfred Leete (1882-1933) Britons (Kitchener) "Wants You" Join Your Country's Army ! God Save the King, original recruiting poster printed by the Victoria House Printing Company Co. Ltd. September 1914
Alfred Leete, 1914, est. £10,000-15,000

That’s not only on account of the estimate, either.  Despite the fact that this is perhaps one of the best-known posters in British history, whole swathes of the internet are devoted to debating whether or not it actually ever was a poster.  There is even a book which sets out to prove that it never existed as a poster, really and – if I have read it right – it’s all the fault of the Imperial War Museum that we think it did.

Onslows have come down quite firmly on the side of it being a poster.

This rare and iconic poster is one of only four known to exist, there are examples in the Imperial War Museum, State Library of Victoria Melbourne and the Robert Opie Collection. Last year it was wrongly reported in the press that the poster’s existence was a urban myth and was never used as a recruiting poster this was not the case. Proof of the poster being displayed publicly in 1914 has now come to light in two photographs, one showing the poster on a hoarding with other’s published by the Parliamentary Recruiting poster at Liverpool Station 15.12.1914 and the other posted on pillars of Chester’s Town Hall. It would be reasonable to say that the rarity of this poster could be put down to the numbers printed being far less than the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee issued posters of which there was a surplus available for sale after the war. The poster for sale is pure ephemera as it would appear to have been torn down from display either in disgust or as a future collectors item.

But then they would say that, wouldn’t they, what with having a poster to sell.  The truth is, I suspect, somewhere in the middle (isn’t it always).  The image started as a magazine cover, but somehow or other there were a few posters knocking around.  However what did happen – and for me this is the really interesting bit – the image was so powerful that, despite the limited numbers, it became the single image that people remembered when they thought about recruiting posters after the way.  There are a lot of reasons for this, number one being that the walls in 1914 and 1915 were saturated with other images of Lord Kitchener, and also, as the book suggests, the Imperial War Museum got a copy and exhibited heavily just after the war.  So lesson number one is that memories can be influenced after the event and cannot always be relied upon.

But what’s even more fascinating for me is the way that posters generate their own mythology, and quite often we believe things about them that simply aren’t true.  The unravelling of the Kitchener story has a parallel in the story of Keep Calm and Carry On, where, in the same way, the story that everyone believed about the poster representing a classic British stiff upper lip in the face of invasion turned out to be utter confected cobblers.  In fact, the poster arose from the fear that the entire population of Britain was going to have a nervous collapse in the face of any enemy bombing.  It’s just hindsight that gave us another story, just as in the case of Kitchener.

But I digress.  Mind you, it doesn’t matter too much if I do, as even the rest of the sale doesn’t contain much that I can get excited about.  There are lots of World War Two posters as well, and mostly of the variety that involve pictures of guns and tanks, so we will need to look elsewhere for our fun.

I do like all of these Central Office of Information posters very much though, so much so that we already have the middle one hanging on the wall.

Eckersley (Tom 1914-1979) Keep Britain Tidy, original poster printed for COI HMSO by Stafford circa 1955
Tom Eckersley, 1955, est. £100-150

Royston Cooper (1931-1985) Keep Britain Tidy, original poster printed for COI HMSO by J Weiner circa 1955
Royston Cooper, 1955, est. £70-100

Hans Unger (1915-1974) Keep Britain Tidy, original poster printed for COI HMSO by Curwen circa 1955
Hans Unger, 1955, est. £80-120

The dating is from the catalogue, and I’m not entirely sure I agree with it, but don’t have any proof one way or the other.  Anyone else got any thoughts?

I quite like this Frank Newbould, although mostly because I am becoming interested in the Empire Exhibition.

Frank Newbould (1887-1951) Tour the Empire at Wembley, original poster printed for the British Empire Exhibition by Chorley & Pickersgill 1924/5
Frank Newbould, 1925, est.  £400-500

While I like this one for no good reason at all, except that it’s jolly.

Anon Raleigh Coronation Easter Parade, Ad 2829 printed by James Cond circa 1953
Anonymous, 1953, est. £50-60

Elsewhere, there is the usual fare of travel, railway and Shell school posters.

David Gentleman, Ridgeway shell poster for schools
David Gentleman, est £40-60 (three posters)

And, this month, precisely two London Transport posters, both by F Gregory Brown.

F Gregory Brown (1887-1941) Gravesend, original poster printed for LT by Baynard 1937
F Gregory Brown, 1937, est. £300-350

That’s rather good, though, isn’t it?

And finally, there are also cruise posters, where this bit of Orient Line modernism stands out from the rather more traditional crowd.

De Holden Stone Orient Line Cruises To the Mediterranean by Orion Orontes and Orcades, original poster
James de Holden Stone, est. £250-350

I can’t tell you much about James de Holden Stone, except that he was art director for Vogue in 1945 and taught at the Royal College of Art.  As ever, if anyone can add to that, please do.  Not least because I’ve found one thing which means that we’ll be coming back to him quite soon.


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.