Correct Selling

couple of years ago now, I wrote a long piece on here about why some kinds of poster seem to survive in greater quantities than others.  In short, the argument was that where posters do survive in large numbers, this tends to be because the institutions concerned – London Transport, the railway companies and Shell – had a system for selling them to the public.

Vintage Shell poster lord berners 1936

But I said at the time, that post was very much a work in progress.  Now things have moved on a bit, because Rik Shepherd has been in contact through both comments and email with some additional information about how GPO posters were also sold.  And very interesting it is too.

John Minton Iwerne Minster GPO Poster

The reason for this is that Mr Shepherd senior, his father, was, in the best possible way, a bit of a chancer, something probably best explained by his son.

Dad did have a habit of writing to organisations on the offchance that they wanted to give/sell him something – the request for part of London Road station when it was turning into Piccadilly failed, the request for tickets from the closing Mumbles railway yielded a destination blind from one of their trams, and we’ve got a stack of timetables and promo brochures from oodles of US railroad companies.

One of the organisations that he regularly bothered was the GPO, as Rik explained when he commented on the original blog post.

If I’d known there was interest in cut-down & framed posters in-situ, I’d have taken pictures of my parents bedroom before we started clearing the house.

They had trimmed and framed copies of the GPO “Use Your Correct Address” posters of Eilean Donan (John Minton) and Brookland (David Knight) on the wall for at least the last decade. We’ve also found a trimmed copy of Minton’s Iwerne Abbey, a trimmed and framed Minton Greenwich which I vaguely remember being on the walls in the 60s & 70s, and what we think is a trimmed David Knight Polruan.

John Minton GPO poster Eilean Donan Castle 1957

Dad seems to have got the Minton posters in April 1957 by writing to the Mount Pleasant offices. The three cost 3s 0d in total (1/6d for Iwerne, 1s for Greenwich and 6d for Eilean Donan) and were sent out with a note from a Mr R. Weeber giving the prices and the rather polite request “Perhaps you will kindly forward a remittance for 3s.0d. in due course.”

What’s even better is that Mr Shepherd Sr also kept the correspondence.

(I’ve put these images in quite big, so just click on them if you want to read the text properly)

GPO letter about poster ordering 1957

I love the fact that they’re only asking for payment after the posters have been sent out.  Those were the days.

Mr Shepherd senior didn’t give up at with that, though.  Go forward ten years, and he is once more trying to order some posters from the GPO.

Letter from GPO re posters

But as you can see, times have changed, and the GPO now have an order form available – and what’s more, here it is.

GPO poster order form 1967

I would like to order all of those please, with a particular emphasis on the last one which is new to me and splendidly moody.

Avebury GPO poster Garrick Palmer

And I used to live there too.

Now all of this would be fascinating enough on its own.  But what makes all of this even more important is that there doesn’t seem to have been many records of this kept elsewhere (a fact that possibly we could have guessed from the slightly ad-hoc nature of that order form).

I asked Anna Flood, archivist at the British Postal Museum and Archive, what they knew about the poster selling, and she couldn’t find anything about this in the books or in their records.  Which is rather exciting really, as it means that Quad Royal has – thanks to Rik Shepherd – managed to uncover a brand new historical fact here.  I’m quite chuffed.

The only reference Anna could find in their archives is one which doesn’t shed any light on Mr Shepherd’s poster buying, but does stretch the timescale back quite a bit, in fact to this series of posters.

HS Williamson air mails croydon GPO poster

POST 33/4722 – Publicity: supply to school, posters, leaflets, first issue – 1934

Re the H.S. Williamson series of posters:

–          PRD 88 – Relays carrying the King’s messages, 1482

–          PRD 89 – Mails for the Packets arriving at Falmouth, 1833

–          PRD 90 – Loading mails at the docks in London, 1934

–          PRD 91 – Loading air mails for the Empire, Croydon 1934

‘It is likely that the issue of these posters [to schools] will give rise to further demands for them….c) from private individuals, who want one or more of the posters for nursery or other house decoration’………’As regards c), posters will be sold, so far as stocks permit, at the following prices, to include packing and postage:- Single posters 1s each. Set of four posters 3s.’…..’Persons desiring to buy posters should be advised to write to the Controller, Post Office Stores Department, Mount Pleasant Depot, EC1, [Public Relations Department, GPO, London, EC1 – crossed out] specifying the title of the poster or posters they desire to buy and enclosing a postal order for the necessary amount.’ 13th November, 1934, Public Relations Department.

A later memo states ‘ copies may be obtained on personal application to the Public Relations Department, Armour House, 40 St Martins-le-Grand, London, EC1’. Dated 28/11/34.

H S WIlliamson Kings Relays GPO poster 1934

And she comments,

So indeed, as early as 1934 the Post Office PRD was allowing members of the public to purchase GPO posters (maybe because of the costs involved in producing runs of posters, hence they didn’t want the expenditure to go to waste, and maybe also because the PO was intent in raising its public profile at the time, hence the ‘schools’ campaign). However, it may have taken a while for the process to become formalised, with the issue of ‘for sale’ lists and order forms, such as those Rik Shepherd has.

I don’t think we’re in a position to write an entire thesis on GPO poster survival from these small scraps of information.  But what this does show is that, although they may not have advertised the fact, the GPO did sell posters to private individuals and this is most likely the way that GPO posters, in their smaller numbers survive today.

It’s also interesting to note that the posters that the GPO thought that people were interested in buying in 1967 (as shown on the order form) and indeed the posters that Mr Shepherd was actually interested in buying in 1957, were the ‘artistic’ ones, i.e. the ones in which a fine artist had been commissioned to create a painting which was then turned into a poster.  Because in 1957, the GPO was also producing posters like these:

Tom Eckersley properly packed parcels please dog

Huveneers post early poster GPO 1957

Admittedly they weren’t quite scaling the same graphic heights in 1967, but there was still Daphne Padden and Kenneth Bromfield on show in your local post office.

Daphne Padden greetings stamp 4d vintage GPO poster

Kenneth Bromfield GPO poster tv license

But these weren’t the posters that people were meant to buy or wanted to buy.  So fewer of these survive than of the ‘artistic’ ones.  A quick trawl through Onslows’ archives does seem to support this theory, as many more of the painterly posters seem to come up for auction than the more graphic ones.  Which is of course a great shame, as it’s the graphic design that I at least would rather be buying nowadays.  But I can’t really blame the public for buying what they liked at the time.  At least I don’t think I can.

That’s not the important point though, I’m still very happy that we’ve managed to find another small piece of the jigsaw and discover how a few more posters survived.  So if anyone else out there has something that they think might be interesting, please do get in touch.  You never know, it might be a piece of information that no one has known until now.

Oh, and GPO correspondence wasn’t all that Mr Shepherd kept – more on his archive next week.

String Theory

This has recently arrived in the post, contradicting my previous assertion on here that there are no more eBay bargains to be had.

Lander british railways luggage poster
Admittedly it is not an outstanding piece of graphic design history (although I quite like it) and is rather battered round the edges too.   But it’s by Lander, which is always a good thing, and it’s also a rather intriguing bit of social history.  Because it’s a reminder of the days when things had brown labels and were tied up with string, or in this case cord.

Nobody does that any more, do they?  I have sometimes been known to wrap a parcel up in brown paper, but I don’t think I’ve ever tied it up with string.  This is something I’m sure that my mother could do though, coming as she does from an age before jiffy bags and sellotape.

Without all these modern parcel technologies, it was clearly possible to wrap a parcel very badly.  At least that’s the only conclusion I can arrive at from the sheer volume of posters that the GPO put out on the subjects.  Most of these are quite general, and I’ve written about the Properly Packed Parcels series on here before.  But there were plenty of other similar exhortations too, and here’s just one.

Tom Eckersley cow jug pack parcels carefully GPO poster

Actually, seeing as it’s Tom Eckersley, let’s have two.

Tom Eckersley cat ornament poster GPO pack parcels carefully

Judging from the posters though, (these are all from between 1950 and 1953) there was a Post Office standard approved way of packing parcels carefully.

Caswell 1953 GPO poster

Dennis Beytagh 1952 parcel wrapping poster

So that’s two pieces of string round the long side, one round the other, although I still have no idea how to knot it.   Hans Unger, meanwhile, is even more specific about rigid boxes and string in 1950.

Hams Umger 1950 poster wrapping parcels GPO

This one, though, is the most instructional I have managed to find (it’s artwork by the way, artist not known).

Artwork for a poster. Subject: Careful packing of parcels. Artist: Not known. GPO 1950

I think even I could have had a go at the process now, although I still don’t know how to knot the string.

Of course (and you might have guessed that the whole post has been leading up to this) the real challenge that faced the Post Office was blackberries.  Sent in a non-approved fashion.

Karo soft fruit by post genius GPO poster

Did people really send them in a basket?  And expect them to get there?  I am boggled at that thought.  But the GPO weren’t, they produced more than one poster, which means that it must have happened at least twice…

soft fruit packing gpo poster

The GPO weren’t alone though, British Railways also had problems with parcel packing and addressing.

'Address your package clearly and help the Railway Staff to help you'. Poster produced for Great Western Railway (GWR), London, Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS), London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) and Southern Railway (SR) to remind customers to address packages clearly, as illegible addresses cause delays. Ar'Address your package clearly and help the Railway Staff to help you'. Poster produced for Great Western Railway (GWR), London, Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS), London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) and Southern Railway (SR) to remind customers to address packages clearly, as illegible addresses cause delays. Artwork by Miles Harper.twork by Miles Harper.

The problems might have been similar but it has to be said, the GPO’s poster design was infinitely superior.

You also get the feeling from their posters that they don’t actually like parcels that much.  They’re just trouble really, when your main business is really running trains.

British Railways staff poster. 'Don't Accept Packages which are Unfit for Transit', BR staff po'Don't Accept Packages which are Unfit for Transit', BR staff poster Artwork by Frank Newbould.

That, incidentally is apparently a late Frank Newbould from 1960,  It’s also quite mild in tone compared to some.

But nothing gave them an excuse like the war.  At last they could say what they really thought.

Fewer parcels World War two christmas poster british railways

Can you even send a parcel by railway now?  Probably only if it is tied up with string.

Something fishy going on

I had a theory when I started on this post, but after some research I have now authoritatively blown it out of the water (the pun in that will become apparent later on).  However it’s still an interesting journey to travel, so this post will mostly be me showing my workings in order to prove myself wrong.  Never mind.

The starting point is this rather wonderful object that arrived in my inbox over the weekend.

Daphne Padden Glass Panel Royal Blue Coaches fisherman image

Oh that the object itself had turned up.

It’s a version of Daphne Padden’s Royal Blue fisherman, painted onto glass for some coach office somewhere.  Having been kept by an employee of Royal Blue, it’s been bought by a transport collector. I am very envious.

But it got me back to thinking about Daphne Padden and fishermen.  As I’ve posted relatively recently, she liked them quite a lot, and kept going back to them as a motif.

Daphne Padden Royal Blue poster ours from morphets

I’ve tended to think of them as being Cornish fishermen, but as it turns out, they’re not.  Here’s another one of hers, for example, advertising the delights of East Anglia.

Daphne Padden coaches to east anglia fish vintage poster

I don’t own this poster and have had to borrow it from The Lark’s Flickr stream, so thanks to them.

But these fishermen weren’t just a quirk of Daphne Padden’s.  At about the same period, Harry Stevens was also mining a very similar vein of imagery.

Harry Stevens Atlantic Coast express british railways poster artwork 1955

Both to advertise Cornwall (the artwork above) and East Anglia as well.

harry stevens vintage coach poster london east anglia fisherman

Mr Crownfolio has always reckoned that this poster is Harry Stevens’ affectionate pastiche of Daphne Padden’s Royal Blue poster.  But I’m intrigued that they’re both starting to use the same imagery at about the same time.

Because either side of the war, the attraction of fishing ports was always the red-sailed boats themselves.  Here’s Ronald Lampitt in 1936 and Frank Sherwin, possibly from 1946.

Poster, Great Western Railway, Cornwall by Ronald Lampitt, 1936.

SHERWIN, FRANK (1896-1985)  CORNWALL Great Western railway poster 1946

The red sails are, it will not surprise you to learn, also used to advertise East Anglian destinations, in this case by Frank Mason.

Frank Mason East coast havens poster 1946

Now this is where I was all prepared to work out a neat little theory about the evolution of nostalgia.  There must have come a time when the red sails had so completely disappeared that they could no longer be used as a sign for the fishing port, not even in a past tense kind of way.  But the fishermen were still there on the quay, so they came to be the new signifier for this kind of place.

Except there is one great big fly in this ointment, which is that one particular fisherman had been extolling the joys of the seaside a long time before any of these posters were designed.  It is of course this one, John Hassell’s jolly fisherman for Skegness.

Poster, London & North Eastern Railway, Skegness is So Bracing by John Hassall, 1926.

That version is from 1926, but he goes back as far as 1908, and also persists for a very long time.  Here’s Frank Newbould reworking him in 1935.

'Skegness is so Bracing', LNER poster, 1933.

While here’s another one from 1962.

'Old and young find Skegness is so bracing British Railways poster, c 1961.

So my theory is, well, not exactly watertight.  Please feel free to prove it wrong in any other ways you choose.

Going Postal

The blog has been a little bit overlooked lately.  Apologies for that, I’ve had a rather urgent appointment with some wallpaper that needed to be removed.  It’s been a bad time to be distracted as well, because people – well the readers of this blog to be precise – have been sending me things.  And they’ve been rather good.

Let’s start with these, mostly because I asked for them.  ‘Did Daphne Padden design any other leaflets for British Railways?’, I asked the other day.  The answer is a resounding yes.

Daphne Padden British Railways Leaflet Isle of Man

And here’s another, although I’ll be blowed if I have any idea what a ‘Radio Cruise’ is.  Can anyone enlighten me?

British Railways Brochure Cambrian Radio Cruise Daphne Padden front cover

She even designed the insides of this one too.

British Railways Brochure Cambrian Radio Cruise Daphne Padden inside design

Which include this rather fine map.

British Railways Brochure Cambrian Radio Cruise Daphne Padden map

Are there more out there?  I hope so, although I am anticipating that I might have to do something frightening, like attend a transport ephemera fair, to find them.

Meanwhile through the actual mail box came a small set of  these little London Transport prints – I’m sure there is a precise art historical word for what they are but I’m afraid I don’t know it.  Anyway, they were a fantastic gift all the way from America so thank you very much.

Small London Transport prints - front covers

What I got was four little folders, each containing a small print of a London Transport poster from 1953.  Here’s St James’ Palace by David Lewis.

London Transport poster print david Lewis St James Palace

Each print was the pictorial half of a pair poster, so making the transfer to prints quite well.  I can’t decide whether my favourite is the John Bainbridge or the Sheila Robinson (both artists who deserve further notice on this blog one day).

London Transport poster print John Bainbridge Royal London 1953

London Transport poster print Kensington Palace Sheila Robinson 1953

I have no idea, however, what the purpose of these were.  Were they bought by the public and framed, or where they sent out by London Transport as a form of publicity? Or some other reason that I can’t even guess at.  If anyone can enlighten me, please do.

While we’re on the subject of London Transport, this is also rather good.

London Transport spoof

This also reminds me that I’ve been meaning to mention the work of artist Micah Wright for a while.  He’s been working on ironic modern versions of propaganda posters for a while, and got in contact with the blog to say that we might like this take on Pat Keely. He was right.

Micah Wright version of pat Keely wireless poster

Most of what he does is American in origin, but it’s still very much worth taking a look at his PropagandaRemix website.

Micah Wright propaganda remix war poster

And now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a wall that needs demolishing.  But if you’ve got anything else to send me in the meantime, please feel free.

All join hands – panic!

Two things have sent my thoughts along the same path recently; an obituary of Eric Sykes in the Guardian, and this Goons record from 1956.

Mr Crownfolio insists that you press play, please, before reading any further. Thank you.

Bloodnock’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Call is worth considering in its own right; this was one of the first chart records with ‘rock and roll’ in the title and got to number 3, but it’s now almost completely and inexplicably forgotten in favour of the Ying Tong Song.

The connection between the two, and the probable reason that the record has been neglected, is the army.  The listeners to the Goon Show record probably knew very little of rock and roll, but the lyrics assume they all understand military language and mores, and furthermore will enjoy their subversion.

From the Guardian obituary, meanwhile, here’s Eric Sykes on the importance of the army to comedy in general.

Sykes [… ] believed that the only way Britain would get another crop of writers like Milligan, Frank Muir, Denis Norden, Speight and himself would be through the reintroduction of conscription. “Take ‘away the necessity of earning a living,” he said, “provide food and bed so that you can just sit on your backside for two years and you will find that the violinist will practise his violin, the language student will learn a language and the comedian will create comedy. It’s no good expecting it to come from people who are in boring, undemanding jobs, for they have already half-settled for what they’ve got. Conscription is an obvious staging post. A war is even better if you can keep alive.”

This connection between army life and comedy is interesting in its own right, but it’s also a way in to a very different take on the 1950s.  It’s easy, from here, to draw that decade and it’s reaction to the war in very simplistic terms.  Here are happy people, happy to take simplistic pleasures now that the conflict is over.

Tom Eckersley Hastings poster

Here are are a legion of housewives, driven back to the home but secretly discontented.

AP tripping with dripping image

Here are cheerfully bright colours in reaction to the porridge colours of the preceding decade.

Noel Carrington Colour and Pattern in the Home doctors house

We imagine the whole population, used to being ordered about, partaking of this life without dissent.  A conformist decade, in short.

But for almost the entire male population  of the country, and a considerable proportion of the women too, the experience of war is also the experience of the army.  While this means discipline, it also breeds a kind of insubordination and irrationality in reaction, even if it’s not actually spoken out loud at the time.

This bubbling up of silly voices and absurd responses is an important facet of the Goon Show.  It takes even clearer form in Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim, where Jim Dixon’s interior monologue is precisely this kind of anarchic response to authority figures and the comedy relies on the gap between expected deference and the desire to say something very stupid indeed.

In many ways this kind of hysteria feels like a much more authentic reaction to the stresses of war than simply choosing to paint the living room tomato red.

So, then, of course, I started to wonder whether the same impulse made itself felt in posters.  And of course it did.

Henrion London Transport poster 1956 Changing of the Guard

I’m sort of used to this Henrion poster by now, but it is really, very odd indeed.  In fact the whole set is.

F H K Henrion Hampton Court London Transport poster 1956

They’re all from 1956, so contemporaneous with Jim Dixon and the Goons.  This pair of Ungers come from the same year too.

Hans Unger London Transport poster 1956

Hans Unger whipsnade poster 1956 London Transport zebra

The last one is particularly peculiar if you ask me.

Now I know that this kind of nonsense rhyming has a long tradition in English, but I still think that the urge to put it onto posters is a sign of the times.  Although I would guess that the commissioning process didn’t let much of this kind of oddity and anarchy into print.

But I also think that its influence can be seen more widely as well.  Take this Abram Games, for example.

See London by London Transport coach, by Abram Games, 1950

Or this Tom Eckersley.

Conducted tours, by Tom Eckersley, 1957  London Transport

They’re both examples of classic 1950s poster design, in the way that they engage in a kind of visual punning, making a shape or an object mean two things at the same time.  It’s a style that owes something to surrealism, certainly, but I would also argue that its original impulse comes from the same place as Bloodnock’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Call, the desire to do the opposite of what is expected.

Conducted coach tours, by Abram Games, 1952  Published by London Transport

What’s gone wrong with our version of the 1950s is the 1960s.  Because we see that as the decade of youth, rebellion and subversion we, almost without thinking, need to make the decade which came before it conformist and rather dull.  While large swathes of it probably were quite a lot like that, it’s still unfair on the people who weren’t to forget them entirely.  And if we do remember the desire to answer back to the sergeant-major in a silly voice, perhaps it can also help us to look at the graphic design of the times in its wider cultural context.

Remember, send only 2/6 for a copy of this record.

Posters on Parade

When I was trying to find some festive-looking posters the other day, my search, rather wonderfully, came up with this in the Science and Society picture library.

Poster wagon railway poster display for Blackpool carnival

We find ourselves at Blackpool station in 1925, and the cart is getting ready to take part in Blackpool Carnival.  Here’s what’s on display:

London, Midland & Scottish Railway display pulled by four horses. The display comprises railway posters designed by ‘eminent Royal Academy artists’: ‘Aberdeen’ by Algernon Mayow Talmage; ‘Carlisle’ by Maurice Greiffenhagen; ‘Edinburgh’ by George Henry; ‘The Peak District’ by Leonard Campbell Taylor; ‘The Night Mail’ by William Orpen; ‘Northern Ireland’ by Julius Olsson. The display is to be used in the Blackpool carnival.

This is clearly a fabulous thing simply for existing.  But it’s also interesting in that adds a new layer to how railway posters were shown – and therefore perceived – at the time.

'Aberdeen' by Algernon Mayow Talmage;LMS railway poster, 1924.

We’ve covered quite a bit of this ground on here before, mainly thanks to David Watt’s fine essay on Yorkshire railway posters, which I wrote about a while back.  He makes the point that railway posters are rather unusual because they are displayed at railway stations and so the viewer can assume that they are advertising rail travel, rather than just places.  So they don’t need to show trains or say ‘Travel By Rail’ and this makes them, in his words, semi-detatched from ‘mundane commercial purpose’.  As a result, these posters occupied a middle ground between fine art and the grubbiness of actually selling things.  (This status obviously has implications for modern day collecting of railway posters too, but that’s another thought for another day.)

'Carlisle: The Gateway to Scotland', LMS railway poster, 1924.Maurice Greiffenhagen

These particular designs are more explicit than most about this connection with fine art.  All of the posters on the wagon come from a set of sixteen commissioned by the LMS from Royal Academy artists; they are indeed fine art being displayed on a poster.

As such, they link up with another idea that has come up before, the sense of public bodies using artists and painters in particular for their posters as a form of social good.  I’ve discussed this before in the context of the GPO, Shell and London Transport posters.

The involvement of Shell shows that it wasn’t an attitude that was confined to state-own entities alone, and a similar ethos of public service seems to have been present in the railway companies before the war.  This wasn’t just confined to their publicity; the LNER kept open lines that were running at a loss because they felt that people needed access to them.   So these posters clearly fall into an established tradition of posters which are on the borderline between fine art and advertising, and which are produced, in part, because they are felt to be part of the railway companies’ duties to the wider society they serve.

What’s so interesting about the carnival cart above, though, is that is shows that the LMS had a slightly different attitude to the audience for these posters than I would have imagined – and it’s one that I find rather endearing.

'Edinburgh', LMS railway poster, 1924 George Henry

Until now I’ve always thought of these these posters being on display in stations, where passengers could inspect or ignore them at their will, or in occasional exhibitions (more on these here if you’re interested), where I would have imagined the audience was predominantly middle class.

But at Blackpool, the LMS is taking these posters out, which in itself shows a degree of pride that I wouldn’t have expected, but what’s more it’s taking them out in front of an audience which is probably not quite so genteel and alongside dancing girls, giant dogs and, er, people dressed up as food.

blackpool carnival procession no date

So the LMS is positioning the posters not as ‘high culture’ being foisted on the working classes from above, but very much as part of a thriving and quite varied popular culture.

There are a few other hints too, that this point of view might have prevailed.  This series of posters was one of the LMS’s best-sellers, with Carlisle a particular favourite.  But when I was looking to find the particular posters on display on the cart, I also found a reference to a colour print of William Orpen’s Night Mail.  There are no dimensions given, but I imagine that this would have been a much more affordable version than buying a copy of the original poster.  (And who did buy those? I would love to know.)

Dunluce Castle, Northern Ireland LMS railway poster, 1924 Julius Olsson

Perhaps we need to rethink what the fine art elements of railway posters meant at this time, and indeed later on when they were used by other companies in the same way.  We see something that was imposed on an ultimately indifferent population who were not interested in art, and this may indeed be how the original commissioners of the posters too.  But it’s possible that these images were enjoyed and taken up by a much wider variety of people than we, slightly snobbishly, tend to imagine.