Public Service

Last year, RoSPA – the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents – did what most of us probably will only ever dream of, and discovered a whole cache of their old health and safety posters and artwork just sitting in a warehouse.  I wrote about it at the time when they first displayed the finds.

STan Krol falls are not funny vintage rospa poster

Now Janice Cave, who is in charge of their archive, has got in contact and would like you lot to help.  Now that they are a bit further down the line with cataloguing their finds, RoSPA would like your help.  They now have a huge list of artists who have done work for RoSPA and about whom they know precisely nothing.  But I am sure that collectively we will be able to add to the sum total of human knowledge here.

Leonard Cusden scrap Rospa poster

So here’s the list.  If anyone can give me any links, I will add these to the list as we go on (I will confess, I haven’t thrown many of these at Google yet).  Or if you have any other information, please just pop it in the comments below.

ANGT
Arthur G Mills
Barry Costen
Bradley
Browning
Bryan Moore
C M F Donnelly
C Parkinson
Chris Russell
Desmond Marks
Desmond Moore
DGB
Dick Segal
Digby Mills
Donald Morrison?
F Blake
F M Coventry
F Thornley
F Winterborne
FT
G B Karo
G Parkinson
Geoffrey Hart
Gerry Ball
Glenn Steward
Godfrey Evans
J Cox
J Last
J Ramsey Wherrett
John Brown
Jon Bateman
K Collar
Kupper-Sachs
Leonard Woy
Ludwig
Maurice Read
Moss
Numan
Peaty
Stan Franklin
Urquhart/Codd
Vernon Surridge

Oh, and the two posters above are by Karo and Leonard Cusden respectively.  This one, meanwhile, is by Leonard Woy (any excuse).

Leonard Woy You are not paid to take risks Rospa poster 1961

I am pleased to say that we now own a copy of this poster, something which pleases me greatly.  I shall, of course, not be taking any risks.

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QED

Nothing warms the cockles of my heart like an auction with lovely low estimates on posters.  It gives me the hope that we may still be able to buy something cheaply here and there.  So I’m very happy to see a whole set of posters like this coming up next month at Dreweatt’s Donnington Priory Salerooms.

Fred Taylor Hampton court by tram 1929
Fred Taylor, 1929, est £100-150

Given that these are being advertised on The Saleroom, there is of course almost no chance that they will go for anything near the advertised price.  Never mind, shall we have a look at them and pretend that they are affordable anyway?

Although you’d think Dreweatts would know what this Percy Drake Brooksbaw poster is worth by now, they’ve sold several before, and for more than this estimate.

PErcy Drake Brookshaw poster boat race London Transport 1937
Percy Drake Brookshaw, 1937. est. £200-300

Once again, it’s from the artist’s family by direct descent.  Precisely how many did he keep?  The house must have been stacked with the things.

As a whole, the auction contains an interesting selection of posters, though, and worth looking at regardless of the prices, because there are some unusual ones in there. I’ve never come across this London Transport poster before, for example.

A London Underground poster, 'Q.E.D.', 1929, by Margaret Calkin James
Margaret Calkin James, 1929, est. £150-200

While this probably has to be the design highlight of the whole sale.

London Underground poster, 'Trooping the Colour / June 3rd / Horse Guards Parade / St. James' Park or Trafalgar Sq. Station', 1922, by Charles Paine
Charles Paine, 1922, est. £100-150

Also included are an interesting selection of McKnight Kauffers – interesting in the sense that they are not the usual suspects.

London Underground poster, 'The Indian Museum / Book to South Kensington / Open Day / ... / Admission Free', 1925, by Edward McKnight Kauffer
McKnight Kauffer, 1922, est. £150-200

London Underground poster, 'from WINTERS GLOOM to SUMMERS JOY', 1927, Edward McKnight Kauffer
McKnight Kauffer, 1927, est £150-200

London Underground poster, 'Summertime / Pleasures by Underground', 1925, by Edward McKnight Kauffer
McKnight Kauffer, 1925, est. £120-150.

That last one is actually a hidden bonus in lot 83, so for that estimate, you also get a school trips poster and this too.

London Underground poster, 'When Wet Travel Underground It's Drier', 1922, by Cecil Dillon McGurk
Cecil McGurk, 1922, est. £120-150

It’s not just London Transport posters either, there are also some railway posters too, of which this is the most unusual.

Southern Railway poster, 'excursions to the continent and channel isles / ask for SR programme', circa 1920s, by 'HT' (possibly Harry Tittensor)
HT, 1920s, est. £100-150

Aperitifs with the artists in cosmopolitan Paris.  I’m booking now.

Although if you prefer less bohemian, your tastes will also be catered for too.

 British Railways (Western Region) poster, 'Aberystwyth / where holiday fun begins', circa 1956, by Harry Riley
Harry Riley, 1956, est. £100-120

Now all I need to do is remember to check back at the start of April and find out what these actually went for.  On which note, it’s the Bloomsbury Poster Auction today, and I will be interested to see what other people think that GPO posters are worth these days.

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Unpeopled

We’re going a bit off-piste today, heading for a change towards those heady days of modernity before the Second World War.

That we’re doing this is all the fault of regular correspondent medieval modernist who pointed me at this particular set of posters a while back.

A R Thomson Improve each shining hour LNER poster

And every since then I haven’t been able to stop thinking about them.   But then it’s rare that you get such a set of posters so determined to be object lessons in modernity.  In each one of them, the fusty, over-detailed, over-crowded Victorian era is ttransformed, thanks to the potent magic of LNER, into a chic, clean-lined, highly futuristic scene.

A fine advertising message, you might say, and you’d be right.  But there’s a lot more going on here than just the steam railway  being dragged into an art deco world, so much so that it’s hard to know where to begin.

LNER Harwich crossings poster a r thomson

Let’s start with the artist, A. R. Thomson.  Now I’ve only started researching him today, so I’m afraid that this post won’t contain the benefit of the information in his biography, Tommy: A Biography of the Distinguished Deaf Royal Painter A.R.Thomson, which I am about to order for the grand sum of one new pence.  There is a clue there in the title, but he does seem to have been a quite extraordinary character.

6ft 5ins tall; He was deaf, and also did not speak, his wife helping as business manager. He spoke through his brush. Conducted conversations by making lightning sketches.Studied under painter illustrator and poster designer John Hassall [died 1948] and historical scenes/portraitist Sir William Quiller Orchardson [died 1910].

Since we’ve been talking about murals recently, here is one that he produced for the Science Museum. It’s fourteen feet long.

A R THomson combine mural for science museum

Two other things stand out for me though.

Vintage London Transport poster Street Markets Thomson 1949

One is that he designed this Street Markets poster for London Transport in 1949 (which means that there is a short bio of him on their site as well).  It’s one that I’ve always loved, and occasionally regret not buying at Morphets.

The other is that, at the 1948 London Olympic Games, he was the last-ever winner of the Gold Medal for Painting, which is such a mind-boggling idea that I am unable to process it properly.

He seems to have done quite a lot of poster work during the war, I imagine that he wasn’t called up because of his disability.

A R THomson Fighting fit world war two propaganda poster

 

post office savings bank tank poster a r thomson

All of which is a massive, but fascinating detour from the point at which westarted, so let’s return to his very peculiar set of posters for the LNER.

A r thomson then and now lner poster flying scotsman

Because despite the modern tour de force that is the Flying Scotsman, there is a deep anxiety underlying these posters.  The trips to the seaside, the carriages, the outdoors games  – even the very railway itself – are all old ideas.  The job that he pictures want to do is to persuade us that  these institutions have all changed with the times.  There is an interesting incongruity here.  Perhaps the most committed users of modernity are those who feel that they have something to prove, that their product might, in fact, date from the past.  Whereas if you are producing a car or a washing machine, it can look exactly how it wants, because it is modern in its very existence.

What’s also absolutely fascinating for me, though, is how this modernity is represented.  The smooth streamlining of this period of modernism/modern design is a vlsual cliche now, we all know what it looks like and it has been revived and reused so many times that it is no longer exciting or surprising.  But here, butted up against the visual clutter that it wants to replace, we can start to see it as it would have been felt back then – stark, surprising, and, for me at least, quite chilly.

LNER poster Then and Now golf ar thomson

When we were discussing these posters in the comments before, medieval modernist suggested that

there seems to be new higher order in the alternative vision, where simplicity and order are prized over chaos

This is true.  And I think that there is a big clue in the word chaos there, because one thing that these posters make me feel very strongly is the effect of the First World War on these designs.  Modernity was an attempt to impose a very rigid kind of order on the world, one that was felt to be very necessary after the chaos, horrer and ultimate disorder that was the trenches.

Now this isn’t something that can ever be proven, just as we will never be able to say for certain that the slightly simple cheerfulness of much 1950s design was a reaction to the next war.

But the big clue for me is in the people.  The Victorian scenes are teeming with humanity, but in contrast modernity requires very few people indeed.  And absence was perhaps the biggest legacy left by World War One.

Sea bathing LNER then and now ppster a r thomson

I don’t think this is just because time has made us forget, although this has to be a big part of it.  I suspect too that it was something that many people who lived in the 1920s and 1930s could bear to articulate fully either.    The reason I think of this is that there is a spine-tingling passage in one of HV Morton’s tours of England, which I can’t lay my hands on right now in which he describes the raw new stone and lettering of the war memorials that are in every village and town that he passes through, and the pain and memories caused every time they are seen.

So the lack of people in these posters – in the posters of this period in general – isn’t just because people clutter up the place and machines are just so much more modern to look at.  That is part of it, but the absences are also more profound.  People are missing in this modern world, killed by the machines of modern warfare, and by their absences they can be still counted amongst us, without us having to speak of them.

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Sad sack

This post is very simply two good things which have arrived on my desk recently.  The first is this Central Office of Information poster from 1950, photographed as well as I can manage under the rather folded circumstances.

CEntral Office of INformation Production poster 3

I know it’s from 1950 because that is when, apparently, the Anglo-American Council on Productivity produced their report on Materials Handling.  Now I have researched this quite a bit more in the hope of finding an interesting backstory, but have to report that there is no such thing; the truth is entirely dull and intermittently depressing.

Post-war American aid to Europe, including Britain, didn’t just consist of dollars, it also came in the form of technical assistance, of which the Angl0-American Productivity Committee was just one part.   At this point, American companies were two to three times more efficient than British ones, so you would have thought that paying attention might have been worthwhile.  But British companies didn’t want to hear: they thought they knew best, that you bullied and cajoled your workers not co-operated with them, that specialists were inferior. And so nothing happened.

Which is sad, because it means that this rather endearing little poster is actually a portent, the first sign of what would in the end happen to British industry in the 80s and beyond, as companies never put their raw materials on rollers but carried on heaving the sacks instead.

Meanwhile, on the further subject of inefficiency, how to run a railway.

Royston Cooper Railway leaflet want to run a railway?

The truthful answer to the question posed by this little booklet is no I don’t, thank you.  But it has gained houseroom because it is by Royston Cooper, who designed the insides too.

Royston Cooper railway leaflet fault spread

The whole thing is excellent, and dates from 1962, as this final page tells us.

Royston Cooper railway leaflet end design

The content, funnily enough, despite my almost total lack of interest, isn’t bad either.  The point of it is to prove that it’s actually harder than you think to run a railway, lots of things can go wrong and so please can you be very nice to Southern Railway when they do.

Royston Cooper Railway leaflet spread

We could probably do with a reprint now.

Royston Cooper but

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Bear necessities

Earlier this week, I made it down to London to take a look at the British Murals and Decorative Painting exhibition, as mentioned a few weeks ago.

I still love this.

Barbara Jones Out in the Hall 1960

Although I have faced up to the fact that we have neither the funds nor a wall space large enough.  Mind you, it was tempting; it was starting to look cheap, at least next to the Edward Bawden which, it turns out, was for sale.

Edward Bawden SS Oronsay Mural 1951

For £165,000.

But as ever, exhibitions never appear quite as you expect.  Two things really grabbed my attention, and they’re the biggest thing on display and one of the smallest.

The biggest is the John Piper mural from the Festival of Britain.  It’s unimaginably huge.  Even on Bond Street they could only find a space that would fit two thirds of its panels.

John PIper Festival of Britain homes and gardens pavilion mural

Its size is also its undoing, because a reproduction condenses it so much that you simply can’t see how good it is.  Take this detail, a cupola which is in part from Castle Howard with a bit of the Sheldonian thrown in.

John Piper detail of Festival mural

Or even these houses behind Owlpen Manor, which just disappear in a reproduction.

John Piper Owlpen detail from Festival mural

Really it’s brilliant – a contender for one of the best things Piper ever did, and I could have looked at it for hours.  And it really, really ought to be in a museum so that everyone gets the chance to do that.

The other object that caught my attention is tiny.

Kenneth Rowntree design for mural british restaurant in acton

This is a sketch by Kenneth Rowntree for a mural design for the British Restaurant in Acton in 1942.  I like it as a piece of design, but I love it even more for what it represents.

The British Restaurants were set up by the Ministry of Food during the Second World War as places where people could get a reasonable meal (well, within the confines of rationing) at a fair price.  They were set up in schools, in village halls, and, as Rowntree’s design shows, in churches too.  But what absolutely astounds me, and fills me with joy, is that the Ministry of Food decided that it was important that the restaurants were decorated, and not just by anybody, but by some of the leading mural artists of the time.

British Restaurant inspection visit

Here, thanks to the Imperial War Museum, are some bureaucrats, examining a British Restaurant with a view to getting it decorated.

A flick through the book which accompanies the murals exhibition reveals that it wasn’t only Rowntree, a conscientious objector, who worked on the British Restaurants, many other of his contemporaries did too.

There is so much that is good about this scheme, but what I love most is the vision, the sense that even in a world where food and supplies are rationed, where every man and woman is being directed to where they can best support the war effort, art is important.  But this isn’t an elitest intention, far from it; this art is designed for the most democratic of public places, it is genuinely art for all.

It’s a spirit that makes me thing that there was a country that I would have liked to live in.  I know there were disadvantages, and I probably wouldn’t have liked the bombing and the deprivation, the constant fear of death.  But even so, in its pride and its sense of what mattered in life, it’s a far better place than where I find myself living now.

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Industrial

You arrive here today to find me eating my own words.  To be specific, these words – and these as well – about the lack of posters depicting the industrial North.

The cause of this is the catalogue for the new Talisman railwayana auction, which has just arrived in the post,

Talisman March 2012 auction cover

By far the best thing in the auction is the poster which is part shown on the cover, lot 321.

LNER quad royal pictorial Poster “East Coast Industries served by the LNER”. A dramatic image by Frank H. Mason of a blast furnace in full production. Folds, minor edge tape stains and nicks and two very small corner losses. A superb poster otherwise.

Such a superb poster that I wanted to find a proper illustration of it to post on here.  I couldn’t, so this, from the catalogue, is the best I can offer.

Frank Mason East Coast industries smelting poster

On my travels, however, I found  another one from the series in the National Railway Museum collections via the NMSI.

‘East Coast Industries’, LNER poster, 1938.

While this depiction of a blast furnace has been sold at various times by both Onslows and Christies.

Frank Mason East coast industries blast furnace poster

They all date from 1938, so we have ourselves a series here.

There is a fourth one in the NRM collections, although it’s less overtly modern and mechanised than the rest.

'East Coast Industries’, LNER poster, c 1938.

There’s also one further poster, a kind of post-script to the series, which is this World War Two effort.  It’s also by Mason and was produced just a couple of years later with a very different message, although a somewhat similar aesthetic.

The Lines behind the Lines’, BR poster, 1939-1945.

From all of which, two conclusions.

The first is that there is more to Frank Mason’s work than I’ve previously given him credit for.  I’ve always known he was good. but somehow never found him interesting.  Those top three posters, however, really are triumphs of modernism in the most pernickety sense of the word.  Mason isn’t just using a modern sttyle, he is also trying to make these industrial processes heroic and glamorous.  And I think he succeeds.  (Note also the almost complete absence of people in these posters, the industries are so modern that they practically run themselves.  I’ll be coming back to this idea in another post one of these days.)

The second conclusion is that I was wrong about the absence of Northern industry in the visual language of railway posters.  Clearly, these places and industries are represented, at least in the period between the late 1920s and World War Two.  What instead has happened (as in the very similar case of World War Two posters) is that people later on have chosen not to reproduce, or buy, or sell these posters in any great number.  They have in the main not been written into the later narrative.  So perhaps it’s not the 1920s and 1930s I should be complaining about at all.  It’s us that have chosen to forget the steelworks and the collieries and the Midland s and the North.  The attitude is almost understandable now, when they’ve been eviscerated.  But perhaps the forgetting was where the problem started to begin?  Either that, or it’s the way in which we were persuaded that what happened to these places in the 1980s was OK.

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