Oh what an unprofitable war!

Hello everyone.  My attendance really isn’t getting much better, is it?  We’ll have OFSTED round soon if I’m not careful.

Anyway, I thought I’d better post something about last week’s poster event at the National Army Museum.  Lots of people who know about posters spoke; more frighteningly, lots of people who knew about posters also sat in the audience.  And for light relief after lunch, they all got me, rattling on and trying to fit everything I had to say about Home Front Posters into 40 odd minutes.  There were some very odd minutes in there too.

Much of the content wouldn’t have  come as much surprise to anyone who has been reading my posts on here, but the basic thesis was that most of our shorthand generalisations about Home Front Posters are wrong.  That in itself isn’t exactly news, but it’s all too easy to imagine that all Second World War posters came out of a giant, all-powerful Ministry of Information determined to tell the public what to think.  I think we have George Orwell to blame for that, but the truth was rather less like 1984, and, well, rather more shambolic and British.

Lewitt Him Shanks Pony world war two home front poster

Most obviously, posters didn’t just come from the Ministry of Information.  In fact they came from everywhere but.  To start with, the two biggest-spending government departments, the Ministry of Food and National Savings, didn’t bother with the MoI and made their own.

Tom Eckersley elephant poster ministry of food world war two

Then there were the London Transport posters…


…the GPO posters…


…the railway posters…

British Railways wartime holiday at home poster

And that’s before we’ve even mentioned Abram Games’ posters produced for and by the Army.

Abram Games Ventilate your quarters poster

Or RoSPA’s innumerable workplace safety posters.

Tom Eckersley goggles RoSPA poster

But the reason I’m telling you this, is that one of the people who attended, Kirill Kalinin pointed me at some Home Front posters I hadn’t seen before, posters which were produced by private companies.

Now why, you might be asking, would private companies spend money on advertising during war, when everything was rationed, production was centralised and it was nigh-on impossible to buy anything inessential?  It’s a good question, and the answer lies in taxation.

One of the prevailing views then about World War One was that large companies had profiteered from the war, and it had made the rich richer.  So, at the start of World War Two, a tax of 100% was levied on any company whose profits rose above their pre-war levels..  Clearly there was no incentive to make any extra profits, and companies looked for ways to spend the money rather than give it to the government.

One easy thing to spend it on was advertising.   Hence the pages and pages of adverts like this in every wartime newspaper and magazine, either for goods that were in such short supply that they didn’t need advertising or, quite often, weren’t available at all.

World war two ad for Bovril

Despite the restrictions on paper use, a few posters were also made.  I’d included this one in my talk.

Fougasse World war two poster for fillings

I think this is a result of Tillings donating poster space in their coach stations to the war effort, although in the absence of any real archives it’s hard to tell.

But Kirill has now introduced me to these, which are produced by the Motor Industry Association, and which I’d never seen before.

Motor Industry Association world war two poster torpedo


Motor Industry Association world war two poster bomber

I have no idea where they were displayed or anything about them at all.

Motor Industry Association world war two poster tank

They’re also interesting because they show the ironmongery of war, something which most Home Front posters, with the exception of National Savings, avoided almost entirely.

All of which pretty much proves my overall point from last Saturday, which was that whatever generalisation you make about Home Front posters, it’s always possible to find a poster to disprove it.  So if you have any more oddities you’d like to point out, please send them this way.

And if you like the Motor Industry posters, Kirill has them for sale on his website.

Posted in other, posters | 2 Responses


Back, back, back as Smash Hits used to say.  And apologies to all those people who thought I’d been hospitalised by my abscess.  I haven’t, I’ve just been ridiculously busy.  By way of apology, have a picture of an otter.

Vintage Shell poster Kennedy north 1931

It’s traditional.  Normal service resumes later in the week.

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Responses

Your war posters need you

I am back from holidays but now have the most appalling toothache and can’t think straight.  But I do need to string just enough sentences together to tell you about this.

war poster chat thingy

An entire seminar at The National Army Museum at which lots of people who know about wartime posters are going to be speaking, and then so am I.  Should be entertaining, although in what way I am not sure.  I will do my best though.

Full details here, and perhaps I will see you then.  If this blooming toothache ever goes away that is.

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Responses

Finish the job

Apologies for the long gap, summer holidays and renovations are rather eating into my writing time.  But I am going to dash in quickly now to tell you a bit more about the furthcoming Swann auction, because that is coming up in just four days time, on the 9th.

Anon, Florida, Trans Canadian airlines poster
Anon, 1950s, est. $400-600

Not unreasonably, it’s almost entirely stuffed with American posters, with European posters coming in a close second.

Esteban Santander poster 1958
Esteban,  1958, est. $400-600

But nonetheless, there are a few interesting items worthy of our British notice.

Harry Beck London Transport poster Chess Valley Rambles 1933

I mentioned the Harry Beck poster above last week, but if London Transport is your thing, there is also a Percy Drake Brookshaw on offer.

PERCY DRAKE BROOKSHAW (1907-1993) GREEN LINE in all weathers 1936 London Transport poster

It comes with a pair, as does this Betty Swanwick.

Betty Swanwick, Kew Gardens, London Transport poster 1937
Betty Swanwick, 1937, est. $400-600

Which comes as part of a job lot with a Dora Batty.  This is a bit text heavy, but even so both this and the Brookshaws don’t look expensive at all.

There are a similarly small number of railway posters on offer, but the few that there are do at least have the grace to be interesting.  I’ve never come across this rather jolly number before.

Broads, Arthur Michael 1937 railway poster
Arthur Michael, 1937, est. $1,000-2,000

While further down the listings you can also find this, which is another one to add to my list of industrial posters produced by the raliway companies.

1935 Albert Martin South Wales Docks Railway poster
Albert Martin, 1935, est. $700-1,000

Moreover, it’s a bit different to the ones we were discussing before, as its purpose doesn’t seem to be to demonstrate the glory of England’s industrial north, but rather to advertise a service to manufacturers, or indeed anyone else who would like to export things.

A forage in the National Railway Museum’s collections does reveal a couple more like this too, so it wasn’t a one off.

ÔCapacity/Mobility on the LNERÕ, LNER poster, 1933. Poster produced by London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) showing the Dogtooth Loading Dock, Ardwick, Manchester. Artwork by Henry George Gawthorn (1879-1941), who started out as an architect but later turned to pictorial art. He wrote several books on poster design and publicity and produced posters for LNER. He often inserted a self-portrait into many of his posters, complete with pince-nez and a panama hat.

Hull: Britains Cheapest PortÕ, LNER poster, 1929.

Although from 1933 and 1929 respectively, they are both by the same artist, Henry Gawthorn.  What that signifies, though, I don’t know.

Again, there are a few British World War Two posters are to be found lurking amongst the americana, like this Henrion.

FREDERIC HENRI KAY HENRION (1914-1990) VD / A SHADOW ON HAPPINESS. 1943.  British World War Two propaganda poster
FHK Henrion, 1943, est. $700-1,000

Graphically superb, but I’m not about to frame it and hang it on the wall.

And there’s also this Pat Keely, which I don’t think I’ve ever come across until now.

PATRICK COKAYNE KEELY (?-1970) THE NAVY THANKS YOU. 1943.  British propaganda poster ww2
Pat Keely, 1943, est. $800-1,200 

Along with a ton of these, which are good if you like pictures of machinery but that’s about all I can say in favour of them.

1942 briitish propaganda poster world war two help britain finish the job anon
Anon, 1942, est. $600-900

Terence Cuneo 1942 British propaganda poster world war two gun Help Britain Finish the Job
Anon, 1942, est. $600-900

The bottom one is apparently by Terence Cuneo, although that doesn’t seem to make any difference to the estimate.

Finally, there’s also an old favourite.

Denis Constanduros Farmers Prefer Shell poster

This is one of the posters which, a while back, led to my finding out a lot about Denis Constanduros and his aunt Mabel.  The short version is that he produced a few excellent posters and then was lured into broadcasting, quite possibly by his famous aunt Mabel.  Full details here and again here if you need to know more.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Beck again

I’m in the middle of writing a big long post about, well, things, but it’s hard work in the heat, and now Mr Crownfolio has been distracting me with interesting posters. Two to be precise, both of which are coming up for sale in American auctions, and both of which are worth five minutes of your time.

The first is being sold by Swann Auctions, and is noteworthy not because it is the greatest poster ever produced by London Transport during the 1930s – it isn’t – but because it’s a poster by Harry Beck, best known of course for designing the diagrammatic London Transport map.

Harry Beck London Transport poster Chess Valley Rambles 1933

I had no idea he’d produced posters at all, so there you go.  The London Transport Museum collection tells me that he did two others as well.

London Transport poster Cheap return fares, by Harry Beck, 1933

London Transport poster This week in London, by Harry Beck, 1932

Although it does rather appear that he only had one good idea overall.  Well one good poster idea, and then the flash of genius that was the tube map.

A tip, though.  When you are searching the LTM collection, don’t just put ‘Beck’ into the search box, otherwise you will be convinced that he was an unrecognised modernist designer of genius.  The results are muddied you see, because they also include the works of Richard Beck, who is very good, and has been written about on here before.

London Transport is Ever Ready Richard Beck poster

But that’s not all, because the search also brings you those of Maurice Beck, who hasn’t come to my attention until now.  It turns out that he was the photographer for British Vogue in the 1920s, and did a rather nifty line in photographic and photomontage posters as well.

Nothing left to chance, by Maurice Beck, 1930 London Transport poster

London Transport poster Everything ready to all the sports, by Maurice Beck, 1933

Together, though, the works of ‘Beck’ make a rather good modernist collection.

Meanwhile, somewhere out there on the American internet, this is going to be auctioned in September.

Warren Kenton London Transport poster on Greenwich - 1962

Mr Crownfolio partly pointed it out because of the rather, um, excitable write up.

London Transport poster on Greenwich – 1962 Amazing condition, quality and colors ! ! ! Greenwich was early in the space business… Object: Poster Place of origin: Greater London, England (issued) Date: 1962 (issued) Artist/Maker: Kenton, Warren, born 1933 (designer) London Transport Executive (issuer) Materials and Techniques: Colour lithograph Credit Line: Given by the London Transport Board This poster is actually house in the London museum ! Museum number: E.802-1963. Gallery location: Prints & Drawings Study Room, level C, case Y, shelf 69, box 1 Features the Greenwich Observatory !

It’s in a museum!  It features a building! Wow!

But once you’ve recovered from the hyperbole, it’s actually a rather wonderful poster and further proof of my thesis from just the other day that there are lots of under-recognised London Transport posters out there.

I was going to say that I can’t tell you anything about Warren Kenton, because the whole internet is clogged up with an astrologer of the same name.  Except it turns out that he’s one and the same person.  He designed one fantastic poster, then did a quite comprehensive career swerve and became a Kabbalistic astrologer.  Full biography here if you don’t believe me.

Posted in auctions, London Transport | Leave a comment


Right, it’s Friday afternoon, so shall we order some posters?

London Trransport poster catalogue 1976

I think that, as we’ve already got versions of the two Carol Barker ones, I’d like to order Foxes by Peter Roberson please.

Peter Roberson Foxes poster  London Transport 1971

Especially as the prices are so low.

London Transport price list 1976- ppster price details

As you may have guessed by now, we will have t o use some form of time travel if we actually want any of these posters sent to us; the catalogue, sadly dates from 1976. It’s a London Transport poster catalogue, detailing all of the reproduction and current posters that they were offering for sale.

There’s more on the other side too, and they’re even better.

London Transport poster catalogue 1976 part two

I’d take pretty much any of these if they were on offer.

It’s also a reminder that there were some very good illustrators still being used in the early 1970s.  We are lucky enough to own the Michael Carlo.

Michael Carlo Kew London Transport poster 1971

But the Graham Clarke one of Chenies is also very fine too.

1969 Graham Clarke Chenies London Transport poster 1971

(Apologies for the image sizes being all over the show today, but I’m not exactly spoiled for choice as these posters are clearly only of interest to me).

The catalogue has come, you won’t be surprised to learn, from Rik Shepherd, whose father kept all kinds of wonderful poster sales memorabilia – there’s a lot more where this came from and I’ll share some more of them on here in due course.

Rik also points out that some of the posters pictured in the catalogue are shown with the ‘This is a Reproduction of a London Transport Poster’ overprinting on them, as discussed on here before.  He and I are currently debating why and when this over-printing happened.  When it’s not so hot and my brain works properly, I’ll try and get our thoughts together and see what you reckon.

Posted in London Transport | 5 Responses