Peaceful charm

I’m not really supposed to be here at all, what with it being the Easter holidays and so on.  But Great Central Railwayana have sent me the catalogue for their forthcoming auction, and guess what, it’s got posters in it.  So I thought you might like to know.

That said, I can’t quite work myself up to a fever pitch of excitement about the selection; rarely have I seen an auction so full of posters which look exactly as I’d expect railway posters to look.  This Claude Buckle is probably my favourite of the very many that there are on offer.

Claude Buckle Somerset

Although there are several others which just look wierdly pedantic and over-detailed, like Ladybird drawings except without the kitsch appeal.  Fred Taylor is not on form in this one.

Fred Taylor Royal windsor british railways poster

While this, by Costelloe, comes from the Observer Book of Bus Spotting.

Northern Ireland poster costello

The area of design where Ladybird illustration shades into kitsch is also present, as with this anonymous effort.

Bexhill British Railways poster 1950s

But if railway posters we must have – and it appears we must – there are some to like as well.  This series have always been amongst my favourites, because, I think, the typography isn’t boxed off in a frame.

Cornwall British Railways poster

And I’ve always been a sucker for that Festival of Britain-esque typeface anyway.

This Bromfield for Swanage is also rather good.

Bromfield British railway poster swanage

And I like this one as well, although I am unable to give a coherent explanation as to why.

Bon Voyage British railways short sea routes poster

Maybe I just need a holiday.

Just to keep us all on our toes (see, I was paying attention) there is also a single London Transport poster, by Frank. M. Lea

Frank M Lea The Tower tram poster

Perhaps the most interesting set of posters, though, are these three, which to me all look to be stylistic cousins.

Cheltenham Spa British Railways poster birtwhistle

To be specific, they are all railway posters with a distinct resemblance to classic Batsford book covers, as designed by Brian Cook.

Gregory Brown Ullswater travel poster

None of them are, though  – the first one is by Birtwhistle, the middle one by Gregory Brown and the very striking version of Dover below is by D. W. Burley.

Burley Dover Southern railway

I’d like to think that it’s someone with particular taste selling their collection, but it’s probably just chance.

You might even include this 1946 Walter Spradbery in the collection too if you were feeling generous.

Thames Valley railway poster walter spradbery

I’m always rather intrigued by these posters which, although they date from just after the war, still have the ghost logos of the old railway companies on them.  It always makes me wonder what people knew, or at least what they wanted to believe. The Railway Executive had been running the railways for six long years, and surely, after the General Election, people must have known that nationalisation was coming.  But these few posters still slipped out, as though someone, somewhere, wanted to believe that it would be possible to carry on as though nothing had changed.  Even the image here reeks of that kind of nostalgia, as though the art deco days of before the war could still be reached, just a few stops further down the train line.  Or am I being too fanciful?

This, of course, is a a railwayana auction, which means that there are no estimates and I do not have the foggiest what any of these posters  might fetch. But I am going to make a resolution about that, and at some point in the next week or so (school holidays permitting, which they don’t much), I will go back through a couple of old railwayana catalogues and take a look at achieved prices.  And then, probably, curse all the bargains I have missed.  Never mind.  I’d quite like to know what this would go for too.

spratts sign

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Carefree by coach

I haven’t done a good rummage through eBay for a while.  There is a reason for this, other than simple idleness on my part, which is that there hasn’t been much of interest coming up for a while.  But this has been going on for so long now that it’s probably time to consider the whys and wherefores of this.

Or shall we at least start with the hows.  What seems to be in short supply at the moment is my and Mr Crownfolio’s ideal lots: good quality posters owned by people without a clue about what they are selling.  This is how we like to buy posters, but at the moment these are simply not there.  What’s more, I don’t know where they have gone, either; if anyone can tell me, please do.

What’s there instead falls to either extreme.  There are some more pedestrian advertising posters being sold at a reasonable price.  Of these, my favourite at the moment is this Bristol Zoo effort, with a starting price of just £15.

Bristol Zoo poster polar bears

Also-rans in the same category include this very, um, bright poster for the Woolwich Building Society, yours for just £9.99 Buy It Now.

Woolwich Building Society Manchester branch 1950s poster

Also in the same category is this London Evening Standard poster .

Young Londoners Evening Standard poster

It’s barely worth the £12.53 Buy It Now price as graphic design, but I reckon that as a piece of social history it’s probably worth much more.

Then at the other end of the scale are nice posters at a rather high price.  These are almost entirely sold by our old friends PosterConnection, who are currently selling a coach-load of coach posters.  Here are Harry Stevens and Daphne Padden covering very similar territory, and both priced at £290 Buy It Now (that’s $440).

Harry Stevens East Anglia fisherman coach poster

Daphne Padden East Anglia fisherman coach poster

I’m not sure what I feel about the pricing here.  Those two seem quite expensive to me, this Daphne Padden for Llandudno even more so at £316.

Daphne Padden Llandudno coach poster

While this Royal Blue classic is just £257.  I do not understand, although to be fair I have not read the condition reports as fully as I might do were I going to buy them.  Which I am not.

Daphne Padden Royal Blue fisherman poster

Still, I would like to hope that our copies of these posters are worth that kind of money too.

Not everything they have seems expensive, though.  This Coney Beach poster is £190, which is about what I’d expect it to fetch at a reasonable auction.

Coney Beach travel poster

While this David Klein, should you happen to have Irish connections, is almost a bargain at £237.

David Klein Ireland TWA travel poster

PosterConnection also don’t win the prize for most expensive highly desirable poster on eBay.  That surely must go to this Tom Eckersley classic.

Tom Eckersley Whisky Galore Film poster

Yours for £4,500.  But definitely not mine at that price.

What’s missing in all of this, though, is the middle ground of reasonable, affordable posters.  The pickings are sadly few.  There is this coach poster which has a starting price of £19.99.

Carefree by coach poster

Or this Lander railway poster, with a starting bid of £64.99.

R M Lander NOrthumberland Railway poster

But in truth I don’t much like either of them, so there’s not much consolation to be had.

And elsewhere in the railwayana listings, classic posters are also hitting auction prices.  This LNER Knaresborough poster has already reached £336 and has two more days to go.

Knaresborough LNER post Gawthorner

The poster market on eBay has changed very fast.  Even just five or six years ago, £25 spent on eBay might have bought you this.

Karo soft fruit by post genius GPO poster

Or this.

Properly Packed Parcels Please Tom Bund poster 1967

Or even this.

Andre Amstutz Move Your Farm railway executive poster

But not any more.  So where are we to get our posters from now?

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Popular, again

We’ve been beaten to it!  For a while now, me and Serge and Tweed have been thinking that what the world needs is a complete re-staging of Barbara Jones‘ Black Eyes and Lemonade Exhibition, which was held at the Whitechapel Gallery as part of the Festival of Britain celebrations in 1951.

Black Eyes and Lemonade Catalogue cover curated by Barbara Jones whitechapel art gallery

I’ve written about the exhibition before on here, as well as posting some details of the catalogue (from which we learn that a good third of the exhibition at least came from Barbara Jones herself).

But it’s still worth reprising what I’ve said before, which is that Black Eyes and Lemonade was a very important exhibition whose importance  – seen from the perspective of today – rivals the spindly-legged modernism on display at the South Bank itself.

Festival of Britain artists impression from FoB catalogue

I say this for two reasons really.  One is that the displays at the Festival of Britain itself were brilliant but at the same time also quite obvious.  The modern world of technology and leisure was the big promise that had been made at the end of the war; this dream was one of the things that people had been fighting for.  So while the displays of modern architecture and labour saving devices at the Festival were amazing and exciting, all brought together for the first time, one thing they were not was unexpected.  But Black Eyes and Lemonade was.

Black Eyes and Lemonade Whitechapel Art Gallery Barbara Jones pub display

It takes a particular kind of contrary genius to look the other way when everyone else is pointing towards a radiant future, but that’s exactly what Barbara Jones did.  She collected up pub lettering, popular advertising and naive art – in short, all the things that she felt were not only neglected now but were also in danger of disappearing under a wave of television, good modern design and indifference.  (As one of the main artists on the Recording Britain project, Barbara Jones had form in thinking about what might be neglected and in danger of disappearing).

But Black Eyes and Lemonade was also revolutionary in that it was the first time popular industrial art had been allowed into the hallowed halls of a gallery or museum.  People at the time were genuinely outraged that the Idris Talking Lemon was being displayed as though it were a piece of art.

Black Eyes and Lemonade Whitechapel Art Gallery Idris Talking Lemon Barbara Jones

Of course poular art had been celebrated before.  Here’s just one example, Noel Carrington’s King Penguin on English Popular Art, from 1945.

Noel Carrington English Popular Art 1945 King Penguin

But you won’t find any talking lemons in here; instead it’s all horse brasses,  smocks and twelfth century hinges from cathedral doors.  The closest it gets to modernity is the sign painting on barges and an appreciation, shared with Black Eyes, of Victorian pub interiors.  It certainly wouldn’t have featured anything like this.

Black Eyes and Lemonade Airedale Fireplace

Black Eyes and Lemonade was the first time that the popular products of the industrial age had been celebrated in this way.  It began a process which leads, in the end, to Grayson Perry and Jeremy Dellar, which makes it in my book a very good thing.

The good news is that these kind of opinions are no longer a minority view, which is why the Whitechapel Gallery, along with the Museum of British Folklore, are now revisiting Black Eyes and Lemonade for an exhibiton which has just opened.   Now it’s an ‘archive exhibition’, whatever that means, and I can’t tell you any more than that as I haven’t been to see it yet.  Although it is on until 1 September, so there is some time.

But I will, not least because the Whitechapel have sent over, by way of tantalising preview, these photographs of the exhibition in situ.

Black eyes and lemonade interior view with banner whitechapel art gallery


Look at that National Union of Railwaymen banner hanging from the ceiling, it’s a real index of how far we have all absorbed Barbara Jones’ ideas about what is worth celebrating in popular art.

Jeremy Dellar Manchester procession banner

It doesn’t only link us to Jeremy Dellar and his modern banners produced for the Manchester Festival a few years ago, the idea has now become even more mainstream than that.  For Michael Wood’s most recent series about the history of Britain, a recurring motif was the banner, commissioned for the programme, which depicted the different stages of history featured in the series.

Michael Wood Great British Story Banner

Here it is again from a different angle, along with a quite splendid selection of other stuff.

Whitechapel art gallery black eyes and lemonade exhibition 1951


From the pictures they sent me I also learned that the Airedale fireplaec has not only survived, but is now preserved in the Design Museum collections.


There is a whole story in that, just waiting to be told, but whatever it might be I think Barbara Jones would be rather pleased about the result.

Anyway, I will obviously be going as soon as I can possibly manage, if any of you get there before me, please do report back.

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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.

Arthur G Mills
Barry Costen
Bryan Moore
C M F Donnelly
C Parkinson
Chris Russell
Desmond Marks
Desmond Moore
Dick Segal
Digby Mills
Donald Morrison?
F Blake
F M Coventry
F Thornley
F Winterborne
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
Leonard Woy
Maurice Read
Stan Franklin
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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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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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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