Location location location

I’ve said  this many times before, but what makes a poster valuable or not is not just a mystery to me but a source of constant puzzlement. As far as I can tell, condition, fashion, the name of the designer, the kind of auction and much else besides are all fed into a whirling vortex and a price pops out the other end, but how the process actually works I do not know. But I do now know a bit more about at least one of the variables, and that, bizarrely, is house prices.

Mr Crownfolio and I were watching an evening auction go by at the end of last week (if you are wondering why it’s not one I’d mentioned before, more later). Everything was going for a bit more than the estimates, which were rather pleasingly cheap.  Then we were very surprised to see this seemingly unremarkable poster go for £400 (I don’t have the exact prices I’m afraid as the auctioneers don’t list them online).

Sheringham british railways posters 1950s

This was a bit mystifying as it’s not a known poster, not by a known artist and generally didn’t have a huge amount to recommend it it over any of the other similar posters which had already gone past.  Until we started to wonder whether it was down to the location.  That bit of North Norfolk is now Notting-Hill-on-Sea.  So, we figured, there must be lots of very rich people with the pressing need to buy a poster to decorate the holiday cottage.  Fortunately, the very next lot allowed us to put our theory to the test.

Colwyn Bay British Railways poster

As a poster it’s neither better nor worse – the colours are perhaps nicer but I’d probably mark it down for the rhodedendrons.  But the big difference is that Colwyn Bay doesn’t get that many visitors from West London.  So we watched, and lo and behold it went for £150.

There were lots of other posters of that ilk in the auction, which mostly went at around about the £200 mark.

Whitstable British Railways poster 1950s

And then there was this one.

Paignton British railways poster Tom Eckersley 1950s

A rather lovely Tom Eckersley which  just happens to be the reason that I wasn’t flagging up the auction on here in advance.  For a change, too, it’s good news as we won it.  And for £160 too.  Which only goes to show that however much I generate theories, there’s just no telling with poster prices.

For more proof of that, do you want a look at another auction from today?  Up for grabs were five out of the six Sunday Times posters by Patrick Tilley.  (These by the way are old pictures for illustration, not the ones that were actually for auction, but they don’t look much different to me.)

Patrick Tilley Sunday Times Vintage 1960s Posters Perceptive

We either have one set of these (Mr Crownfolio’s theory) or one set and some spares (my belief) but anyway, we thought we’d put a low bid in, just in case they went for very little (and there’s always an appeal in cornering the market).  But I’m not going to tell you how low a bid because we were very, very wrong.

Patrick Tilley Sunday Times Vintage 1960s Posters provocative

The posters went for a somewhat boggling £1550.  Which is actually only £300 per poster but is still a lot of money.  Especially when the estimate was £150-250 for the lot.  I wonder where this lot came from?  And the bids too come to that?

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Northern return

Last year, I wrote about depictions of the industrial North of England in posters, or rather I pointed out their rather conspicuous absence.  At which point I got quite a lot of comments, mostly saying that I was wrong, and pointing me at posters like this.

Norman Wilkinson Sheffield Steelworks LMS poster

Which is, I am forced to admit, is exactly what I was complaining didn’t exist, a railway poster of Northern industry.  There are, as it turns out, a whole series of Norman Wilkinson posters doing the same sort of thing, including the Runcorn design that I included in the original post, and  a few more to boot.

‘Grangemouth Docks’, LMS poster, Norman Wilkinson industrial  'A Midland Coalfield', LMS poster, c 1935.

'Lanarkshire Steel Works', LMS/LNER poster, c 1935.

I have to say that that last one is the best Norman Wilkinson I’ve ever seen, and if anyone wants to send me a copy feel free.

But Wilkinson wasn’t the only artist working in this series – this poster is by Frederick Cayley Robinson.

Frederick Cayley Robinson Cotton poster LMS 1924

Now on the one hand I clearly am wrong, there are quite a few posters of Northern Industry.  At the same time, though, I don’t think this changes the argument.  The Cayley Robinson poster is dated to 1924, which is the same date as I have seen given to a couple of the Norman Wilkinson posters.  Railway poster dating is not an exact science – the NRM itself dates them to 1923-48 – but I’d hazard a guess that these are all part of the same series.  Which means that putting these kind of images on a poster was, possibly, tried once as an experiment and then never done again.

Now this might have been because the Board of Directors of the LMS thought it unseemly, but it might be because they discovered that this kind of poster didn’t play well with the public.  And at this time, they were able to be reasonably certain about what was and wasn’t popular, because not only did the company sell copies of its posters to the public, it took some notice of how they were doing too.  In 1924, they were able to comment that this poster, by Maurice Greiffenhagen, was selling to the public “in large numbers” (more on this here if you’re interested).

‘Carlisle, the Gateway to Scotland', LMS poster, 1924. Maurice Greiffenhagen

There may be an implicit comparison here with the industrial scenes, or at least I’d like to think so.

None of this can be proven, of course, but what is the case is that this series does seem to have been the only one, which I think means that my overall point about the scarcity of these images (and especially after World War Two when a new technological and manufacturing Britain was going to take over the world) still stands.

But what about the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales, people complained in the comments.  What about posters like this (any excuse)?

Lander (Eric dates unknown) The English Lakes, original poster printed for BR(LMR) by Waterlow

Or indeed these, and many others like them?

Edwin Byatt Vintage railway poster 1940

Lune Valley 1950 poster Percy Drake Brookshaw

They are northern, granted, but they aren’t industrial which is the real gap in the imagery.  But as ‘mm’, who commented, points out there is another interesting divide to be found between northern and southern landscapes.  It’s a diversion, but it’s one well worth taking.

Maybe the northern landscapes are too wild and untamed to be fondly remembered in the sense you mean. Perhaps it is a safe, cultivated landscape we yearn for or think of as British!

I think this may be true, and it’s worth remembering that the Lake District only became popular, rather than being seen as a rather frightening and uncivilised wildness at the start of the eighteenth century.  There is definitely an ‘otherness’ to these places.

There is something else going on here too, which is a kind of conflation.  Englishness becomes a shorthand for Britishness.

Britain Land of Gardens poster for American tourism early 1950s

While England in its turn tends to be represented by the Southern.

Old england National Savings poster heritage

I thought we should have a few dog-ugly posters by the way, as it was all getting a bit safe and pretty further up there.

All of which means that, however much we admire the Lake District, or Scotland, or the Peak District, it would look a bit odd to have one of the images of these areas with ‘Britain’ or ‘England’ stuck at the bottom.  Although like all good generalisations, there are of course exceptions.

Come to Britain for motoring vintage tourist poster

All of this is covered in much more depth and complexity in David Matless’s peerless book Landscape and Englishness, and now that this has emerged from storage (hurrah) I will have to reread it and, I suspect, post on the subject again.

For the last word, however, I must return to the comments.  Nick S posted this wonderful bit of writing by Harry Pearson which comes, it turns out from a book about football.  But bear with me on this one, it’s not simply relevant, it sums the whole thing up to perfection.

In the North-East, England, or the notion of England, seems a long way off. The North-East is at the far corner of the country but it is separated by more than just miles. There is the wilderness of the Pennines to the west, the emptiness of the North Yorkshire moors to the south and to the north, the Scottish border. The nearest major city to Newcastle is Edinburgh, and that is in another country. Sometimes the North-East seemed more like an island than a region. And there was more. As a boy, I can remember looking through one of those colour illustrated encyclopaedias and coming upon a full-page picture that caught my attention. There were cottages festooned with hanging baskets, burgeoning gardens, white picket fences, a village green, a duck pond, a cricket match, a district nurse on a bicycle, and, doubtless, a future prime minister sitting outside a thatched pub sipping warm beer. The caption underneath read ‘An Everyday English Village Scene’…. this caption was clearly a mistake. Because I lived in an English village and it didn’t look anything like that!

“Twenty years later I went to see a friend of mine in Sonning-on-Thames. It was a hot June day and as we walked across the churchyard I realised that this was, spiritually if not figuratively, the village in the encyclopaedia…. This was England. England, their England. It wasn’t like the North-East at all.

Which is why you won’t often find a picture of a Northern scene with the caption ‘England’ or ‘Britain’ on it.  And even if you do, it definitely won’t be showing their industries.

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Over-modern, over here

I know I mentioned it in passing, but what with one thing and another, the 1950s Modern book that I wrote for Shire hasn’t really had much of an outing on here, despite having hit the shops before Christmas.

1950s Modern cover image Shire books

You can buy it on Amazon if you like, but the nice people at Shire have promised me a couple of copies to give out as prizes, so if that’s not an excuse for a post and a competition, I don’t know what is.

The book takes a look at the many and various ways in which that nebulous concept ‘the modern’ took shape in design during that decade.  Everything from the obvious, like the Festival of Britain.

Festival of Britain Battersea Gardens guide skylon biro

To the more ambiguous.

Barbara Jones expo booklet inside

This rather interesting mix of trad and modern is by Barbara Jones, by the way, and is one of her illustrations for the British exhibit at the 1958 Brussels Expo (more here if you’re interested).

One of the many things that amuses me about the design of this period is the strenuous efforts people made in pursuit of the modern.  Take this plate, for example, made by Stoke pottery firm J&G Meakin.

1950s Meakin checked plate

These kinds of designs are pretty familiar to us nowadays, but at the time they were strikingly different.  And this wasn’t just because the designs and colours had come over from America, it’s also because it’s a determined effort to be as different as possible to a conventional plate as it could be.  Shall we list the charges against it?

First is the shape.  Most plates are round; this one is squarish.  Plates aren’t round by accident, they are round because they are thrown on a wheel.  You can’t throw a square plate (well, you can, but to break it rather than make it), you have to cast it, a much more difficult and expensive process.  The same is true of the decoration; round plates tend to have circles on them because they’re much easier to paint that way – again you spin the plate round, hold the paintbrush still, Bob’s your uncle.  These straight lines take a great deal more effort.

Finally, there’s the kind of decoration.  1950s ceramics acquire their motifs from pretty much anywhere except traditional tableware motifs.  In this case they’ve used a tablecloth pattern, which is actually not entirely unreasonable, but I’ve also seen Formica designs and dog-tooth checks.  Then of course there are the pictorial ones.  The most famous tableware of all from this period has to be Homemaker.

Homemaker plate designed Enid Sweeney

Looks fine, doesn’t it?  It’s so much a symbol of the times that we’re accustomed to it.  But wait a minute, how much do you really want to eat your food off a picture of a television?  And a television that’s staring back at you, to boot.

Homemaker is of course a visual dictionary of all the most up-to-date things that you could possibly put in your sitting room: so that modernity outweighs any scruples you might have about eating off the furniture.   And if it’s modern, it almost certainly appeared on a plate.  Everything from the Continentally modern aubergine to spider plants, New Look fashions to sharp colours that can’t have made the food look appetising, they all appeared on plates during the 1950s.  You can say what you like about the results, but they were definitely trying to be modern.

Terence Conran midwinter pot plants ceramic design

That digression into tableware, quite apart from being one of my other obsessions (I will refer you to my MA thesis unless you’re careful) is by way of demonstrating the sheer, teeth-gritting commitment that designers had to modernity in the 1950s, even in the face of what would seem to be common sense.

Your mission, if you want to win a copy of the 1950s Modern book, is to find a poster which illustrates that same, barking, modernism in graphic form.  Here’s one I quite like.

Henrion KB day view television poster.

But I still don’t think that quite encapsulates what was going on.  Although it does have a television on it, and there wasn’t much that was more modern than the television in those days.

So, can you do better?  If you can, post your thoughts in the comments box and the winner – chosen by me according to my own prejudices – gets a copy of the book.  Entries close on Wednesday 30th January.  British posters probably score more highly than furrin, too.

If that all sounds a bit taxing, there will also be another competition on the brand new Quad Royal Facebook page at the end of the week.  Why not pop over and like that now, then you won’t miss it when it happens.  In the meantime, I await your entries.

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Snowed out

Apologies for the slight gap in postings; it is, I am afraid, down to the white stuff.  Well to be more precise it’s down to the reluctance of anyone to take Small Crownfolio off my hands while there is snow on the ground.  The situation will, I hope, return to normal very shortly.  In the meantime, have a Daphne Padden poster of snow by way of apology.

Daphne Padden Pall Mall Ski poster

This poster will appear in Christies Ski Sale on Wednesday, should you be interested and have £700-900 to throw its way.

Not only is it the only Padden poster to appear regularly in their auctions, I would also hazard a guess that it must be one of the few cigarette posters to do that either.  I can’t imagine that tobacco promotion is that sellable these days (or has it already made the trip round to ironic?).  But clearly in this case, like a game of Rock Scissors Paper, winter sports trumps cigarettes.

The skies willing, I shall be back tomorrow with a competition, and perhaps even some proper posts later in the week.

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Great Central Ladybird

The New Year has hardly begun, but the first auction is already upon us.  Held by Great Central Railwayana, it takes place on 19th January – and there are quite a pleasing crop of posters included.  Although, as ever with railwayana auctions, there are no estimates and very little in the way of dates either.  I will persevere regardless, although not without saying once again that if they did include estimates I’d probably punt a few more bids their way.  But that’s their loss and, in the most part, my gain.  I think.

Anyway, if you’re sitting comfortably we’ll begin.  I will skate over the vast numbers of topographical posters.

Pitlochry British Railways Poster McIntosh Patric

They are there, they look like this kind of thing, I have nothing much to say about them really.  Well, except that the catalogue pictures are weirdly washed out.  I’ve fiddled with the exposure and saturation a bit, simply to stop this post looking like it’s been produced in Sepiatone, but I have no idea what the actual posters look like.  They can’t all be that insipid, can they?

Although if you do want a classy bit of topography, you could do worse than this Fred Taylor, I must say.

Rred Taylor Ripon Cathedral railway poster

The Ladybird school of mildy kitsch retro illustration is also very well-represented.  I offer you just a couple of samples here, there are plenty more where these came from.

Rothesay Isle of Bute Figis poster British Railways 1950s

 

Harwich-Dovercourt Bay BRitish Railways poster Fryer

 

Or for the full kitsch blow out, there’s always this.

Butlins, British Railways poster 1950s

 

But if you like the 1950s, there are better things to spend your money on.  Like this Lander, for example.

Largs Ayrshire Lander poster British Railways 1950s

I don’t think I’ve ever seen it before, and I rather like it.  Also included in the sale is this, which must be among his earlier works.

Ross on Wye Lander poster GWR

Although I have to say, this poster raises more questions than it answers.  It’s not that it doesn’t look like his other stuff – I’m quite happy to believe that he was working in this kind of style in the 1930s.  But up until the Second World War, and possibly beyond, Lander was head of the Ralph and Mott drawing office and, as far as I know, not signing things with his own name.  So what’s going on here?  Was this one of the few posters produced in the name of the old railway companies just after the war?  I have seen one or two of those before.  Or is he moonlighting?  Or what?  I may never know.

I also like Alan Durman‘s somewhat sidelong take on 1950s topography too.

Alan Durman Tunbridge wells british railways poster 1950s

 

But for once, my two favourite posters date from before the war.  If we weren’t saving up our money for new windows, I’d definitely be bidding on this Frank Newbould.

Frank Newbould camping coaches poster LNER

If I thought we could afford it, we’d might well  be bidding on this Tom Purvis too.  But fortunately we’ve got one already.

Tom Purvis East Coast baby yellow railway poster

Once upon a time ago on eBay, we were lucky enough to get a chewed up copy to restore.  But that was many years ago, when posters were cheaper.  I doubt we’d even be able to afford that these days.

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Missing in Action

At some point over the weekend, Mr Crownfolio and I happened across a BBC4  documentary about British war films of the 1950s.

The programme itself felt like a bit of a missed opportunity to me.  The way in which the British had to come to terms with what had happened in World War Two by endlessly processing and reprocessing the history is fascinating – and something which continues almost to this day as stories like Bletchley Park are slowly revealed.  But the programme got rather diverted by getting an interview with Virginia McKenna and giggling over Sylvia Syms’ cleavage instead.

However I’m rather glad we stuck with it as, towards the end, this appeared.

League of Gentleman film poster quad royal

It’s good, isn’t it?  But I have no idea who it’s by, and the internet can’t seem to enlighten me – something which isn’t made any easier by the fact that any search for League of Gentlemen inevitably gets confused by rather a lot of Royston Vaisey.  Although I can tell you that the Swedish version is possibly even better.

League of Gentleman swedish film poster

But can any of you tell me who it’s by, as I’d really like to know?

Just to add to the confusion, there’s also a crown format version, which I am guessing is by a different hand.  Although I can’t identify this artist either.

the-league-of-gentlemen-movie-poster-1960-1010209065

Answers, if you have them, to the comment box at the bottom of the page please.

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