Pictorial posters, cheap

I’ve never come across Bristol Railwayana Auctions before now. Given that there are only two posters in their current sale, this is perhaps not so surprising.

They are, however, about to auction this.

GWR poster advertising how to buy posters

It’s image-free and tatty (and the best thing that the catalogue can find to say about it is that it  has a ‘superb GWR roundel in the centre’.  Which it does.

But it’s also a brand new bit of evidence in my never-ending quest to find out How Posters Survive (most comprehensive outline of which is here).  Until now, I don’t think I had any record of the GWR selling posters, and yet here they are, at some point in the 1930s judging from the graphic design, selling Double Royal and Quad Royal posters to the public.  I’d like to order this one, if you don’t mind, and will be writing to the Superintendant of the Line forthwith.

GWR AIr services poster Ralph and Brown 1932

From which the main conclusion is that almost all the posters which survive in any number were sold to the public one way or another.  And that this is something that requires some proper archival research. Preferably by me.  If anyone has a grant going, please let me know.

Also at the Bristol auction is this:

Colour Blindness test with skeins of wool etc. in original box which is not marked, but was rescued by a Bristol Barrow Road fitter, also in the bottom of the box a loco repair card from BBR loco no 9711

Which I find intriguing, because surely the time for a colour blindness test is not when you are already that close to the locomotive?   Perhaps someone can enlighten me,

I’ll be going through  more of the railwayana auctions next week, but GCRA is tomorrow, and so cannot wait.

Fortunately for both my bank account and my need to get this post out quite fast, there is not a lot to report.   Well there are tons of posters, but they are mostly quite bland.

Exteter Cathedral British Railways poster linford

Except this one, which is making me laugh for all the wrong reasons.

Come out for easter LT poster 1920s

The only poster I am remotely drawn to is this Amstutz, but then he’s always good value.

Thornton Cleveleys BRitish Railway poster Amstutz

Although I’ve never seen this Worcestershire one before, and I would have noticed it as it is a pretty exact representation of my grandmother’s cottage.  Sadly I don’t think it actually is hers, as it’s just a bit too far south, but it’s a close run thing.

Worcestershire Wilcox British Railways poster

Weirdly, the same poster is also coming up at the GWRA auction in November, whose preview looks a lot more exciting.  But I’ll deal with that, and much else besides, anon.

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The Clever Housewife

Auction time is upon us once again.  In fact we are currently so beset by auctions that I’m unlikely to get them all into one post and (oh the shame) I’ve even missed a couple.  Nonetheless, we will persevere.

The very lovely Swann Auctions in New York have sent over the catalogue for their sale of Rare and Important Posters on Occtober 18th.

N Cramer Roberts, 1928 est. $800-1,200

It’s all very lovely, while at the same time being not really my kind of thing, and also really quite expensive.

Peter Irwin Brown, 1932, set. £7,000-£10,000

For the sake of both my taste and my bank balance, I’m probably better off waiting for their sale of Common and Insignificant posters instead.  I suspect the contents would be much more my kind of thing.

All of which probably explains why I forgot to tell you about Christies’ auction of October 2nd, with the even more portenteous title of Graphic Masterworks: A Century of Design.

Abram Games BOAC poster 1956

This was the sale of a single collection, amassed by Martijn le Coultre (and if you want to read a sensible piece about it, Paul Rennie has written just the thing).  The Games above is not even remotely representative, because the bulk of it consists of highly influential european works.  A bit like going to a design history lecture in short.


Unfortunately, because the sale has been and gone, I can’t get at the online catalogue any more.  Which makes things quite tricky, because as the results page shows, a significant number of the posters on offer don’t appear to have sold, including this Bauhaus poster which was being touted in advance as the highlight of the sale, and had a corresponding estimate of £150,000 – £200,000.

Joost Schmidt (1883-1948) STAATLICHES BAUHAUS AUSSTELLUNG lithograph in colours, 1923

This Donald Brun poster from 1928 did sell though, and so it should have done because it’s fantastic.

Donald Brun Liga 1928

Much as I love British design, I do sometimes wish that we’d taken just a bit more notice of what the Swiss were up to.

Anyway, we’ve missed that sale, but not the regular Christies October poster sale which is on October 30th.

David Klein (1918-2005)  LAS VEGAS, FLY TWA , c.1963
David Klein, 1963, est. £800-1,200

However, with the exception of a handful of David Klein and Stan Galli midcentury bursts of colour, there isn’t much to linger over.  At least half of the two hundred or so lots are film posters, and quite a lot of the rest are foreign, which doesn’t leave a great deal.  There are a heap of early underground posters, most of which are by Charles Paine.

Charles Paine, London Transport Poster 1922,
Charles Paine, 1922, est. £1,000-1,500

Along with a small quantilty of railway posters, of which the following is noteworthy simply because of the difference that a picture of people with sticks makes.

Andrew Johnson  NORTH BERWICK  lithograph in colours, 1930,
Andrew Johnson, 1930, est. £7,000-9,000

At least five thousand pounds it seems.  Compare the estimate with the Frank Newbould below.

Frank Newbould (1887-1951)  EDINBURGH, 'MONS MEG'  lithograph in colours, 1935
Frank Newbould, 1935, est. £2,500-3,500

There are also a selection of Fougasse posters too.

Fougasse world war two coach posters

These – there are actually eleven in the lot – are the most interesting, because they’re interesting examples of private wartime propaganda.  I believe that they were issued by the Tilling Group of coach companies, presumably for display in their own coach stations.  How they negotiated for the paper I don’t know.

Finally, if you’re not completely exhausted by all that, PosterAuctioneer over in Zurich have an auction.  As ever, the posters are almost entirely Swiss, but this gives me a second excuse for giving you some more Donald Brun.

Donald Brun sock poster
Donald Brun, 1954, est. 140 CHF

That would cost about £100 of your Britsh pounds to buy.  I might have to start rethinking my UK only poster strategy.

There are more auctions to go, but I thnk we’ve all had enough for now, haven’t we?

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There are of course other exceptions to my rule (as stated below) that most 1960s posters aren’t worth hanging on my wall.

Patrick Tilley Sunday Times Vintage 1960s Posters Accurate

The obvious ones are of course Patrick Tilley’s posters for the Sunday Times.

Patrick Tilley Sunday Times Vintage 1960s Posters Perceptive

I’ve posted about them on here before.

Patrick Tilley Sunday Times Vintage 1960s Posters Entertaining

Along with, thanks to Patrick Tilley himself, the follow-up set of designs that never ended up being used.

Sunday Times poster statue and bird Patrick Tilley

I would quite happily put any or all of these up in my house, and in fact probably will do one of these days.

Patrick Tilley Sunday Times Vintage 1960s Posters alert

But I’m not sure why that is.  They’re not throw-backs to the 1950s, they’re very much of their time and yet I still like them.  Explanations on a postcard please, because I certainly don’t have any.

But I’m clearly not alone in this.  I was surprised – mainly because they are fairly rare posters – to see this exanple on the Rennies website.


For £1250.

We’ve got the set.  And frankly, if anyone were to offer us six times that price for them, we’d probably have to accept.  It would go a long way towards paying for the kitchen….

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Egging it

If I use the words Philip Larkin and 1963 in the same sentence, you pretty much know what’s coming next, don’t you?

Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(which was rather late for me) –
Between the end of the “Chatterley” ban
And the Beatles’ first LP.

(rest of the poem here if you want)

I suspect that part of the reason that Larkin’s thoughts are so often used, almost in danger of becoming a cliche, is that they express for us something that isn’t otherwise easily said.  At some point in the early 1960s, there was not just a sexual revolution but a sea change across all of British culture.  Virginia Woolf noted a similar moment fifty years before:

On or about December 1910, human character changed. I am not saying that one went out, as one might into a garden, and there saw that a rose had flowered, or that a hen had laid an egg. The change was not sudden and definite like that. But a change there was, nevertheless; and, since one must be arbitrary, let us date it about the year 1910.

What Larkin saw happening was the end of what you could call the ‘long 1950s’, which lasted from 1946 until, well, about 1963.  For these seventeen years, Britain was still very much defined by being a country recovering from the Second World War, a country that wanted a fairer and more equal society, refrigerators for all, but most of all a nation that wanted a quiet, decent life.  It’s no accident that this era lasted for seventeen years either, because what 1963 marks is the coming of age of the first children for whom the war wasn’t a defining experience.  They didn’t need the reassurance of a quiet life after chaos, for the simple reason that all they had known was peace.  The result, of course, was the 1960s.

What provoked these thoughts, oddly enough, was the arrival of these posters at Crownfolio Towers.

Go To work on an egg poster- girl

Go to Work on an egg classic poster -

With blessed thanks to eBay, which coughed the pair of them up at an entirely reasonable price.

These are of course posters from one of the classic advertising campaigns of the 1960s and 1970s, ‘Go To Work on an Egg’, a campaign so famous that it has its own website.  The campaign started in 1957 with television ads starring Tony Hancock but, as far as I can tell, these posters date from 1964-5.  At least that’s when they were winning awards.

There are others too.

Go To Work on an egg pink poster Egg Marketing Board

Go to work on an egg alarm clock poster Egg Marketing board

And of course there is a debate or controversy or whatever you will about whether Fay Weldon or Salman Rushdie invented the slogan.  I can’t say I’m particularly fussed.

Because what’s interesting about these posters, at least for me, is that I would like to hang them on the wall.  Which is unusual for posters of this period – and by this period I mean any time after 1963.

At various points in time we have bought ‘good’ – i.e. critically acclaimed – posters from after the 1950s, such as this Saatchi and Saatchi legend.

Saatchi and Saatchi pregnant man poster

Or this protest poster by David Gentleman.

David Gentleman protest poster

While I admire them, I can’t in truth say that I love them.  And I most definitely don’t want to hang them on the wall.

Whereas I can go through editions of Modern Publicity from the late 1950s and early 1960s and covet really quite a lot of what was on offer in there.

harry Stevens tilling group luggage poster 1958

Tom Eckersley Omo poster 1962 Modern Publicity

So what changes at the end of the long 1950s?

A proportion of it is down to simple practicalities, most importantly the rise of television means that people are spending less energy and creativity on posters.  It’s possible that this also means that posters have to try a bit harder to get noticed, hence the increased use of shock tactics.

But I’d also argue that there is a much deeper change in what we might call the mood of poster designs.  As demonstrated by that Tom Eckersley Omo poster above, the 1950s is the decade of the grin.

'Mablethorpe', BR poster, 1960.Artwork by Eckersley.

Tom Eckersley vintage hastings travel poster

I’ve written about this in the context of Tom Eckersley before, about how it’s very easy to dismiss these posters as child-like and simplistic when actually they are the result of much more complex emotions, of relief at the end of the war and a resultant ability to take pleasure in very simple things.  It’s also worth noting that if I’d had a washing machine in 1962, I’d be pretty chuffed too.

And of course Eckersley by no means had a monopoly on the grin.  Here’s Harry Stevens at it as well.

harry Stevens vintage southport coach poster 1950s

Harry Stevens Boulogne vintage travel poster 1959

And it forms the basis of one of Abram Games’ most famous posters.

Abram Games Guinness poster 1957 big G

I could go on.

Hans Unger (1915-1975) Daily Mail Ideal Home Exhibition Olympia, original poster printed by S H Benson

And on.

Eastbourne vintage travel poster 1950 Bromfield British Railways

And on.

E Tatum train to the continent poster 1958

As I tried to point out in the Eckersley post mentioned above, this is may look like a simple, child-like joy, but it is nothing of the sort.  It’s much more complex and adult than that, stemming from the chance to savour the simple pleasures of life – train trips to the continent, a pint of Guinness, a washing machine – which are all the more appreciated after the dislocatons and horrors of the war.

This is the simple joy of a late Matisse painting.

Matisse collage, who knows what

Or of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence.  (I was forced to read these as a snarky seventeen-year -old for my A-Levels, with the entirely predictable result that I thought these were a set of feeble-minded rhymes about lambs skipping and that the grown ups clearly had no taste.  It’s only now, as a grown-up, that I can see Blake’s point at all.)

But when a new generation arrives, a generation which has not passed through any of the hardships of war, this subtle emotion can’t survive any more.  So it’s out with the old, goodbye to the grins and the taking pleasure in life, and in with shock tactics, subversion and generally getting a rise out of the grown ups, something which could only be done if you had no idea what they went through.  And while the results are often admirable, I don’t often want to hang them on the wall.

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It’s a rare thing, the intersection between Quad Royal and literary fiction, but by Jove I think we have found it.  Or perhaps I should say, by Barbara Jones!

Jonathan Coe expo 58 cover

The work in question is Expo 58 by Jonathan Coe. Now this – if you have my mindset at least – was always going to be a promising subject, because the whole novel is centred around the British Pavilion at the Brussels Exposition of 1958.  And here it is.

British Pavilion Brussels Expo 1958

The British Pavilion has turned up on here before, mainly because its catalogue was designed by, of course, Barbara Jones.

British brochure Brussels Expo 1958 cover Barbara Jones Illustration

And it’s very good.

Brussels Expo 1958 catalogue for British Pavilion Barbara Jones illustration

More of it here if you like.

Mr Coe has done his research too because, lo, here on page four of the novel is our hero (ish) flicking through this very booklet.

This afternoon, in the middle of February 1958, Thomas was checking the proofs of a pamphlet he had helped to put together for sale outside the pavilion: ‘Images of the United Kingdom’.  There was a small body of text, interspersed with attractive woodcut illustrations by Barbara Jones.  Thomas was checking the French version.

Which, as it happens, is the one featured here.

Brussels expo 1958 British pavilion brochure page spread cow

Although if those are woodcuts, I am quite prepared to eat a model Atomium.

I obviously have to tell you to read the book, because clearly anyone with an interest in post-war design and international exhibitions needs as much encouragement as they can get.

But – and I am only half way through – I have to say that it’s probably the only reason to read it, because the rest of it is well, a bit odd.  The experience is, well a bit flat and dull.  I can see that some of this might be my own prejudices; if I’m going to imagine myself at the Brussels Exposition, I’d like to be shown every single design detail that I would have noticed if I was there, please.  And I’m not, it isn’t a very visual book, which is a bit odd considering that it’s about a giant extravaganza for the eyes and senses.

I suspect thought that plenty of people would find it a bit of a cardboardy book.   I can see how this has happened.  The narrator is, deliberately, a bit of a dull chap.  Which is, in some ways, fine, because boring people should deserve to be in books as much as anyone else.  Except they don’t, because they’re not that much fun to read about.

The thin-ness of the telling is also, in some  ways, a kind of period detail.  People did publish novels just like this in the 1950s, and lots of people read them.  So perhaps it is just one giant post-modern joke on itself.

I really hope that’s true, because the alternative is, and I am beginning to consider this, that it just isn’t that good a book.

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Price Conspiracy

Now, I know I’ve been saying recently that eBay prices are going up and can sometimes be a match for the auction houses these days.  Clearly I am not the only person to have come to this conclusion.

A seller called the design conspiracy (a name just asking for a snarky comeback) has put this poster on.

1928 London Transport poster Austin Cooper golliwog

For £500.

Now it is an Austin Cooper London Transport poster, and it is framed.  But it’s a picture of a golliwog, it’s just not going to happen.  It probably wouldn’t have happened anyway even if it were a picture of an ickle fluffy bunny, but it’s definitely not going to fetch that for a golliwog.  And in case you think I’m being harsh, it’s already failed to sell and been relisted at least once.

However, that is the pricing of a sane person compared to our next offering.

Andrew Hall London Transport poster 1965 Imperial War Museum

This is by Andrew Hall from 1965, it is not framed and it too is on offer for, wait for it, £500.

We bought one on eBay  a few years ago; it cost us £19.99.  I think someone is going to be a bit disappointed here.

Amazingly though, I can top that.  Here is a Terence Cuneo poster (not one of my favourite phrases, I must say).

Terence Cuneo Forth Bridge scottish holidays railway poster

Quite apart from the fact that it seems to have been bolted onto the wall, it’s an odd one.  Come to Scotland for your holidays, it’s trying to say, but the picture is not beaches or promenades but the Forth Road Bridge.  Perhaps the engineering holiday market was bigger than I imagine.

Peculiar though that may be, it’s still overshadowed by the price, which is a truly boggling £3,100.  Has a Cuneo poster ever gone for that kind of money, particularly one with brown sellotape marks on it?  Surely not. (Bidding has actually ended, but I still had to show you anyway).

There are still a few bargains out there, though.  Two of which may be the subjects of my next post.  Watch this space.


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