String Theory

This has recently arrived in the post, contradicting my previous assertion on here that there are no more eBay bargains to be had.

Lander british railways luggage poster
Admittedly it is not an outstanding piece of graphic design history (although I quite like it) and is rather battered round the edges too.   But it’s by Lander, which is always a good thing, and it’s also a rather intriguing bit of social history.  Because it’s a reminder of the days when things had brown labels and were tied up with string, or in this case cord.

Nobody does that any more, do they?  I have sometimes been known to wrap a parcel up in brown paper, but I don’t think I’ve ever tied it up with string.  This is something I’m sure that my mother could do though, coming as she does from an age before jiffy bags and sellotape.

Without all these modern parcel technologies, it was clearly possible to wrap a parcel very badly.  At least that’s the only conclusion I can arrive at from the sheer volume of posters that the GPO put out on the subjects.  Most of these are quite general, and I’ve written about the Properly Packed Parcels series on here before.  But there were plenty of other similar exhortations too, and here’s just one.

Tom Eckersley cow jug pack parcels carefully GPO poster

Actually, seeing as it’s Tom Eckersley, let’s have two.

Tom Eckersley cat ornament poster GPO pack parcels carefully

Judging from the posters though, (these are all from between 1950 and 1953) there was a Post Office standard approved way of packing parcels carefully.

Caswell 1953 GPO poster

Dennis Beytagh 1952 parcel wrapping poster

So that’s two pieces of string round the long side, one round the other, although I still have no idea how to knot it.   Hans Unger, meanwhile, is even more specific about rigid boxes and string in 1950.

Hams Umger 1950 poster wrapping parcels GPO

This one, though, is the most instructional I have managed to find (it’s artwork by the way, artist not known).

Artwork for a poster. Subject: Careful packing of parcels. Artist: Not known. GPO 1950

I think even I could have had a go at the process now, although I still don’t know how to knot the string.

Of course (and you might have guessed that the whole post has been leading up to this) the real challenge that faced the Post Office was blackberries.  Sent in a non-approved fashion.

Karo soft fruit by post genius GPO poster

Did people really send them in a basket?  And expect them to get there?  I am boggled at that thought.  But the GPO weren’t, they produced more than one poster, which means that it must have happened at least twice…

soft fruit packing gpo poster

The GPO weren’t alone though, British Railways also had problems with parcel packing and addressing.

'Address your package clearly and help the Railway Staff to help you'. Poster produced for Great Western Railway (GWR), London, Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS), London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) and Southern Railway (SR) to remind customers to address packages clearly, as illegible addresses cause delays. Ar'Address your package clearly and help the Railway Staff to help you'. Poster produced for Great Western Railway (GWR), London, Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS), London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) and Southern Railway (SR) to remind customers to address packages clearly, as illegible addresses cause delays. Artwork by Miles Harper.twork by Miles Harper.

The problems might have been similar but it has to be said, the GPO’s poster design was infinitely superior.

You also get the feeling from their posters that they don’t actually like parcels that much.  They’re just trouble really, when your main business is really running trains.

British Railways staff poster. 'Don't Accept Packages which are Unfit for Transit', BR staff po'Don't Accept Packages which are Unfit for Transit', BR staff poster Artwork by Frank Newbould.

That, incidentally is apparently a late Frank Newbould from 1960,  It’s also quite mild in tone compared to some.

But nothing gave them an excuse like the war.  At last they could say what they really thought.

Fewer parcels World War two christmas poster british railways

Can you even send a parcel by railway now?  Probably only if it is tied up with string.

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I can resist anything except temptation.  So this is the Barbara Jones picture which comes up on the BBC Your Paintings site.

Barbara JOnes pecking bird exhall grange special school

I wish it were my painting.  But in fact it belongs to Exhall Grange Community College and Special School in the Midlands.

I could quite easily go off on an entire digression about work of this calibre and vintage in schools, but for once I don’t have to.  All I need to do is point you at the Decorated School website and set you off.  Although I haven’t had a chance to explore it fully myself yet, so if you find any  particular gems, do let me know.

A normal service will finally, I hope, return next week; it’s been a bit of a sanitorium here at Crownfolio towers these last few days, so apologies for the absence.

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The peculiar thing about writing on Quad Royal, or to be more precise, the delving about in pursuit of a subject that I do in advance of writing, is that I quite often find myself in a place I didn’t expect to be.  Take today, for example.  This was going to be a quick, simple, short piece about Harry Stevens, brought about by a nice comment by Roger Lake on my last post about him (I would suggest that you follow that link, as there’s a good Albert Finney anecdote in the comments too).

Roger told me – well, us really –  that there was a painting by Harry Stevens in the Salford Museum and Art Gallery called St Paul but he hadn’t Googled it yet.  And he’s right – Mr Crownfolio found it for me on the BBC Your Paintings site.

Harry Stevens  St Paul Salford Art Gallery

From which I can also tell you that another one of his paintings is in Manchester City Galleries.

Kite in the Sea Harry Stevens Manchester City Art Gallery

That one’s called Kite in the Sea, but you could possibly have guessed that title.

The third painting by Harry Stevens is Spirit of the South, a painting which I did know about and mentioned in the original post.

Harry Stevens Spirit of the south National Railway Museum

So far, so good: we now know a bit more about Harry Stevens.  But then I noticed something which was more interesting than the picture (at least if you’re me) which was the clickable link to the right of the picture.  A link which takes you to all the oil paintings in the National Railway Museum (NRM) collections, brought to you in a format considerably more user-friendly than their own catalogue.

So, what was going to be a short post about some Harry Stevens paintings now finds itself staring down the barrel of four hundred and eighty three paintings, all of which now need to be considered.

They are, of course, not all to our taste.  People have, I can tell you, commissioned quite a few oil paintings of steam trains.  There are almost as many paintings of men called Sir, too.  But that still leaves quite a lot left for our consideration.

Some are from posters which I know well, like these two by Claude Buckle.

Claude Buckle new manchester Piccadilly painting artwork

Ireland at Night Claude buckle artwork oil painting railway poster

I was pleased to see that the museum owned the original artwork for this, too.

Frank Newbould Skegness artwork

Except that it then turned out to be a much later version by Frank Newbould.

There are other paintings, though ,which are for posters that I’ve never seen, and which are really rather good.  Take this 1955 Frank Sherwin image of Kent for example.

Frank Sherwin kent artwork oil painting

Here it is as a poster.

Frank Sherwin 'Kent - The Garden of England', BR poster, 1955.

For a change, I think I prefer the original.

There is, I suspect, a good reason for that, and it’s one which is made explicit by the next example, Warwick Castle by Adrian Scott Stokes.

Adrian Scott Stokes Warwick Castle railway poster artwork

A quick surf through the NRM catalogue reveals that not only was this the only poster that Scott Stokes ever produced for the railways, he was primarily an artist (and critic) rather than a designer.  In fact, this was one of a series of posters commissioned by the LMS from members of the Royal Academy.  So, posters by artists, not designers.  All of which probably explains why it works better as an oil painting than a printed poster.

London Midland & Scottish Railway poster. Artwork by Adrian Stokes. Warwick Castle


In fact, I’d go as far as to say that I’d happily have that painting on my wall, but don’t feel remotely the same about the poster.  But then none of this is surprising.  Artists, generally, make better paintings than posters.  If you want a poster, you may be better off with someone else, like, say a designer.  But I shouldn’t be too harsh.  Even if the resulting posters aren’t as good as they could be, it’s still a very interesting exercise looking at the paintings, as well as being a useful reminder that poster design is very definitely not the same thing as fine art.

Fear not, though, there are proper poster artists at work here too.  Take Alan Durman.  We’ve seen this design before.

Alan Durman Ramsgate poster artwork

There’s quite a lot of Durman’s artwork in the NRM.

Alan Durman Weymouth poster

For a while, I found myself getting annoyed by this.  Why did they have so much of his work when the collection didn’t seem to hold a single thing by Daphne Padden or Tom Eckersley?

Until I realised that the problem didn’t lie with the museum, but with the search criteria.  The BBC site only covers oil paintings held for the nation.  Eckersley, meanwhile, worked in watercolour.  So I need to look in the NRM’s catalogue if I want to find this.

Tom Eckersley Lincolnshire artwork British railways poster

Or indeed this.

Tom Eckerley Paignton Artwork British Railways poster

So that’s alright then.  But to go back to Alan Durman, he also provided me with another diversion.  Because the webpage for his railway poster designs told me that he’d also painted this.

Timsbury Manor painting by AlanDuman

Which is quite a stylistic surprise.  There is clearly more to Mr Durman than just dolly birds, I will investigate further one day.

The painting itself also has an interesting story to tell.  It’s of Timsbury Manor, just down the road from us, and the website says:

This shows one of a variety of houses in Somerset thought to be under threat of demolition in the 1960s. Paintings of them were commissioned by Arthur Batten-Pool of Rode Manor, which he bequeathed to the Victoria Art Gallery [in Bath].

It’s a localised, and later, version of Recording Britain, which is another thing that I must write about properly one day.  But Arthur Batten Pool was right; Timsbury Manor was demolished in 1961.

But that’s not the last intriguing story to come out of the paintings.  Take a look at this, which is called Building Matilda Tanks at Horwich and is rather wonderful.

Norman Wilkinson Building Matolda Tanks at Horwich LMS At War NRM

Now you can probably guess that it’s by Norman Wilkinson, and indeed it has a family resemblance to many of his poster designs, but as far as I can tell it isn’t one.  Instead, it seems to be part of a series of paintings he produced called ‘LMS at War’.  The Horwich works above were the LMS’s main engine works, now turned over to producing tanks.  Here’s another one in the series, called Re-forming Shell Cases, although I can’t in this case tell what the connection is with the LMS.

Norman Wilkinson Reforming Shell cases LMS at war NRM

I’d love to know what the story is here – did the LMS think that they might get permission to produce these as posters?  The images would certainly sit very happily alongside Wilkinson’s many other designs for them.  They were certainly never made into posters, in fact the only place I can find them reproduces in is a small book called the LMS at War (which crops up on eBay every so often and doesn’t sell for very much).  On the other hand, I wonder whether the LMS were simply doing their own version of the Governments’s War Artists Scheme, with their own artist.  The only problem with this was that the war was so directed in every way, that surely they would have had to get permission from someone?  If any one knows, please do tell us all the details.

There are a lot more Norman Wilkinson paintings on the BBC site too, mostly of ships, and when I tried to find out a bit more, it turns out that he’s quite an interesting cove, and famous for quite a lot more than posters.  Like inventing dazzle ship camouflage to start with. All of which probably deserves a post of its own one day.

So, I started out with Harry Stevens but ended up in the wartime engine sheds with Norman Wilkinson.  Not quite what I expected.  And that ought to be that, were it not for the fact that Mr Crownfolio has just suggested that I put Barbara Jones into the infernal oil painting machine.  Apparently there will be results.  But I think this post has travelled quite far enough for one day, I think.

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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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