The combination of house renovation and school holiday means that the blog has been a bit neglected recently.  By way of apology, here’s a very lovely bit of Abram Games, very much on an appropriate theme for the holidays.

Abram Games Sightseeing coach tours leaflet London Transport

Some closely related posters were on here the other day, but this isn’t it, rather it’s the leaflet which must have been part of the same campaign.  West End or City, do you think?  Or how about a trip out of town to Windsor, tea included in the fare?

What always strikes me about these kind of leaflets is how different the bulk of the typesetting is from the cover – the British Railways Holiday Haunts guides are another good example.  Outside we are in a modern and exciting world; inside it’s business as usual.

Abram Games sightseeing coaches leaflet london transport inside

I can only imagine that it was the covers and posters which got sent out to designers, while the rest was always done by the in-house design team.

In the end, though, I’m not sure that I mind that much – the mismatch is part of the period charm.  Nowadays everything would match, and every element of the design would chime with every other.  But would it be better as a result?  Perhaps not, just different.


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All join hands – panic!

Two things have sent my thoughts along the same path recently; an obituary of Eric Sykes in the Guardian, and this Goons record from 1956.

Mr Crownfolio insists that you press play, please, before reading any further. Thank you.

Bloodnock’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Call is worth considering in its own right; this was one of the first chart records with ‘rock and roll’ in the title and got to number 3, but it’s now almost completely and inexplicably forgotten in favour of the Ying Tong Song.

The connection between the two, and the probable reason that the record has been neglected, is the army.  The listeners to the Goon Show record probably knew very little of rock and roll, but the lyrics assume they all understand military language and mores, and furthermore will enjoy their subversion.

From the Guardian obituary, meanwhile, here’s Eric Sykes on the importance of the army to comedy in general.

Sykes [… ] believed that the only way Britain would get another crop of writers like Milligan, Frank Muir, Denis Norden, Speight and himself would be through the reintroduction of conscription. “Take ‘away the necessity of earning a living,” he said, “provide food and bed so that you can just sit on your backside for two years and you will find that the violinist will practise his violin, the language student will learn a language and the comedian will create comedy. It’s no good expecting it to come from people who are in boring, undemanding jobs, for they have already half-settled for what they’ve got. Conscription is an obvious staging post. A war is even better if you can keep alive.”

This connection between army life and comedy is interesting in its own right, but it’s also a way in to a very different take on the 1950s.  It’s easy, from here, to draw that decade and it’s reaction to the war in very simplistic terms.  Here are happy people, happy to take simplistic pleasures now that the conflict is over.

Tom Eckersley Hastings poster

Here are are a legion of housewives, driven back to the home but secretly discontented.

AP tripping with dripping image

Here are cheerfully bright colours in reaction to the porridge colours of the preceding decade.

Noel Carrington Colour and Pattern in the Home doctors house

We imagine the whole population, used to being ordered about, partaking of this life without dissent.  A conformist decade, in short.

But for almost the entire male population  of the country, and a considerable proportion of the women too, the experience of war is also the experience of the army.  While this means discipline, it also breeds a kind of insubordination and irrationality in reaction, even if it’s not actually spoken out loud at the time.

This bubbling up of silly voices and absurd responses is an important facet of the Goon Show.  It takes even clearer form in Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim, where Jim Dixon’s interior monologue is precisely this kind of anarchic response to authority figures and the comedy relies on the gap between expected deference and the desire to say something very stupid indeed.

In many ways this kind of hysteria feels like a much more authentic reaction to the stresses of war than simply choosing to paint the living room tomato red.

So, then, of course, I started to wonder whether the same impulse made itself felt in posters.  And of course it did.

Henrion London Transport poster 1956 Changing of the Guard

I’m sort of used to this Henrion poster by now, but it is really, very odd indeed.  In fact the whole set is.

F H K Henrion Hampton Court London Transport poster 1956

They’re all from 1956, so contemporaneous with Jim Dixon and the Goons.  This pair of Ungers come from the same year too.

Hans Unger London Transport poster 1956

Hans Unger whipsnade poster 1956 London Transport zebra

The last one is particularly peculiar if you ask me.

Now I know that this kind of nonsense rhyming has a long tradition in English, but I still think that the urge to put it onto posters is a sign of the times.  Although I would guess that the commissioning process didn’t let much of this kind of oddity and anarchy into print.

But I also think that its influence can be seen more widely as well.  Take this Abram Games, for example.

See London by London Transport coach, by Abram Games, 1950

Or this Tom Eckersley.

Conducted tours, by Tom Eckersley, 1957  London Transport

They’re both examples of classic 1950s poster design, in the way that they engage in a kind of visual punning, making a shape or an object mean two things at the same time.  It’s a style that owes something to surrealism, certainly, but I would also argue that its original impulse comes from the same place as Bloodnock’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Call, the desire to do the opposite of what is expected.

Conducted coach tours, by Abram Games, 1952  Published by London Transport

What’s gone wrong with our version of the 1950s is the 1960s.  Because we see that as the decade of youth, rebellion and subversion we, almost without thinking, need to make the decade which came before it conformist and rather dull.  While large swathes of it probably were quite a lot like that, it’s still unfair on the people who weren’t to forget them entirely.  And if we do remember the desire to answer back to the sergeant-major in a silly voice, perhaps it can also help us to look at the graphic design of the times in its wider cultural context.

Remember, send only 2/6 for a copy of this record.

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Say it with a poster

This week really isn’t going according to plan, and as a result I have not had much time to write.  Apologies for this.  I would like to say that the service will get better next week, but it’s the school holidays and I have a pub to rebuild.  Hey ho.

Not all of this unexpectedness is bad, however.  One good thing is that Quad Royal has been noticed.  To be precise we’re one of the Top 50 Blogs of 2012 in BBC Homes and Antiques Magazine, sandwiched between All Things Considered and Spitalfields Life, which is illustrious company indeed, and I am very grateful.

Christopher Greaves Say It With A Poster London Transport Poster 1933

Shall I tell you what they said too (just in case you can’t be bothered to click on the link)?

 The authors of this informative, thought-provoking blog are two avid poster collectors, ‘Mr & Mrs Crownfolio’, with quite particular tastes – namely British posters and graphics from the Forties, Fifties and Sixties. Read it for the content (you’ll learn a lot), the images (fabulous) or the details of upcoming auctions.

You may consider me very chuffed indeed.

Chelsea Flower Show, by T V Y, 1938 London Transport poster

The other surprise was advance notice of the Christies October Poster sale.  Yes, October, really; I was a bit hornswoggled too.  But this is not your average Poster Auction, oh no, this is a London Transport Museum Poster Auction.  Once again, I’ll let someone else do the talking.

The Museum manages one of the greatest poster collections in the world, thanks to the vision and legacy of one man: Frank Pick. When Pick became manager of the then failing Underground Electric Railway in the 1900s he initiated a modern, colourful, poster campaign which has been continued ever since. […] Fortunately, London Transport (as the Underground became known from 1933) kept duplicate copies of most of the posters it produced, and it is from this collection of spares that the selection offered for sale is drawn.

Although that doesn’t really give you a sense of the scale of the auction at all.  You really need to imagine that they are selling all the London Transport posters you have ever seen, in museum condition, and then adding a few more on for good measure too.  And then a couple more after that, just in case.

South Kensington Museums, by Edward Wadsworth, 1936 London Transport poster

Taking individual posters out of context doesn’t really do the sale justice though, the e-catalogue, with its thematic arrangement, is much more impressive.

Kew Gardens pages from Christies London Transport sale catalogue

Normally I find these page-flicking simulacra rather annoying, but in this case it’s well worth the effort.


This is not only because of the scale of what is up for sale, although that is impressive enough.  But they’ve also included pictures of the posters out in the wild, at Tube stations.

Like this poster.

To the theatres, by Cecil Walter Bacon, 1934 London Transport poster

Seen here at Osterley Station.

Bacon theatres poster 1934 at Osterley Station display

There is also a photograph of poster nirvana, the London Transport Advertising Store in 1933.

London Transport Advertising Store 1933

Another strong case for inventing time travel if you ask me.

There are 153 pages to go through, so all I am going to do in this post is scrape the surface of what is on offer.  I’ll go back nearer the time and look more closely at prices and individual posters.  I may even have to, heaven forfend, pay Christies for an actual copy of the catalogue just so that I can take it all in.

Smoke abatement, by Beath, 1936 London Transport poster

But one thing does strike me on a general level.  In the nicest possible way, these are not my posters.  There is the odd exception, like this Edward Bawden.

Edward Bawden City pair poster London Transport 1952

We sold a copy of the pictorial side of that pair poster a few years ago.  And as is the case with almost every single half-decent poster that we have ever sold, I now wonder what on earth we were up to.  But never mind.

I also like this one too.

Earls Court, by Edward McKnight Kauffer, 1936 London Transport poster

And this one.

London Transport poster Misha Black and Kraber 1947 At London's Service

Not that I can afford any one of them, but never mind.

But these are almost entirely pre-1950s London Transport posters.  I can pick out the modernist ones, but there is also acres and acres of Deco and decorative to wade through in the catalogue.  But not a scent of very much at all post-war, bar the odd Bawden and this Abram Games.

London Transport at London's service, by Abram Games, 1947 London Transport poster

Now this isn’t an accidental choice, I don’t think.  The museum has made an interesting decision here, about what to sell and why – at least assuming that they have similar duplicates of the later posters too, which I am sure they do.  The Transport Museum, along with Christies,  may be guessing that the pre-war Deco-style posters have reached the top of their value.  Whereas the later posters are worth hanging on to because their worth may yet go up further.

Now no one is ever going to admit this out loud, so it can only ever remain guesswork on my part.  And of course all the Museum are doing are trying to be canny investors in their stock, which in this case is posters.  They’re hoping that they are getting out at the peak of the market – but they might be wrong and the market might yet go up further.  No one knows for sure, not even this owl.

London Transport poster Heath, owl, by Clifford Ellis and Rosemary Ellis, 1933

But if they are right, then would you want to buy a poster from this sale? Well you would if it was one you’d been after for ages and wanted to hang on your wall, that would be very sensible.  But if you are buying it as an investment?  Particularly considering the, um, quite optimistic valuations on what’s on offer (or, if I am more cynical, the decision to put every poster at £1200+ apart from the really expensive ones).

Anyway, we’ve got plenty of time to consider this between now and October.  But there is method in Christies’ madness; the announcement is now because 60 of the best posters are going to go on show at their King Street salerooms from now – I think – until 24 August.    This might just be worth a visit.  Because I don’t think I am going to be buying anything.

[And yes, the names of the poster artists aren’t on there yet because I have run out of time – this will be fixed at the weekend I promise!]

Posted in auctions, London Transport | 4 Responses

Hip Hip Hurray

I’ve got lots of things to say about all sorts of things, including the Goons, army life and Graphis, but no time to say them in.  So all of those thoughts will have to wait for a day or two.  Shall we throw our hats in the air instead?

James Mawtus Judd greetings telegram 1963 GPO

I’ve mentioned this greetings telegram before, and now we’ve got round to buying one. It’s by James Mawtus Judd, who is still as ungoogleable as he was last time I tried to look.

He did two other poster designs, at least that I can find.  They are both in the BPMA online archive,  both also dating from 1962, the same as the telegram.

James Mawtus Judd pack your parcels carefully poster gpo 1962

James Mawtus Judd GPO poster careful packing happy opening 1962

And that, my friends, is it.  After that – or indeed before it – nothing at all.  I imagine, given the date and the fact that he was clearly very good at design, that he then went off and worked in an advertising agency where he wasn’t allowed to sign things.  Or made television commercials instead, perhaps.  But if anyone knows differently I would love to hear the story.

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Me, Grayson Perry and the railway poster

I mentioned a while ago that I was trying to be nice about railway posters.  It’s all Grayson Perry’s fault.  We came late to his Channel 4 series about taste, and it’s only available on 4OD for just a few more hours, but I am sure it will get repeated because it was one of the best pieces of television I’ve seen in a very long while ( as an ex-tv person, I have high standards).   There wasn’t a poster in sight, just plenty of spray tan, Jamie Oliver tableware and cushions with pictures of labradors on, but it’s still got me thinking about what I do and don’t approve of on this blog, and why.

Grayson Perry All in the best possible taste working class

One of the reviews described Perry as being ‘like one big, walking open mind’, and that was the real pleasure of the series.  He managed to enjoy every visual environment he came into, and to treat them all with equal respect.  That picture above is him dressed up for a night out with the girls in Sunderland, so it isn’t the kind of respect you might expect, but it was very genuine.

Perry had obviously been reading his Bourdieu about how class and wealth are the determinants of taste – his script even used the phrase ‘cultural capital’ when talking about middle class people with the confidence to buy art from junk shops.  But he wasn’t just spouting the jargon, Perry walked around clearly believing that everyone’s choices in decor, clothes, even tattoos, were as valid as anyone else’s.  It was a rare and refreshing spectacle.

So why am I banging on about this, other than to persuade you that the series is well worth three hours of your time when it is finally repeated.  Well, it made me think about a lot of things again and one of them, perhaps strangely, was how I categorise railway posters.  Here’s Exhibit A (all posters courtesy of the NMSI today).

British Railways poster showing Bamburgh Castle and the Farne Islands. Northumberland, Jack Merriott.

I found it really quite hard to choose this poster, a typical landscape one, as I kept being tempted by ‘more interesting’ ones on the search.  So that’s my taste laid bare.  Now for an even harder task, I’m going to find a Terence Cuneo and post that too.

1951 British Railways poster Terence Cuneo Forging Ahead

It won’t come as any surprise to you that I do not love this sort of thing. But lots of other people do, clearly; his works go for thousands and there is a statue of him in Waterloo Station.  I don’t think there’s a statue of Tom Eckersley yet, but I much prefer this.

'Mablethorpe', BR poster, 1960. Tom Eckersley girl on beach

Or even, for a fairer comparison with the posters above, this.

British Railways (London Midland Region) poster. Artwork by Lander. 1951. lovely

Not only am I ranking these in a hierarchy of taste which is not based on a coherent theory, in fact on nothing more than my own personal opinion, but I’m also, in the process, implicitly criticising other people for liking pictures of fields and trees.  Or, indeed, trains.

Now on the one hand this is fine.  Not even Grayson Perry would argue against personal taste.  It is what it is, and what’s the point of having a blog and writing thousands and thousands of words without pay unless it is to indulge your own taste and opinions.  But I think he would be trying to find the good in the other things too.  And in the case of these railway posters I may be able to manage it.

John Mace English Lakes LMS poster 1930s

Instead of categorising these posters as not-an-Eckersley and therefore failures, it’s possible to see them as a natural development, and a very democratic one too, of one of the key strands in British art, the landscape painting.  In the period both before and after the war, when fine art was off on a continental, abstract and primitivist path, British landscape artists were never going to be in fashion.  Unless they were very lucky, they were going to find it hard even to be seen as fine artists.  But that didn’t mean that the art died out, it just went somewhere different for a while, on to posters.  (There’s a lot more that could be said in this argument, but that can wait for another post).

'Cornwall', GWR/SR poster, 1936 Adrian Allinson

In seeing these as inferior to the more abstract poster designs by artists like Games and Eckersley, I’m just expressing the cultural preferences (or perhaps prejudices) of my kind; I’ve been brought up with the narrative of the progress of fine art and so the more graphic designs are, clearly, superior.  I don’t have the money to buy a Picasso, but I will flex my cultural capital by putting a poster on the wall instead.  See my discrimination at work, even if I can’t afford the real thing.

But other people with other backgrounds might have a very different opinion.  Imagine being brought up in the landed gentry, in a house stocked with eighteenth and nineteenth century watercolours alongside the pictures of dogs and pheasants.  If you didn’t have the money for fine art, a railway poster might look very appealing indeed.  It’s just a different story, that’s all.

In the course of the series, Grayson Perry, as well as exploring, makes a series of tapestries about the people he’s met and their tastes. The programme would be worth watching for these alone; they’re based on Hogarth’s Rake’s Progress and are wonderful.

Grayson Perry Vanity of Small Differences tapestry

Their collective title,though, is The Vanity of Small Differences.  Which pretty much sums up the situation with railway posters, because there isn’t that much difference between them in the end, just the slight distinctions of personal taste.

'Speed to the West', GWR poster, 1939 Mayo

Well except for the pictures of trains.  I still haven’t managed to get my head round those yet.  But I will try, I promise.

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Paddenalia, inter alia.

I’ve been meaning to post this for ages, and now the Jubilee has been and gone but I’m carrying on regardless.  They’re Marks and Spencers’ Jubilee packaging designs – this is the tin we bought.

Marks and Spencers Jubilee shortbread tin

Remind you of anyone?  To me, there is a definite touch of Daphne Padden about them, particularly this pigeon.

M&S Jubilee packaging for teacakes - pigeon

And of course she designed for Marks and Spencers too.

Daphne Padden Marks and Spencers Christmas cake design

But this isn’t them raiding their archives, they are apparently by an illustrator called Phil Hankinson.  I must drop him a line and ask whether he likes Daphne Padden or whether it is just a happy accident.

Marks and Spencers Jubilee teacake packet

The pictures (because I ran out of time to take them myself and we’re still eating the shortbread anyway) are borrowed from H is For Home’s blog about the packets.  They did it properly, and on time, not like me.

While we’re on the subject of Daphne Padden, a few of her paintings (and a couple of her father’s too) are up for auction tomorrow.  It’s a saleroom close to where she lived, so I wonder what the connection is?

Daphne Padden bird watercolour paintings
Daphne Padden, est £30-50

Dominic Winter’s forthcoming sale, meanwhile, contains a small set of McKnight Kauffer posters, which are worth taking note of because they include this one which I’ve never, ever seen before.

McKnight Kauffer elephant ballet
McKnight Kauffer, 1942, est. £400-600

Yes, that is for an elephant ballet to the music of Stravinsky.  I will let the catalogue explain more…

This advertised the extraordinary Circus Polka, an act featuring fifty elephants in tutus ridden by similarly-clad dancers, which brought together the remarkable talents of the dancer and choreographer George Balanchine (1904-1983), the composer Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971), and the circus manager John Ringling North. By 1942 Stravinsky was an established composer living in Hollywood, and Balanchine was a well-known choreographer and the founder of the American School of Ballet. The elephant ballet was performed during the 1942 season entitled Holidays, in New York’s Madison Garden building where Barnum’s circus had performed since 1881.

These two are also discoveries for me.

McKNight Kauffer Eastman Gloves poster 1926 Dominic Winter
McKnight Kauffer, 1926, est. £200-400

McKnight Kauffer Schools exhibition News Chronicle 1938 poster
McKnight Kauffer, 1938, est. £100-150

This is considerably more familiar, mind you.

McKnight Kauffer ARP poster home front world war two Dominic Winter
McKnight Kauffer, 1938, est. £100-150

There seems to be an unerring rule that wherever the McKnight Kauffer ARP poster is offered for sale, the Pat Keely treatment of the theme must also be there too, and it applies here just as always.

Pat Keely ARP Calling You poster home front 1938 Dominic Winter
Pat Keely, 1938, est. £100-150

I wonder whether these went out together, and whether quite a few were saved together by their recipients as souvenirs of what must have seemed, even then, to be a turning point in Britain’s history.  Later on in the war, the pressure to salvage paper must have been greater, and so fewer posters survived.  Or do these ones exist in great numbers because of an enormous print run?

Also for sale are a couple of Lyons prints, of which my favourite is this John Minton.

John Minton Apple Orchards Lyons Print Dominic Winter
John Minton, 1951, £200-300

More obscure, but quite enticing despite this, are a collection of Edward Bawden and John Aldridge wallpaper samples.

Edward Bawden wallpaper design Dominic Winter
Edward Bawden, c1940s-50s, est £300-500

But then they’re just as expensive as a good poster, and quite a bit smaller, so perhaps not.

While we’re on this kind of track, shall I draw your attention to a few things worth noticing on eBay as well?  Top Quad Royal tip is this Hans Unger, although it comes with a rather aggressive start price of £193.  But it’s still nice.

Hans Unger 1959 London Transport poster theatre

We have a copy ourselves, but one which could probably win a competition  for worst preservation and condition of a poster ever.  It’s so bad that I am too embarrassed to put a picture of it on here.  Mr Crownfolio is saving it for when he retrains as a poster conservator, but even then it may still be beyond rescue.

This earlier London Transport poster is rather less my personal cup of tea but probably a bit more of a bargain at £120.  It’s by Alan Sorrell and dates from 1938 and is, if you ask me, a rare example of neo-classicism in poster design of the times.

London transport poster 1938 Alan Sorrell river

While this is an interesting and quite rare Home Front poster for just £39.99.  This campaign was one of the rare early succeses for the Ministry of Information. who generally spent the first two years of the war getting everyone’s backs up.

Home front poster Go To It World War Two ministry of information 1940

But then that price probably reflects the fact that while it is a very important piece of historical ephemera, most people, including me, don’t actually want to sit and look at it all day.

A sentiment that also applies in even greater measure to this.

1960s southern region train map thingy

Advertised as a ‘fantastic train poster from the 60s70s’, it has a Buy It Now price of  £175, but then the seller clearly had a crisis of confidence because the opening bid is set at £10.  What am I missing here?  Can any train fans enlighten me?


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