The People Bring Much More Than Enough For The Service Of The Work

I’m back with the Empire Marketing Board posters once again.  In particular this one, which neatly encapsulates the problem of Empire in a single image.

The people bring.. vintage Empire Marketing Board poster

I rather doubt that it was intended to give exactly that message; nonetheless it is rather brilliant.

This treat comes from a wholly new archive of Empire Marketing Board output in the National Library and Archives of Canada, which I was introduced to by sometime commenter on the blog, Mike Meredith.  It is a treasure chest of things I have not seen before – well over 400 of them in fact, and I haven’t finished sifting through them yet.  Here are just a few for starters, these two by Clive Gardiner in a very modern style.

Blast Furnace Vintage Empire marketing board poster Clive Gardiner

making electrical machinery Vintage Empire marketing board poster Clive Gardiner

While this John Ensor is modern in a slightly different, almost early-1950s kind of way.

John Ensor - Vintage Empire marketing board poster Wine

This collection is a reminder that the EMB was not just exhorting the British people to support the Empire, the colonies had to do their bit as well.

Buy Empire Goods first - Empire Marketing Board poster

Not everything can be a work of art, you know.

But Mike Meredith hasn’t just been looking through the archives, he has also been doing something rather interesting with these posters.  He’s been arranging them as they were meant to be seen.

I’ve mentioned in passing before that the Empire Marketing board had special display stands for their posters.  A rather interesting article (about the EMB’s relationship with the Irish Free State) gives a very good description of what these were like.  The EMB,

displayed approximately one hundred poster series on specially built wooden frames.Each series featured five different posters:three 60 inch by 40 inch pictorial ones and two smaller posters that carried press messages offering details of the country being promoted or messages advancing imperial trade. The five posters on each frame endorsed a linked theme — for example, fruit from the tropics or the value of import – export trade with Australia. By 1933, poster frames at 1,800 different sites graced 450 British towns

The only thing missing from that description is the title strip which ran across the top.  But why should I just tell you about these when I could show you?  Because what Mike Meredith has been doing is stitching together these posters from the archives to get a sense of what they would have looked like when they were on display.

Not only is it brilliant to look at, I also think it’s important too.  Take a single poster – as I have been doing at the top of this post – and they are quite good.  Take a whole set together and they are quite frankly stunning. (Click on the image below to see it at a decent size.)

Buy Empire Goods vintage Empire Marketing board poster strip

They must have looked extraordinary on the streets of Britain in the 1930s, like nothing else that could be seen there.  Surely not even the most jaded observer of city life would have been able to just let their eyes drift over these posters each time the displays were changed.  You would have to stop and stare.

Empire Marketing Board posters as complete strip

Especially at these McKnight Kauffers, which bring all of the glamour of a Hollywood title sequence straight onto the streets of a British town or city.

McKnight Kauffer Empire Marketing Board framed set

The cinema wasn’t the only referent of modernity, this Austin Cooper set links the old-fashioned Victorian Empire with the excitingly modern telephone.

Austin Cooper vintage Empire Marketing Board poster set Order by Telephone

Displayed like this, even graphs could become dynamic symbols of the modern age.

Empire Share vintage Empire marketing board set

But even the more traditional designs have a very different impact when seen en masse.

Australian Scenery vintage empire marketing board posters

Nicholson Empire Marketing Board set of posters

This doesn’t just make me rethink the value of the Empire Marketing Board posters, and the ground-breaking nature of the Board’s work – along with its leading man Stephen Tallents.  It’s also a reminder that, whenever we look at a poster, it’s essential to remember the context in which it was not only produced, but displayed.

Commercial posters of the 1950s were not only bright and jolly because that was the mood of the times.  They were put up against a background of unpainted houses and crumbling war damage, a Britain that was agreed to be grey, dreary and run down.  So their bright colours must have looked a thousand times more vibrant against that monochrome streetscape.

And the EMB posters which, on their own, can seem to be a bit like inoffensive railway posters or pieces of art, take on a whole new energy and surprise in their block displays.

Empire Marketing Board posters is all I know

Sometimes, we can appreciate a poster by looking at it against the white walls of a gallery as though it was a piece of art.  But more often, as is very much the case with these Empire Marketing Board posters, we also lose a lot that way.  A poster, or indeed a set of posters, is not a timeless object, but is produced not just in a single moment and place but also for that moment and place as well.

Carlton Empire Marketing board posters

So if we don’t pay attention to that when and where and how, we will never hear much of what that poster might be able to say to us.

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Cheap and Expensive

Bonus extra blog post today (although I can’t type very well at the moment because my fingers are freezing).  I was going to put the eBay news on the end of yesterday’s post, but then it turned out that there was quite a lot on offer.  So now they have a post of their own instead.

The posters up on eBay at the moment seem to fall into a few tidy categories.  Firstly are expensive posters which probably have a right to be expensive.  Top of this list is this Jack Merriott British Railways poster.

Jack Merriott Findhorn British Railways poster

With just a few hours to go it’s already at £415  – a price which will probably have risen even higher by the time I press ‘publish’ on this post.  It might well make almost as much as the version which went at Morphets two years ago, which sold for £600.  For the right poster, it’s starting to look as though eBay wins hands down over the auction houses, simply because the fees are so much lower.  That’s if you’re selling of course; for buyers, I’m not so sure.  I still slightly balk at spending that much money on something I haven’t seen in the flesh.

Another example of the righteously expensive is another British Railways poster, also going today and currently at £142.

Edward Wesson vintage British Railways poster 1950s Moulsham

Finally in this category is a lovely London Transport poster which has been mentioned in dispatches on here before.

Vintage London Transport poster How to make a party go D M Earnshaw

The Buy It Now price of £390 strikes me as a bit more of a dealer level than an eBay level.  But then it is framed, and given what the Findhorn poster is going for anything could be possible these days.

Category two is expensive things which are currently going cheap.  Like this Guinness poster which is currently at £10.50 but, if it is original, is going for a song.

Vintage guinnes poster gilroy Zookeeper and seal

Of course whether something is original or not is always the question looming over every eBay listing.  The dimensions look right on this one, although it is a bit clean.  Any thoughts anyone?

Also cheap is this very odd survival – although I have no idea what it should actually be worth, I suspect it is more than the current £20.  It’s a poster for the 1929 Royal Opera House Ball.  What larks.

Royal Opera House Ball 1929 poster

But it’s rather good, isn’t it.  No word of an artist though.

In the other corner is expensive things which probably should be cheap, and we’ve got just one contender here, this Tom Purvis, which I have difficulty imagining someone paying £149 for.

Tom Purvis Empire Buy British poster

Now don’t get me wrong, because it’s a perfectly good poster, but I just don’t think many people want to hang it on their walls. Or do they?  I shall watch and wait and see.

Then of course there are cheap things that probably should stay that way.  I have a sneaking affection for this British Railways poster – it’s probably the cat – but that still doesn’t make it worth very much.

Vintage British Railways poster Plymouth and Cornwall timetable

So £2.99 is probably about right.   While even £20 seems a bit steep for this National Savings poster, even with the Coronation interest.

National Savings vintage coronation poster

Why were National Savings posters so uniformly dreary, when so many of the posters around them were so good?  Truly I do not know.

Those were going to be your lot, but even as I’ve been writing, some more listings have been passed over to me, and they both come under the heading of things that do not fit into my neat categories at all because I have no idea what they are worth.

This man is selling a big set of Kodak shop display posters.  Given the spelling of color, they are probably American, but I won’t hold that against them too much.

1950s Kodak display card

1950s Kodak display card

The starting price for each is £19.99 but I have no idea if that is fair or not.

This, meanwhile, is not a poster despite appearances to the contrary.  It’s a showcard.

Tom Eckersley vintage Guinness poster showcard

But as it’s currently priced at 99p I can say with some confidence that it is a bargain.  And would look rather good on someone’s bookshelves, I think.

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Superlative, he says

Watch out, there are auctions about.  Admittedly not the poster extravaganzas which are Christies and Van Sabben, but auctions nonetheless.  First under the microscope is GWRA in Leamington on May 19th.  This is a railwayana auction which means that there is an awful lot of this kind of thing.

Vintage Railway Poster British Railways `Bath The Georgian City - Travel By Train` by Watkiss
Chris Watkiss, 1952

Along with even more of this kind of thing too.

Vintage Railway Poster, `Ilfracombe - On Glorious Devon`s Ocean Coast` by Harry Riley
Harry Riley, 1957

vintage railway Poster `Woolacombe & Mortehoe - Britain`s Best Sands, by Henry Riley
Harry Riley, 1960

Like all railwayana auctions there are, infuriatingly, no estimates whatsoever.  But the catalogue compiler does seem to have been getting a bit enthusiastic.  The top poster, for example is ‘arguably the best of” all Bath posters, while the bottom one is ‘ one of the best seaside posters from the 1950’s’.  While,. the posters are quite nice, I could still have an argument with both of those statements but can’t  work up the energy today.  Please go right ahead if you would like to.

In amongst the hyperbole, though, one or two items worthy of note.  My opening offer to you is a somewhat grubby Eckersley.

Vintage British Railways letterpress poster with top image of jockeys by Tom Eckersley
Tom Eckersley, 1961

This is in slightly better condition and will probably fetch a lot less in Leamington Spa than it would have done at Christies or Sotherans.

vintage railway Poster ` Sunny Rhyl for a Healthy Happy Holiday` by Leonard
Leonard, n/d

While this one I just love.

vintage railway Poster `Margate - Britain`s Finest Resort - Go By Train`
PG, 1961

That has to be worth a punt of someone’s money, doesn’t it?

Meanwhile, in Norwich can I present the auction with the longest and most convoluted title ever:

Tinplate and Diecast Toys, Rare Early Documents and Newspaper Editions, Railwayana, Posters, Uniforms, Silver and Watches.

The auctioneers are James and Sons, and it takes place on May 5th.

In amongst that heterogeneous selection of, well, stuff, there is one little gem, by Hans Schleger, aka Zero.

Station Poster by Zero `Holliday Haunts`  vintage British Railways 1960s
Hans Schleger, 1960s, est. £30-40

I like that a great deal.  It’s pretty much the only interesting poster they have, although I am starting to develop a sneaking affection  for this one too.

Vintage British Railways Station Poster 1960 by Hasler
Hasler, 1960, est. £25 – 50.

What makes it worth more than the Zero, though, I do not know.  Do you?

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Paris by Moonlight

Apologies for not posting on Friday, but I got rather absorbed in back-office stuff here at the blog and then suddenly the day was gone.

All of which means that the auction in which this appeared has now been and gone as well.

daphne Padden paris poser 1955

But it’s worth taking a look at anyway, because it’s a slightly surprising Daphne Padden.

Now sometimes she is given credit for some of her father’s designs, but this is definitely signed by her.  It’s just earlier work.  I’ve only ever seen a couple like this, but she must have been producing more than that I would have thought.  So if anyone can dig out any more examples, I’d love to see them.

The auction was PosterConnection in San Franscisco, so there wasn’t exactly a lot else of interest to detain us; the usual handful of BEA/BOAC posters and that’s about it.  Well, apart from this.

Vintage Dungeness travel poster

Which isn’t really interesting because of the design, but mainly because I think they should have been prosecuted under the Trades Descriptions Act.  I’ve been to Dungeness and I don’t believe it ever looked like that.  And where’s that liner headed anyway?

Oh, and if you’re wondering what exactly I spent an entire morning fiddling with on here, click on one of the posters above.  Nifty, eh?  And you’ll see exactly why I needed it later on this week.

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On the buses

Last week, Mr Crownfolio and I scored that increasingly rare thing, a bargain on eBay.  Although this did involve us chancing a reasonably large sum of money on what was described as

a lot of old railway posters that i got when i was turning out my grandparents old house they are at a ruff guess about 25 plus

along with a picture that didn’t give a lot away.

lot of posters on eBay

A bit of additional description says that there were some half-page posters as well as some full page ones, but we had no idea what would turn up.  Well apart from this, of course.

Llandudno tourist information poster 1950s vintage seaside

And the knowledge that at least some of the posters would have tatty edges.

Fortunately we weren’t disappointed.  As a starter, this Alan Durman on its own would have been quite enough to keep us happy.

Alan Durman butlins poster for coaches 1950s vintage classic

Fortunately there were more goodies even than that.

Vintage coach poster Llandudno

But what I don’t think we’ve ended up with  is a set of railway posters.  The Butlins one does say ‘Travel by Train’ at the bottom, but there’s no British Railways logo or anything.  More importantly, they’re all 20″ x 30″, so standard advertising display size, Double Crown,  rather than British Railways standard display size of 40″ x 25″ or Double Royal.  To prove my point, here is the Alan Durman Butlins poster as a Double Royal with the British Railways logo on.

Alan Durman vintage british railways Butlins poster 1950s bathing beauty

I don’t think I will be complaining about the misdescription though.  Because Double Crown wasn’t just the preserve of commercial advertisers.  The other big advertisers who used it as standard were the coach companies, and that’s what I think we’ve got here, a batch of coach posters.  Which isn’t a very difficult deduction to make looking at a set of posters like these.

Vintage Coach poster for Bridlington

Vintage coach poster brighton and hove 1950s

Vintage coach poster wye valley lander

The bottom one is by Lander and is I think particularly nice.  If you needed any more persuading, this one even says coach on it, with a handy picture too.

Vintage coach poster isle of man

That seems pretty certain then.  Even better, there are some good posters amongst the lot, not least of which is this Daphne Padden.

Daphne Padden vintage coach poster scarborough

There are also some artists I’ve not come across before.  These two posters are signed Greene.

Vintave coach poster morecambe greene 1950s

Vintage coach poster colwyn bay greene

I think this is John Greene, quite possibly working with his wife Margaret too.  But I’m not going to go off on a research digression for once, they can wait for another day.  Meanwhile one of my favourites isn’t signed at all.

Vintage coach poster portsmouth navy days

There are few more as well, and among them a set of these oddities.

Bus destination poster, vintage 1950s

Mr Crownfolio reckons that these must have been put up by the various stops at bus stations so that people knew they were getting on the right coach.  But if there’s a transport historian out there with a better theory, do let me know.

Now we just need to decide what to do with a whole heap of posters with a lot of blank space on.  Perhaps we’ll frame them on magnetic backing and use them as notice boards.  Even then, we’ve probably still got quite a lot…


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Give that penguin a fish!

A recent acquisition on eBay was a few copies of Modern Publicity from the late 1950s and early 1960s.  I was going to share their delights with you anyway, but when I looked into the archives I realised that I’ve never actually blogged about this properly at all. Then when I looked a bit harder I discovered that Designers in Britain has only ever been mentioned in passing as well.  As both are rather fabulous resources, I will endeavour to put at least some of this to rights over the next few weeks. But first, a brief introduction.

Modern Publicity is an international annual, published by The Studio group, which covers what would now be called graphic design – posters, printed material, packaging and trade marks – from around the world.  In contrast, Designers in Britain does what it says on the tin and only deals with UK design and designers, but includes everything from letterheads to large pieces of industrial machinery.  While both of them suffer from being predominantly printed in black and white, they are nonetheless well worth your attention.  Not only do you get to look at lots of wonderful pieces all in one place, but they’re also fascinating insights into what critics and designers thought was good at the time it was produced.  Which isn’t always the same as the things we like now.

So, what did people admire in the late 1950s and early 1960s?  Or to be more precise, which pieces of graphic design were considered good enough to stand next to the cream of international design?  One answer is not the designers that you might expect.  Tom Eckersley gets just one poster included in the two Modern Publicity annuals from the 1950s.

Eckersley Aer Lingus vintage European route poster

You’ll be relieved to hear that he does rather better in 1962, with three designs included, amongst them this Omo poster which I’ve never seen before.

Tom Eckersley Omo poster 1962 Modern Publicity

Abram Games also receives a rave review in 1958 for this Guinness poster, which is chosen to open the entire book.

Abram Games Guinness poster 1957 big G

Only where both name and product are already household words is such a method possible.  To adopt the plan for an unknown advertiser would be to court disaster.

After that, it all gets a bit more unexpected.  I’ve mentioned before that Harry Stevens is very popular in these kinds of publications, and that’s as true in these annuals as it ever was.

harry Stevens tilling group luggage poster 1958

harry Stevens victoria coach station poster 1957 from Modern Publicity

Printed in lemon, vermilion, cobalt, orange, pink and black, the caption says.  I don’t think black and white is really fair on it, do you?  And should you have a copy in colour, please do let me know, I’d love to see it.

An even more surprising regular is Ken Bromfield.  Now he comes up every now and then on here, mostly as a designer of quite nice railway posters.  But the editors of Modern Publicity love his work – he gets four pieces of work in the 1959 edition alone, including this poster.

ken bromfield artwork for windsor poster 1960 it says on NMSI

This is the artwork from the NMSI collection, because I can’t find the actual poster anywhere.  But he’s clearly an artist I should take a proper look at one of these days.

There are also a few unexpected gems to be discovered, like this poster by Lander.

R M Lander Folkstone poster 1958 in black and white sadly

I can’t find a decent picture of this anywhere, which is really frustrating as it looks great, and must look even better in colour, (and I am getting quite close to having another rant about the inadequacies of the National Railway Museum catalogue as a result of my looking too).  Again, any pointers gratefully received.  Or indeed copies of the poster.

There are others of this ilk as well – it’s always worth being reminded of this London Transport poster by Edwin Tatum.

Vintage London Transport Poster natural history museum Tatum 1956

I’m also happy to see anything at all by Arpad Elfer, although these penguins are particularly splendid.

Arpad Elfer penguins DH evans poster 1958

There’s plenty more where that came from.  Here, just as an example, are Karo and Zero together on one page (did you see what they did there?).

Karo WH Smith ad and Zero Macfisheries ad from Modern Publicity

What a world it must have been with those advertisements in it.

Then there are the people I’ve just never heard of before.  Who, for example was Petronella Hodges?  She did this.

Petronella Hodges G Plan booklet 1958

And this too.

Petronella Hodges cutlery leaflet J Walter Thompson 1958

But she appears precisely nowhere in Google.  A mystery, it seems.  But the clue lies in the small print.  Both of these designs were produced by J Walter Thompson, so my guess would be that Petronella Hodges was an art director there at the end of the 1950s.  Quite apart from conjuring up images of a British version of Mad Men, it’s also a pointer to a very specific change that was going on.  The jobbing freelance designer would become an increasingly rare species, with only the very best surviving.  More and more, this kind of design would be done in house at the agencies, by this new breed of Art Director.

In amongst all of this, I realise that I’ve hardly even mentioned the 1962 edition, and there’s lots going on in there, as even the British make the move from whimsy to modernism.  So that will have to get a post to itself another day.  In the meantime, have a couple more rare gems from the late 50s, by Abram Games and E Tatum, again.  There’s someone else I’m going to need to find out more about, isn’t it…

Abram Games green rover ticket poster 1958

E Tatum train to the continent poster 1958

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