Auction news and reviews today.  Well that’s the theory, but in truth I’m not sure what to type next, because I can’t make head nor tail of the Onslows results.  Some things sold, quite a lot of other things didn’t, but there’s no kind of pattern in it that I can find.

The best result was  £5,000 (estimate £3,000 to £4,000) for Helen McKie’s Waterloo Station during wartime.

Helen McKie British Railways poster Waterloo Station in peace and war 1948

I am pleased to report that the Post Office in Space also went for a well-deserved £130.

Ken Howard (b1932) The Post Office in Space, Goonhilly Downs, original poster PRD 1636

On the other hand, I was somewhat disgruntled to see this Unger go for £40 over estimate because that means the we didn’t win it.

Hans Unger London Transport tower poster 1968 raven

Curses.  I want it even more now.  It would have gone so well with our ravens too.

But those were the few glimmers of excitement in some otherwise fairly quiet results.  The vast majority of posters that sold went for within or even under their estimates.  I know they’re not classics, but I was still surprised to see these two Shell posters going for just £130 and £95.

Kavari Schwitzer The Circus These Men Use Shell poster 1938

Derek Sayer "Nellie Jane" Fishermen These Men Use Shell, poster 1937

World War Two posters were sold, or weren’t, with what seems to be no pattern at all to me.  Why did this one go for £410 for example?

Mackinlay's Back Up The Fighting Forces,Weiner for HMSO  1940

While this Abram Games went for just £90.

Abram Games wartime civvy street army poster WW2

I ought to be relieved that not everyone shares my tastes, but the confusion just makes my head spin.

You can multiply that bewilderment by ten when it comes to the railway posters, I simply don’t understand the logic behind what sells and what doesn’t, if there is any to be found.  I suppose it may just depend on something as random as whether or not potential bidders have a sentimental attachment to the particular places depicted.  If you can enlighten me more than that, please do say.

All of which makes trying to guess prices at the forthcoming Great Central Railwayana Auction even more difficult than usual, given the ususal absence of any estimates at all.  There’s a fair selection of posters on offer there, a quite surprising number of which I like.  And this isn’t just because I am trying to be well-disposed towards railway posters and their collectors (more on this another day).

You do still have to wade through quite a few pictures of trains to get to them, mostly by Terence Cuneo.  This one is so much of a picture of a train though that it is actually funny.

Terence Cuneo Scotland For Your Holidays british railways poster 1957

I would love to have heard the commissioning process for this one. We want them to travel to Scotland for their holidays, what shall we show?  The lochs? Edinburgh Castle?  No, I’ve got a much better idea, the engineering of the Forth Bridge and a train.  That’ll entice them.

If that doesn’t persuade you, how about dead monks and missing windows?

Andrew Johnson LNER railway poster fountains abbey

Less obviously odd is this post-war poster for Teignmouth by Mayes, but I still find it a bit uncanny.

Teignmouth Mayes poster British Railways

I can’t work out if it’s the night time, the faint traces of pointilism or just the fact that it looks as though it was painted in 1932.  Answers on a postcard please.  Preferably from Teignmouth.

There are of course more straightforward railway posters to be had too.  I like this Fred Taylor partly for the sentimental reasons mentioned above, because it’s of a place I know.

Fred Taylor British Railways poster Wells market place

What’s also quite satisfying though is that this corner of Wells Market Place still looks just like that.  Which I suspect may not be true of this view of Southend.

British Railways southend playground of the south poster

If this is all getting a bit traditional for you, there is also some more modern typography on offer of a kind that I am always a sucker for.

British Railways poster devon Johnston 1960

British Railways poster Greene Northern Ireland 1960

In both cases, they date from 1960, and there’s an interesting set of thoughts to follow there one day about the updating and modernisation of the traditional art form of the railway poster.

Finally, my favourite poster of the lot, which isn’t actually anything to do with the railways at all, but is both completely 1950s and something I’ve never seen before.

British Travel and Holiday Association Coronation Year 1953 poster anon

Which has to be quite an achievement this year.

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Put Out More Flags

I was asked to help out earlier this week.  Could I find a few vintage posters to act as inspiration for a designer doing a poster for a retro tea-dance? Cakes, bunting, dancing, something nice and festive – it’s not that difficult to imagine the sort of thing. But that sort of thing turned out to be rather harder to find in reality.

If you go back to the 1930s, there was at least dancing, as in this Gordon Nicoll poster from 1932.

Gordon Nicoll Portrush hotel poster LMS 1932

As well as in this rather wonderful London Transport design by Clifford and Rosemary Ellis from 1936.

Come Out To Play London Transport poster Clifford Rosemary Ellis 1936

There’s some glamourous going out in a couple more posters, as in this 1925 Fortunino Matania poster for Southport (on sale once more at Onslows this afternoon if you have a few thousand pounds to spare).

'Southport, For a Holiday In Wintertime, LMS poster, 1925.Fortunino Matania

Which was available in London as well as Southport, it seems.

BRightest London Horace Taylor 1924 London Transport poster

Horace Taylor, 1924, since you ask.

But of cakes and bunting, or indeed anything remotely relevant from the 1950s, not a sniff.  The closest I could get was this.

Kraber Tea on the lawn at Alexandra Palace London Transport poster 1939

Which isn’t really what I was after.  Somewhere – and I have lost it and would love to see it again if anyone can help – there is also a 1950s poster of a husband bringing a tray of tea to his family on the beach.  But even that isn’t really doing what my friend wanted the posters to do.

What’s happening here is something that I’ve mentioned time and again on this blog, the bending of visual memory.  Today, we want to see the 1950s in terms of tea, dancing and bunting, and so that is how we expect them to depict themselves as well.  Except they won’t oblige, mainly because they are too busy building a modern, post-war future – as encapsulated in Nick Morgan’s prize winning poster from last week.

Vintage post office savings bank poster eric fraser 1953 genius

No sign of Coronation bunting here, oh no.  Not when there’s history to be made instead.

In this respect, bunting, vintage bunting, retro bunting on posters for tea dances work in much the same way as our reusing of wartime posters (full post on that subject here).  The meanings tell us far more about ourselves and our worries about the world than they will ever reveal about the past.

Back in the 1950s, bunting was something that you got out for your village fete or Coronation street party, and then put away again.

Newcastle Coronation Street party with bunting 1953

It definitely meant festive, and so appeared in people’s imaginings of the Festival of Britain.

Festival of Britain artists impression from FoB catalogue

Although interestingly it was nothing like as prominent in the actual event.

Bunting outside Royal Festival Hall Festival of Britain

Bunting on the South Bank

Although, of course, every single article about the South Bank anniversary last year had to make mention of getting out the bunting nonetheless.

You can also find a small string of the stuff on the cover of the Battersea Pleasure Gardens brochure too.  Again it’s operating as a sign here: this is not normal life but a carnival.  We are going to have fun.

Festival of Britain battersea pleasure gardens front cover

Bunting in the 1950s was just an everyday object that you got out for the jollities and then put back in the cupboard, nothing worth making a fuss about.  Certainly not worth putting on posters.

Nowadays though, bunting is not just a thing, but a cultural phenomenon, as even the briefest of Google image searches will reveal.

Google search for bunting

It represents, amongst many other things*, a desire to return to a more simple life of making our own entertainments.  A life which had so few visual stimuli that we were pleased with bunting.  A sense of community too.  This is all well and good – and indeed perfect for a nostalgic tea dance.  I don’t have any problems with that.  Just as long as we stop expecting to find it having the same meanings in the 1950s too.


*Bunting does become more problematic when you look at it through the lens of Thorsten Veblen and conspicuous consumption.  Bunting isn’t only the fetishisation of an utterly unnecessary object to prove that you have money to spend, it’s also a signifier of conspicuous leisure, because if you’ve got time to shop for, stitch or even worry about bunting, you do have a fair amount of spare time on your hands.  I preferred the stuff in its 1950s incarnation, I think.


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This is not a poster

Or is it?

Chris Ofili Olympic poster 2012 London for the unknown runner

It certainly claims to be a poster, as one of the set commissioned for the 2012 Olympics, in this case designed by Chris Ofili.

Rather against my will, I have to consider these on an almost daily basis, because a selection are on display in a shop window just a couple of hundred yards from our house.  Mr Crownfolio says that he’s quite enjoying them;  I’m less sure.  Here’s Michael Craig Martin’s offering, which I like a bit more but isn’t there.

Michael Craig Martin Olympic 2012 poster Go

The thing is, I’m wrestling with the idea of them being posters.  Here’s the 1948 Olumpic poster, designed by Walter Herz, which is a very different beast.

London Olympics poster 1948 Walter Herz

As is London Transport’s only Olympic offering from that year.

London Transport 1948 Olympics poster

They’ve been created by designers, not artists.  They’re big and informational and no one wanted you to frame them.  So what’s happened in between?

The way that the meaning of the word ‘poster’ has changed over the last sixty or so years was pointed out by the Catherine Flood book which I mentioned a few weeks ago.  It’s one of the most thought-provoking ideas in it.  A poster was once something that was displayed in public as a form of advertising or information, but somewhere in the 1960s it became a smaller-scale object that was bought in shops and displayed on domestic walls.

In some ways, this is a statement of the blindingly obvious.  Even though I knew the facts at some level, I’d never really thought about them properly. But it’s well worth the effort.

We begin in the 1950s, when the display poster is the most prestige form of advertising you can get.  There are specialist poster artists, annuals and competitions and posters are in every urban scene, out there, communicating.  This, then, is a poster.

Tom Eckersley gillette monkey poster

And another three, seen here in their natural habitat.

More Posters on Walls including Patrick Tilley and Donald Brun

At some point in the 1960s, however, things begin to change.  Catherine Flood devotes an entire chapter to this, so I will very much be paraphrasing her descriptions and arguments, but here’s her assessment of where it all begins.

The first flutterings of a consumer love affair with the poster were evident around 1965 in Tom Salter’s trendy Carnaby Street boutique Gear, which was selling comically quaint Victorian advertisements for medicines and corsets blown up to poster size.

The later 1960s are then a very interesting time, in which there is a constant exchange of ideas between these increasingly psychedelic screen prints and posters produced for home display, and the more traditional advertising poster.  Below is a great photograph from the Observer magazine in 1967, illustrating a George Melly article on Poster Power. I’m only sorry that I can’t find a bigger image.

Observer Magazine photograph Patrick Ward poster power 1967

Even so, take a squint at the top left corner.  In amongst the products of the counter-culture are a couple of images you might recognise.  GPO posters to be precise.

Properly Packed Parcels Please vintage GPO poster woman out of hat

That photograph is recording a transitional moment when the poster is just about to become an object for the home, but a few great display designs still exist.  So is this one of the last ‘proper’ posters ever?  It certainly feels that way to me.

The newer kind of designs were certainly seen as interesting cultural artefacts even at the time.  The Daily Telegraph ran its own article about posters in 1968 about how ‘posters are selling in a very pop way’.  They noted that they were

expendable art, the perfect child of the consumer age, that costs as little as five shillings to five pounds, can be thrown away if you are tired of it, framed if you want it forever.

It’s hard not to think about Walter Benjamin at this point.  I’ve expounded on his ideas about reproduction on here before, but the gist of it is (extreme summary of a dense text here) that the nature of art will change absolutely now that images are infinitely reproducible.

the technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition. By making many reproductions it substitutes a plurality of copies for a unique existence. […]. These two processes lead to a tremendous shattering of tradition.

Benjamin had hoped that reproduction would, in the end, lead to revolution. In fact, what we ended up with was this instead.

Athena Tennis girl poster

The Athena poster of the 1970s is the apotheosis of his ideas, an infinitely reproducible and reproduced image that has no original.  They are a genuinely mass market art form,  a true popular culture.  I don’t think Benjamin would be particularly delighted. (It is intriguing that at the very height of Athena’s domination in the early 1970s, John Berger was popularising Benjamin’s ideas in Ways of Seeing on the BBC.  But it’s probably only coincidental.)

What’s notable is that this kind of design didn’t sustain.  Since the 1970s, the poster has increasingly crept back towards the domain of fine art.  If you imagine most of the contemporary posters you see displayed in other people’s houses today, they are most often for fine art exhibitions of one kind or another.  The aura of the work of art had, in the end, too strong a pull to resist; we would still prefer have an image which is associated, however indirectly, with that aura rather than one which just exists in its own right.  (Mr Bourdieu would have a lot to say about this too, but if I go down that line of thought we’ll be here all night and then a bit longer too.)

In a way, though, this is just us coming full circle.  Because the mass-produced piece of art already existed long before the word ‘poster’ shifted over to meet it.  Once upon a time – just before and after the second world war to be precise – they were called art prints, and the School Prints and Lyons Tea Shops series were prime examples of this.  These were not reproductions of old masters, but images designed for unlimited reproduction and to be displayed in public.  They just weren’t called posters, that’s all.

Michael Rothenstein School Print Essex Wood Cutters, 1946

The one above is by Michael Rothenstein and dates from 1948.

The journey from display poster and art print back to art print via the diversion of popular imagery is a fascinating set of shifts, and one which I’ve only skimmed the surface of here.  But to return to our original starting point, there are also a set of Olympic posters which show us the transition exactly as it is happening, and those are the posters for Munich 1972.

Two different sets of posters were produced for these games.  The first feel utterly familiar to us today, because they were designed by fine artists and are, in the end, art prints for collecting.  David Hockney, for example, depicted swimming

David Hockney Munich 1972 Olympics poster swimming

But there are a whole other set of posters too.  Designer Otl Aicher created an entire and rather wonderful graphic identity for the games which even included an infinitely reproducible mascot.

Otl Aicher dachsund mascot 1972 olympics

If you want to read more about Aicher and his designs there are good articles here and here as well as an entire website here.  But part of the graphic scheme was a set of posters.

Otl Aicher Munich 1972 Olympics poster hurdling

Otl Aicher Munich 1972 Olympic poster

Which are, I think, still posters. And that is the journey that takes us from the 1948 Olympic poster to Tracey Emin.

Tracey Emin paralympic poster London 2012

Or not if you don’t want to.

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No room for horse play here

One day, I am going to move into the Brighton University Design Archives for a month or two, which I think should be long enough to explore.

There is a ridiculous amount there (both the Henrion and Design Council archives alone can be measured in metres), so it’s forgiveable that the holdings aren’t all digitised and web catalogued for me to survey from the comfort of my desk.

Imagine my delight then when I came across these.

HA Rothholz vintage GPO greetings telegram poster 1950

Well in fact it was Mr Crownfolio who came across the cache first, as a result of doing some detective work on those RoSPA posters I mentioned the other day. Because that’s a 1950 GPO poster by HA Rothholz, and it’s just one of a whole heap.

For some reason, out there on the Archives Hub are dozens of his posters, all from his own archives which are held in Brighton.  I don’t know why he’s been singled out, but I do know it’s a jolly good thing. Take a look at this Post Office Savings Bank poster to start with.

Post Office Savings Bank poster 1960 HA Rothholz

Or this wonderful wartime RosPA poster.

HA Rotholz vintage RosPA ww2 safety poster hats are in fashion

It’s not, I’ll be honest with you, a complete treasure trove of undiscovered work.  The RoSPA posters and the GPO work, to start with, are fairly well archived as it is.  Although I had never seen this particular GPO poster until now.

HA Rothholz vintage GPO poster pack parcels golliwog

To be fair, it is in the BPMA’s catalogue when you go looking for it, they just don’t shout about it.  Ah, 1956, not entirely a paradise of good design and right thinking then.

There are also a few things, like this coach poster, that I would have had no idea about otherwise.

HA Rothholz vintage 1950s coach poster excursions

What’s most enlightening about this archive, though, is that seeing it altogether gives a proper overview of Rothholz’s career.  The outline story is quite simple.

Rothholz came to London in 1933 to study at the Reimann School (principal one Austin Cooper and an institution that I would love to read more about if anyone can point me at a source).  Despite being interned as an enemy alien during the war in both the Isle of Man and Canada, he returned to Britain in 1942 and became one of the main designers of RoSPA’s safety posters.  Others are better known, but this is one of my favourites.

Vintage Rospa ww2 safety poster No room for Horse play here HA Rothholz

In the decade or so after the war he produced a flurry of posters, continuing to work for RoSPA, but also for the GPO.

vintage GPO poste r3d is the minimum foreign rate HA ROthholz

Along with, to a lesser extent, London Transport.

HA Rothholz vintage London transport valentines poster Courtesy and service 1947

Apart from the GPO work, the flood of posters seems to dry up by the mid 1950s.  The biographies give us a clue:

He also designed graphics and a mural for the ‘Lyons Corner House’ restaurant, at Marble Arch, and contributed to the corporate identity styles of Winsor & Newton and The Wellcome Foundation.

He must have done quite well too, because he employed people (look at the comments here for some personal testimonies).  Here’s a piece of his Winsor and Newton design from the archive.

HA Rothholz winsor and newton poster from archive

This is a story we have come across before.  As television takes over, and advertising agencies start to design campaigns rather than posters, another designer moves over to the fields of brand identity and corporate style.

While it may be nothing new, it’s still fascinating to see it played out across an entire archive from the comfort of my own desk.  And if anyone can fill in any of the gaps, please do get in contact.

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Oddities and curiosities

Right you lucky people, the Onslows Summer auction is upon us and it is time at last to see what is on offer.

Except amongst the things that haven’t been up before, there isn’t very much that makes my heart beat faster.  It’s a sale of curiosities and oddities, well for me at least.  Things like this very late Ashley Havinden from 1962.

Ashley Havinden (1962) Join the Welsh Guard, original Recruiting poster

Ashley Havinden, 1962, est. £70-100

This poster won an advertising award but ironically was not a success due to being printed in English.


While this Tom Purvis would be odd on the basis of what it is advertising alone.

Tom Purvis (1888-1959) Sleep Allenburys Diet, original varnished lithograph poster, mounted on old linen with wood batons top and bottom
Tom Purvis, est. £500-1,000

What you can’t see from that image is that it is also the size of a house (well, nearly).  Here’s the photo taken when it was originally sold in 1990 at the sale of Purvis’s studio.

Purvis poster shown to scale

Don’t say you weren’t warned.

This poster also keeps coming up at the moment (and if I am honest, I keep trying to buy it for cheap and failing).

Nevin's B+I Line Liverpool - Dublin, original poster printed C W Massey poss Henrion
est £200-300

Onslows don’t give an attribution, but I do swear that says Henrion.  Any thoughts, anyone?

Entertainly after the conversations earlier this week, these two Ralph Mott posters have also made an appearance.

Ralph Mott vintage 1930s b2b railway poster
Ralph Mott, late 1930s, est £70-100

Ralph Mott (1888-1959) Warehouse your Goods, original poster printed for GWR,LMS,LNER,SR  Vintage railway poster
Ralph Mott, late 1930s, est £70-100

Yes, that does say British Railways on the second one.  The plot thickens.

There are, of course, plenty more railway posters on offer, and however much I keep going through the listings, none of the classic ones are really speaking to me in this sale.  My favourite is probably this one.

Nevin (dates unknown) The French and Italian Riviera, original poster printed for BR by Charles & Read 1953
Nevin, 1953, est. £400-500

I’m as surprised about that as anyone.

In the case of this Alan Durman, I feel as though I ought to like it, but just can’t quite manage to.

lan Durman (1905-1963) Herne Bay on the Kent Coast, original poster printed for BR(SR) by Baynard 1962
Alan Durman, 1962, est. £600-700

Whether this is because it’s not quite as good as the rest of his stuff, or simply because it’s all been a bit overexposed recently, I don’t know.  Whichever way round, I doubt that I’m reflecting the majority taste here.  But if midcentury we must have, and we must it seems, I’d rather it looked like this.

John Cort Winter Sports go by train, original poster printed for BR(SR)
John Cort, est. £250-300

But it’s not all about railway posters, all the usual categories are there too.  Like GPO posters.  There’s a slew of these more modern ones.

Ken Howard (b1932) The Post Office in Space, Goonhilly Downs, original poster PRD 1636
Ken Howard, est £70-100.

I like the idea of the Post Office in Space a great deal, but generally my experience with this kind of design is that I can scarcely pay people to take them away.  Lets see if Onslows have more luck.  There are also one or two good posters too.

Manfred Reiss, vintage GPO poster 1950 helps the export drive
Manfred Reiss, 1950, est. £250-300

This is labelled as Beaumont, but the signature, to my eyes at least, seems to say Reiss.  Must find out more about both of them though.

There are also wartime posters by the tonne, of which this is probably the most interesting one.

Anon Dig For Victory, For their sake - Grow your own vegetables, printed for HMSO by Weiner circa 1940
Anonymous, est. £300-400

From which you might conclude, quite rightly, that the remainder are of more interest as memorabilia than for their graphic design value.  For example, this Reginald Mayes straddles both WW2 and railway posters, hence the estimate, but I don’t think I’d frame it and hang it up to look at.

Reginald Mayes Reginald Mayes (1901-1992) In War and Peace we serve, No 573 printed for GWR, LMS, LNER and SR by Truscott c 1940
Reginald Mayes, 1940, est. £700-1,000

Mind you, I’ve had my fill of Union Jacks this month as it is.

There are also London Transport posters too.  This pre-war Freda Lingstrom is in my mind a much nicer thing than the Mayes, but is estimated at much less.

Freda Lingstrom (1893-1989) To the Countryside, original poster printed for London Transport by Vincent Brooks Day 1933
Frida Lingstrom, 1933, est. £250-350

One day I will work out the precise price loading which is added for a picture of a steam train.

At the end there are also a nice run of David Klein posters, with some temptingly low estimates.

David Klein, 1962, est. £200-300

Or for even less, you can get the understated British version.

Gaynor Chapman (1935-2000) Britain Tower of London, original poster printed for British Travel by W S Cowell 1968
Gaynor Chapman, 1968, est. £50-70

There’s a very good reason why the sale has turned out this way, and it’s a point that was made very strongly this week.

The answer is of course eBay, where a whole set of these wartime RoSPA posters was up for auction.

Pat Keeley vintage world war two rospa poster swarf

They fetched reasonable prices for slightly battered posters printed on thin paper – this Keeley with a Rothholz on the back went for £67, with the top price being £150.

But once upon a time a lot like this would only ever have been sold at an auction house, probably making its way up to Onslows in the end.  But now they don’t.  Who’d be an auctioneer these days?

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I have nothing to say about this other than that it is brilliant.

Surbiton lagoon genius

I should have been able to tell you that it was for sale at Books & Things too, but I sent the picture over to a friend who comes from Surbiton as I thought it might amuse her.  She only went and bought it, didn’t she.

You can, however buy this.

Barbara Jones Christmas card cat 1957

In fact you probably should.  It’s Barbara Jones’ Christmas Card from 1957, and its for sale on eBay right now.

I do know, that this isn’t what I promised, which was a post about Onslows.  Events, dear boy, events.   It will be here in due course.

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