Owls in the kitchen

A mysterious package arrived in the post a few weeks ago.  Unannounced and anonymous, it turned out to be  a small selection of materials about one of my favourite artists and people, Barbara Jones.

There’s a couple of booklets – one a catalogue of an exhibition in Marlborough in 1999, the other a review of her life and works published in the journal of the Private Libraries Association.  (I think my new aspiration may be to own a private library).

But best of all are a pair of cuttings.  One is her obituary from – possibly – a Hampstead newspaper.  (This is very brown as well as fragile, so I’ve scanned it in black and white for easier reading.)

Barbara Jones obituary

Apologies for the slightly insane scale, but I wanted you to be able to read it.

The other, is even better, because it’s an article about Barbara Jones and her immensely quirky and desirable kitchen.  Which of course includes the owl dishwasher, as featured on here (and BBC television) before.  I think this dates from 1966 or so, as she mentioned having just finished Design for Death.

Barbara Jones kitchen newspaper cutting

Click on this and it will get bigger.  Living in an old house, I particularly like her approach to damp patches, which is just to cover them up with plastic daffodils.  It’s an example we can all follow.

I really have no idea who sent me this at all.  The very short note that came with these gems simply says that they were found in the clearing of a relative’s house and otherwise would have been recycled.

Whoever you are, thank you so much for not recycling.  This package has given me an enormous amount of pleasure and I hope that in sharing it, a few more people will be delighted as well.

It’s no secret

Today’s auctions are of the general railwayana type, which means that I am likely to get distracted by glittering treasures such as ticket inspector’s hat badges, armchairs and, naturally, giant gherkins.

Heinz enamel sign, in shape of gherkin

The sign is 51 inches across, a figure worth bearing in mind before you buy it.  Although I do think it would look rather wonderful above my desk.

This is on offer at Great Western Railwayana, along with a quite extensive selection of posters, none of which, as usual, have estimates.

A brief survey of their last sale reveals them to be not quite as expensive as GCR, unless you are buying very old posters.  Although there were a couple of anomalies, like this 1961 mermaid who went for £380, which was rather more than some ‘conventional’ railway posters.

Kenneth Bromfield Eastbourne railway poster mermaid

While this went for a mind boggling £420.

Poster GPO 'This Is Stanton In The Cotswolds' by R.O. Dunlop RA, 36 x 29 inches.. 1951.

I don’t know what that goes to show really.

To my joy, the new sale includes a Tom Eckersley I’ve never seen before.

Tom Eckersley Railway poster Blackpool

This may not be quite as good, but it is still fun.

Porthcawl Railway poster children on beach 1962

The way prices are going at the moment, it will probably end up as one of the most expensive items in the sale.  Although it might get pipped to the post by this Bromfield from 1963.

Bromfield Kent coast Railway poster 1963

Or even this Bromfield from the very same year.

Bromfield dorset railway poster 1963

As far as I can tell, there aren’t that many railway posters for Dorset at all, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen one for Weymouth on its own.  Presumably this is because the civic authorities didn’t want to cough up for a poster campaign.  But I’d love to be corrected if anyone does know of any posters.  (Double points for anything that’s not by Bromfield, as he did do at least two for Swanage, possibly more)

All of those ought to be knocked into a cocked hat, price wise, by this Eckersley, but may well not be.

Eckersley Paignton Railway poster

Such times, my friends, such times.

Other than that, there are various views of town, country and seaside, a handful of bathing beauties and this RM Lander of Bath.

Lander Bath railway poster

Also this piece of wild optimism – just look at those continental parasols –  which looks as though it might be by Lander but at the same time has odd lettering.

Aberdeen railway poster

Can anyone shed any light?

All I have managed to turn up is this, from 1958, which suggests that they had previous for dodgy lettering in Aberdeen, along with an artist who’d set his style very nicely in 1937 and wasn’t about to change for just anyone.


Apart from railway posters, there are also these three World War Two posters.


I’ve written about the top and bottom posters before, when a set were put up for sale by the family of the artist, Freddie Reeves.  I was surprised to see them then, but this auction puts them a bit more into context, as apparently they have gummed backs and were intended for use inside carriages.  But there are still some interesting questions that need answering here.  Were the Railway companies printing their own propaganda posters, being the main one.  Because if they were, it’s not mentioned in any of the books.  There’s some research there for anyone who wants it.  Just don’t ask me to do it.

Furthermore, there are these coach posters.

Newquay and racing coach posters
Something terrible seems to have happened to Newquay though, but I can’t work out if it’s atomic fallout or acid rain.  Whichever, it’s probably best avoided.

There’s lots more, but you’ll have to go and look for yourself.

Also coming soon is an auction from Transport Auctions of London, but so far they’ve only sent me a PDF with teeny-tiny pictures in, so small that I can barely tell what poster they are talking about, never mind show on here.  So that’ll have to wait for the moment.


Two lives

Few things please me more than finding other people writing well about posters and poster people, particularly when it tells me something I didn’t know.  Which means that today I am very happy, because I can point you at not one but two interesting bits of the internet.

'Norwich', BR poster, c 1950sPoster produced for British Railways (BR) to promote rail travel to the city of Norwich, Norfolk. The poster shows a pictorial city view of Norwich's famous characters and buildings. Norwich Cathedral, the Norman castle and the cityÕs many medieval churches are all included. Artwork by Kerry Lee.

A while ago, I mentioned map poster artist Kerry Lee in passing.  This ended up in a conversation with Dick Raines, who has a number of Kerry Lee posters and very easily persuaded me how lovely they are.

Cambridge BR poster by Kerry Lee

Dick got back in contact a few weeks ago to say that he’d found a very good blog post about the life and work of Kerry Lee, on the blog of a small gallery that specialises in maps.

It’s a great piece of proper research, so much that it turned into two posts worth.  And as an added bonus, Kerry Lee seems to have been a really lovely man too.

I won’t regurgitate it all here, because you really should go over and read it on the Bryars and Bryars website, but I do like the fact that he apparently included a small picture of himself, with a dog, in all of his maps.  Here’s their image of just one of these.

Kerry Lee and his dog

Now I want to go and look at every single other poster close up to find out if that’s really true.

More recently, after the poster below came up in an auction, I also promised you a look at the life of the designer Mario Armengol, whose work it is.

Poster British Railways 'Come To Coney Beach, Porthcawl - Britain's Brightest Pleasure Beach' by Mario Armengol 1952, double royal 25in x 50in. Depicts a happy holidaymaker riding the carousel with the beach beyond

It turns out that Armengol was originally Catalan (and now I know that I can see Spanish echoes in the style of the girl on the fairground horse; she has little resemblance to anyone else on a British seaside poster).  After a complicated set of events involving the Spanish Civil War and the French Foreign Legion, he ended up in Britain as a refugee in 1941, then stayed in the country for the rest of his life.

As well as designing the poster above, he was a talented and prolific cartoonist, and worked for the CoI during the 195os, so may well have designed other, anonymous, posters.

Again, I’m not going to say a great deal more than that, because someone – I am guessing a family member – has put together a website of his life and work which includes a comprehensive biography which includes a great deal of information about his rather complex love life.  I can’t improve on that, so why don’t you go over there and read it instead?

great expectations

Great Central Railwayana have a new auction coming up on 4th June, and the catalogue is now up on The Salesroom if you want to take a peek.

There are a couple of quite desirable items on there, my favourite probably being this Tom Purvis because – as any regular readers may have worked out – I am somewhat obsessed with the idea of camping coaches.

Railway Posters, Camping Coaches, Purvis, LNER: An LNER quad royal poster, CAMPING COACHES, by Tom Purvis, a classic 1930s
Tom Purvis, 1930s, est. £600-900

That does make it look particularly fun though.

I’m always a sucker for a nice Lander, and there are two good ones up this time round.

Railway Posters, Yorkshire Coast, Lander: A BR(NE) quad royal poster, EXPLORE THE YORKSHIRE COAST, by Lander.
Lander, 1950s, est. £100-200

Railway Posters, Brittany, Lander
Lander, 1950s, est. £100-200

This, meanwhile, is of the same kind of vintage but a) is by someone called Harris about whom I know nothing, and b) isn’t actually a railway poster at all.

Harris Folkstone promotional poster in the sunny south east Folkestone
Harris, est. £80-120

Meanwhile, after years of invisibility, another copy of this has popped up six weeks after the last one.  I will tell you all about Armengol one of these days, I promise.

Railway Posters, Coney Beach, Armengol: A BR(W) double royal poster, CONEY BEACH, PORTHCAWL, by Mario Armengol, 1952
Armengol, 1952, est £150-300

You need to pay attention to this one too, because I also will be writing more about this series in the next week or so.  And it’s rather good to boot.

Railway Posters, Southern England, Langhammer: A BR(S) double royal poster, SOUTHERN ENGLAND, by Langhammer.
Langhammer, c.1960, est £150-300

Meanwhile this one may not be the best bit of design ever, but seeing as it both dates from 1946 and isn’t actually a railway poster, I reckon it’s probably quite rare.

Railway Posters, Butlins, Orr: A Butlins poster, EARLY HOLIDAYS, Luxury Holiday Camps, 1946 Season, by Orr. The size a little less than the usual double royal
Orr, 1946, est. £150-300

Finally, this is worth a mention simply for making explicit the thought process behind so many landscape-depicting railway posters.

Railway Posters, Bredon, Lampitt: A BR(M) double royal poster, OLD WORLD ENGLAND, BREDON, WORCESTERSHIRE, by Ronald Lampitt
Ronald Lampitt, c. late 1950s, est. £100-200.

In an interesting development, Lampitt has his own Twitter account.  Life is a perpetual source of surprise to me.

While all those posters are very lovely, they’re not the most interesting discoveries about this auction.  When I went onto the Great Central site to look at what posters they had, the link, accidentally, took me to the auction just gone past in March.  It took me a few clicks to work out what had happened, which meant that I ended up looking at quite a few sold prices.  And those turned out to be really rather interesting.

Quite a lot of ‘classic’ railway posters went pretty much for their estimates.  I’ve pulled this one out simply as an example.

A BR(W) quad royal poster, GLORIOUS DEVON, by L.A. Wilcox

The estimate was £200-350, and it sold for £260.  All fine and well there.

Here’s another, later example, which went for £360, with a top estimate of £300

A BR(W) quad royal poster, PEMBROKESHIRE, by Leech

I reckon that a good two thirds of the sale went in this way.  A couple came in under and only one failed to sell at all.  A normal day at the auction house.

That is, except for the posters that remained – perhaps ten or fifteen – where the bidding went mental.  Estimates were being smashed all over the place.

Sometimes this can be accounted for by a poster being old and rare.

Hewins Barmouth GWR railway poster
Hewins, est. £400-600, sold for £1,300

While others were design classics of one kind or another.

An LNER double royal poster, EAST COAST FROLICS, THE LOBSTER, by Frank Newbould
Frank Newbould, est. £150-300, sold for £1050

A BR(M) double royal poster, THE LANCASHIRE COAST, by Daphne Padde
Daphne Padden, est. £80-120, sold for £270

This is a really stylistically interesting and unusual poster, and the only example I’ve ever come across of the design at auction, so I can see why it went so high.

A quad royal poster, BLACKPOOL, by Dickens
Dickens, 1960, est. £150-300, sold for £780.

Other posters behaved less explicably.  Why is this seaside poster better than any other?

A BR(M) double royal poster, MORECAMB
Anon, est. £100-200, sold for £460.

These boats don’t look particularly exceptional either, but people seem to want them.

A BR(M) double royal poster, MORECAMBE & HEYSHAM, by A.J. Wilson.
A J Wilson, est £100-200, sold for £500.

There is a theme developing here, which is that posters of the Lancashire coast go for a lot of money.  It’s a good theory, but doesn’t account for everything.

A LNER double royal poster, THREE NEW SHIPS, by Frank Mason, showing the Amsterdam, Prague and Vienna
Frank Mason, est. £150-30o, sold for £540

While nothing at all can account for this.

A LMS quad royal poster, WILLESDEN No.7 BOX, MAIN LINE, EUSTON TO THE NORTH, by Norman Wilkinson, R.I. A dramatic image, part of the, From the LMS Carriage Window Serie
Norman Wilkinson, est. £250-400, sold for £1800

I know, people like pictures of trains, and signal boxes, but I still find it bewildering.

So what have we learned from my trawl through auctions past?  I’m not entirely sure, to be honest.  One interpretation might be that the market is moving upwards a bit.  That’s certainly true from the point of view of the railwayana auctioneers.  Ten or fifteen years ago, posters were a small and rather disregarded sideline for them: now they are bringing in serious money.

But making a generalisation about values as a whole, I’m less sure about.  The other piece of auction news that has come in recently is that Christies are closing down their entire poster department.  On the one hand this, to paraphrase Morrissey, says nothing to me about my life.  I can’t afford the prices, and don’t want most of the posters in their sales.  I’m not even sure it’s a vote of any kind about the market; I suspect this is more about posters being small fry compared to the Very Expensive Art that they would prefer to sell.

So all I am left with is questions?  Are posters getting cheaper or more expensive?  Who’s going to sell the expensive posters now – are they all going to go at Railwayana auctions?  And where will the London Transport Museum get rid of their surplus holdings now?

Any answers, please do type them out in the box below, because I certainly don’t know.



Once again, this post comes to you courtesy of someone else’s generosity.  In this case, it’s thanks to Mike Ashworth, who pointed me towards the Phyllis Nicklin collection, via this picture of Jiggins Lane in Bartley Green, Birmingham in 1953.

Bartley Green with poster hoardings Phyllis NIchol collection

Great, isn’t it.  And rare too.  Considering how present posters were on the streets of Britain in the 1950s and 60s, pictures of them at work are few and far between.  Which is a very sad thing if you are an obsessive like me.

There are plenty more where that came from too.  Here’s the Jewellery Quarter in 1963.

hoarding jewellery quarter birmingham 1963 phyllis nickllin

(I’ll put links to larger pictures at the bottom of each picture so that you can stare at the text in more lovely detail than Quad Royal can handle, starting here.)

Part of the reason that these pictures are so wonderful is that, although clearly she was a very good photographer with an eye for the perfect shot, Phyllis Nicklin took them as record, not art.  She worked as an extra-mural Geography tutor at Birmingham University and took slides as a record of how Birmingham was changing in the years after the war.  At least that’s the assumption, but there’s no proof.  Nicklin died in post, in 1969, so the slides were left in the custody of the University without any kind of manifesto or description of how we are meant to see them.

Bradford St Deritend Phyllis Nicklin 1954

(larger image)

Whatever her motives, what we do have is photographs of posters, doing their thing, from the early 1950s – that’s 1954 above – right up until a year before her death, in late 1968.

Flyover, Birmingham, 1968 phyllis nicklin

(larger image)

I can find a whole heap of reasons to be interested in these images.  Seeing posters in the location that they were designed for is interesting enough in itself, as is the fact that these pictures mostly show commercial posters of the kind that very rarely survive or are even recorded in Britain.  But there’s more to be seen in them beyond that.  Phyllis Nicklin’s slides underline another issue that I’ve been thinking about for a while, and that’s how crowded with information the world around the posters was.

Nowadays, if you do ever see one of these posters, it’s likely to be framed and separated off from any distraction, more often than not on the white wall of a gallery, or the tastefully pale walls of chez Crownfolio.  But pretty much the only poster in the Nicklin images which is displayed in such a separated way is the giant gin poster above in 1968, and even that’s juxtaposed with factory roofs and signs.

Look at the first few pictures again though, and these posters are all displayed in groups that have been put together at random with no thought for design or complementarity.  It’s a Darwinian visual world out there, and these posters have to fight amongst themselves for attention.

But other posters aren’t the half of what’s going on.  Take a look at the bottom left corner of the very first picture.  The Rowntrees poster is on its own, but it is up against two enamel signs.   These posters – in 1967 – are facing similar competition.

Phyllis nicklin picture of posters 1967

(larger image)

Post-war posters weren’t displayed in a visually blank environment, far from it.  They were surrounded by all sorts of other text, advertising other things, in different ways.   However we see them now, back then they were part of a whole and very varied ecosystem of text and advertising messages.

In the picture above, the posters above look modern in comparison with the old fashioned text of the enamel signs, although I can see that for some advertisers, the impression of tradition and permanency that these kinds of advertising give would be a bonus rather than a disadvantage.  Windolene is up to date and disposable, but Woodbines will always be there when you need them.

In some places, these other advertisements were the only kind available.  This newsagent in 1953 is dense with text and information, but none of it comes from a poster.

milk street newsagent 1953 phyllis nicklin

(larger image)

It’s worth noting Robin Starch didn’t confine its advertising to enamel; here it is in 1960, on another newsagent, advertising on a poster instead.  Or perhaps in addition to: I have no idea how their advertising budget was spent, nor how long enamel signs remained on display.

phyllis nicklin newsagent with posters 1960

(larger image)

Please note that I’m doing very well here by not making any jokes at all about starching robins.

The enamel signs weren’t the only kind of text that the posters were in competition with either, nor the oldest.

Broadbent corner digbeth phyllis nicklin

(larger image)

That poor Surf poster above has to get its message through against a positive babel of painted wall adverts, boards advertising taxis and smaller posters.  Were we to see it in a gallery, we’d be hard-pressed to imagine it operating under those – rather unfavourable – conditions. But perhaps we should try a bit harder next time.  We might not like it, but this is how the posters were designed to be seen.

There is plenty more to enjoy in the archive apart from the posters.  Phyllis Nicklin was right to record so much of Birmingham: she depicts a world that we can hardly recognise now.  Here’s a photograph taken on the edge of the suburbs in 1953.

phyllis nicklin haymaking 1953

It looks not only bucolic but a relic of an age utterly passed with its teetering hayrick.

Except there’s an irony.  The website which houses Nicklin’s photograph has also identified the locations where she took them on Google Maps.  Every single one of the buildings that I’ve shown in this post has gone: replaced by newer factories, modern flats or sometimes just a blank piece of tarmac without a building on it at all.  Nothing she saw remains, with once exception.  And that’s the field, which is as rolling and undeveloped as it ever was.

And when I went to look at it on Google Streetview, they’re still bringing in the harvest.

harvest from Google Street view

The Nicklin photographs have been championed by the website Brumpic, and you can find out more about her on there.  A selection of photographs have also been catalogued by the University of Birmingham, and you an find those here.  Do go and look, it’s worth the effort.


I do like a sharp-eyed reader.  Sheila got in contact to show me this poster, which she’d just bought on eBay.

Electric hot water is cheap poster 1950s

It’s great, isn’t it.  But I can’t tell you anything definite about it, because it isn’t signed.  Sheila, however, has a theory.

Compare and contrast with this, which is a Tom Eckersley classic.

Poster - 'Mablethorpe - Trusthorpe and Sutton On Sea' by Tom Eckersley (1959) double royal 25in x 40in. Depicts a smiling cartoon girl half buried in the sand. Published by British Railways Eastern Region

These children are, if not twins, then certainly close relatives.

cheap electricity head shot

mablethorpe head shot

So is this a hitherto unknown Eckersley?  Well it might be.  The construction of the faces are almost identical, and so little is known about British commercial posters of this period that I wouldn’t be at all surprised at all if an entirely new poster turned up.

Equally, though – and this is Mr Crownfolio’s theory – it’s possible that another graphic designer saw Eckersley’s poster and rather liked the way that the face had been done.  So when he or she got the right commission which involved drawing a child, they took some inspiration from the Mabletherpe little girl.

One possible way to sort this might involve going through a complete set of graphic design and poster annuals for the late 1950s and seeing whether the electric hot water poster is mentioned at all.  Sadly I can’t volunteer, as we don’t have a full set.  But if anyone else wants to have a go, or has any other theories or knowledge about this poster, do let us all know in the comments below.