Blue Sky Thinking

I could really do with a good auction now.  Even though we don’t have the wall space for anything else and probably would end up buying next to nothing, I’d still enjoy the excitement.  So, after Swann Galleries emailed to say that they had a wonderful set of London Transport posters in their forthcoming auctions, I did get my hopes up a bit.

And it is true, they do have some great and rare London Transport posters coming up.  It’s just that they are all too early for my taste (and therefore also too expensive for my means as well).

Montague Black, 2026 vintage London transport poster 1926

Jean Dupas fetches high prices, but it’s all a bit too much out of the Art Deco style manual for me.

Jean Dupas Transport of joy Vintage London Transport poster 1933
Jean Dupas, 1933, est. $2,000-3,000

Quite a few of them are tram posters too, and for some reason I’ve never really fallen in love with a tram poster, not even one for a Pullman tram.

Shop early by tram vintage travel poster Blair 1929
Rene Blair, 1929, $800-1,200

Interestingly, these are a different format to the mainstream of London Transport posters – double crown rather than double royal – and were presumable displayed somewhere else.  But where?  On trams, or on their stops? And why wee they different?  Can anyone enlighten me?

mcKnight Kauffer vintage London Transport theatre poster 1930
McKnight Kauffer, 1930, est. $800-1,200

The McKnight Kauffer above is a classic, but not even that can tempt me.  Only this single Dora Batty has a small attraction for the Crownfolio wallet.

Dora Batty from the country to the heart of town vintage london transport poster 1925
Dora Batty, 1925, est. $1,200-1,800

Mainly because I would like to think of myself as dashing chic-ly into London every so often.  Of course it doesn’t happen, I don’t look like that and even if I did try it would take a whole lot longer than half an hour.  Where can she live that is so bucolic and yet so close? Aylesbury? Guildford? We may never know.

There are plenty more posters along these lines if that’s what you want, but little else to report, apart from one nice David Klein at an even higher price than before.

David Klein New York vintage airline poster TWA 1960

Along with these two airline posters, from the Czech Republic and Australia respectively.

Schlosser CZECHOSLOVAK AIRLINES / IT'S O.K. WITH CSA. Circa 1946. vintage travel poster
Schlosser, 1946, est. $800-1,200

RONALD CLAYTON SKATE (1913-1990) ANA / COVERS AUSTRALIA / COAST TO COAST. Circa 1955.  Vintage travel poster
Ronald Clayton Skate, 1955, est. $800-1,200

Why I find them interesting is that both remind me of the Lewitt Him and Abram Games airline designs of a similar period, and together they represent what seems to be an international visual language of air travel just after the war.  These infinite blue skies are the very newest thing, am image of  how the airlines have made the whole world available to you, at least if you have enough money.

Abram Games BOAC poster 1949
Abram Games, 1949

It’s easy to forget just how exciting and how modern air travel would have been then.  Very few people would ever have seen such open skies before, so of course they became a symbol of the glamour and speed that the new airlines could provide.

Lewitt Him, vintage airline travel poster 1948 Poster Connection
Lewitt Him, 1949

Vintage Lewitt Him BOAC poster 1948
Lewitt Him, 1949.

Except there may be a bit more to it than that.  Because some people had seen those skies before, and a few more people had seen the trails that aircraft could leave too.  The ANA poster at the top reminds me very much of Paul Nash’s painting, The Battle of Britain.

Paul Nash Battle of Britain 1944 IWM good art I thank you

So while these blue skies are on one hand a simple representation of brand new freedoms, I think there is also a bit more meaning within them.  These posters are rewriting some of the most potent imagery of the war, turning it from terrifying to exciting.  There is no need to fear the trails that these aircraft leave, or the wide blue skies in which they fly, not any more.

Battle of the Bulge 1944 vapour trails
Battle of the Bulge, 1944

So these posters are not only being modern, they are also reminding the viewer that this new world has been built out of the conflict that came before.  Swords are forged into ploughshares and the war in the air has brought us intercontinental jets.

Strube vintage world war two RAF poster


Henrion BOAC vintage travel poster 1947 Swann
Henrion, 1947.

We might find it hard to make the connection now, but at the time the link must have been very obvious.

Vapour trails from Battle of Britain 1940
Battle of Britain, 1940

Which means that the reassurance and the rewriting must have been very necessary too.

The Few vintage World War Two propaganda poster

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Janus in Great Bardfield

It’s 1949.  Britain is about to begin building the new world after the war.  But as we already know, not everyone wants to look forward or be modern.

King Penguin Life in An English Village Bawden 1949

This is Edward Bawden’s Life in An English Village, published in the format of King Penguin that year.  As the very first line of the essay by Noel Carrington makes clear, this book is a record of a village almost as a historical fossil rather than a living entity.

Because most of us in England have for long dwelt in towns or suburbs of towns, it is inevitable that we should come to know the countryside dweller in secondhand fashion; that is to say, largely through books.

The drawings are of Bawden’s own adopted village of Great Bardfield, in Essex, showing traditional figures like the vicar, or old fashioned shops.

King Penguin Life in An English Village Edward Bawden 1949 vicar

King Penguin Life in An English Village Edward Bawden 1949 baker

In many ways this little book is a response to Ravilious’s High Street, in which he is recording some of the more idiosyncratic shops which are already disappearing from towns before the war.

King Penguin Life in An English Village Edward Bawden 1949 butcher

The sixteen colour lithographs are wonderful, but I almost prefer the line drawings which are scattered throughout the essay, each one celebrating some visual detail that he has observed.

King Penguin Life in An English Village Edward Bawden 1949 dogs line drawing

None of which are, naturally, modern.

King Penguin Life in An English Village Edward Bawden 1949 teapots line drawing

I’ve commented a few times before on how this period is a curious time in British design, and perhaps in the way that people are feeling overall.  The country really is looking forward to a time of equality, plenty and modernism.  But at the same time, some people are aware that when a new era begins, an old one must end.

The more I think about this, the more it reminds me of a new year: plenty of people are looking into the future, but some are still reminiscing about the year which has passed, and which can never be retrieved again.  The Romans knew what they were doing when they made Janus two-faced.

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Meet Royston Cooper.

Royston Cooper portrait by James Holland

I rather wish I had, actually.  Quite a few people have contacted the blog over the last year or two about him, and they all remember an extraordinary and extrovert character.

The picture was drawn by James Holland, a friend of Royston’s, in 1954, and was very  kindly passed on by the artist’s daughter, Jane.

Rpyston Cooper express coaches to London poster

I would have liked to honour the picture by digging out a few new Royston Cooper designs for you, but frustratingly, I can’t find any.  But they must exist, because not only did Jane Holland remember a campaign he designed for Ribena, but Artist Partners have also put a brief professional biography on their website.  From which you can see that he did simply tons of commercial work which must be out there somewhere, even if most of it probably wasn’t signed.  I think a trip through Designers In Britain may be called for one of these days.

Until I get round to that, however, you can have one of his fine art prints.

Royston Cooper Fine art print on eBay

You can actually have this if you want, because it’s on eBay as a Buy It Now for just £44.99.  I quite like it, but wall space is at a bit of a premium round here so I think we’ll pass.

While I am on the subject of unobtainable delights which have been lost by history, it’s probably worth mentioning the John Burningham exhibition at the London Transport Museum.  He designed a new poster in honour of it, which is mostly ordinary type, but his bit is lovely.

John Burningham London For Children LT poster

We visited the show at the weekend. It’s small but perfectly formed, and contains as well as the better known LT posters, a good handful of designs for coach posters which I’ve never seen before.  One in particular, of cats in a boat, is wonderful, but I can’t find a picture of it anywhere.  The closest I can come is this, on the right, part of a lot from last year’s Morphets sale.

Two Burningham Coach posters from Morphets Guest sale 3

And if anyone can explain to me why this lot went for just £10, and not to us, I’d like to hear it.  Mind you it was Lot 908, I think my brain had probably gone into overload by then.

It’s probably worth reminding you that not only is his autobiography wonderful, but John Burningham is at the LT Museum tonight, in conversation with Robert Elms.  I, sadly, will not be there, as I have a prior engagement with a children’s party at a soft play centre.  Let joy be unbounded.

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Farewell Letter

This day, sixty years ago.  The Festival of Britain site has already closed down for the winter.  But only two days ago the new Conservative Governement has been re-elected, and one of their first actions in office is to announce that the South Bank site will be demolished.

There is still time to write one or two more letters, if you wish.

But it’s very hard to think of anything to say.

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A Gay Old Time

I haven’t posted about eBay for a bit, mostly because there hasn’t been anything of note for a while. At last, though, there is something worth a look.  Even if it’s not, in rather too many cases, worth the amount of money they’re asking for it.

First out of the blocks is this, which is both wonderful and cheap (as least for now).

Gay Copenhagen vintage 1950s travel poster

I don’t really need to say any more than that, do I?

I mentioned this very David Klein just the other day, because it’s coming up in the next Christies auction.

David Klein vintage miami TWA travel poster

Christies are expecting between £700 and £900 for it, which means that this eBay version is currently stupidly cheap at only £140.  I do not, however, believe that this is going to last.

Also a bit of a bargain (no, quite a lot of a bargain as they are currently just at 99p) are these two 1950s London Transport posters by Lobban.

Lobban vintage 1950s travel poster

While they may not be my favourite posters ever, they are for sale and for a mere 99p starting price, which can only be applauded these days.

Rather less of a steal is another London Transport poster from the 1950s, in this case by Denys Nichols and from 1954.

Denys Nichols vintage 1954 London Transport poster

It’s a wonderful, wonderful poster that I would seriously consider buying it in a normal auction.  But £499 is more than I think it would fetch at any kind of auction, never mind on eBay.  Am I right though?  We will have to wait and see.

If that annoys you, all is not lost as there is also the chance to buy your London Transport posters in bulk.  Fourteen of the little fellows for just £100.

ebay Harry Stevens lot

Now we have one of each of these Harry Stevens designs and so probably don’t need any more (for some reason these two particular posters have kept appearing everywhere over the last year).  But if you fancy going into poster dealing, Sotherans had copies of each of those in their most recent catalogue, at £85 a piece, so there is some scope for a mark-up.  (Sotherans never sent me an email when their new catalogue came out, probably because they knew I was going to mock the prices.  Now that I have found it, I will duly do this in a post next week.)

In further bulk buying opportunities, this seller has a comprehensive selection of greetings telegrams for sale, of which this 1939 design by Alan Sorrell is my favourite.

1939 Greetings telegram

I like the design, which is probably even nicer in focus, but am even more pleased by the fact that someone thought fit to commission and produce a telegram of this kind of landcape.  If you do want any of them, though, you’ll need to be quick, as the auctions all end this evening.

Finally, a warning.  The most unnecessary piece of poster memorabilia ever is back, back, back on eBay.


But this time they want not £50 for it, but £150.  When it looks like a slug.  Consider me speechless.

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A perfect charity shop find today.  Three of my favourite things – County Shows, 1950s graphics and old cookery books – all together in one small leaflet.

1950s stork cookery leaflet

That picture on the front is apparently the Stork Demonstration Van introducing people to a lot of new and interesting recipes on its visits to the country’s agricultural shows.  The big supermarkets still do exactly the same thing at County Shows today.

If you spread out the whole cover, the real business of the agricultural show is going on at the back; marquees, stock judging and shiny new tractors and mowing machines.

Stork leaflet county shows full

I think that is a really wonderful piece of work.  Sadly, there is not a lot more inside, only one small depiction of the Demonstration Van itself.

Stork Demonstration Van

The rest is the usual food photography of the 1950s, with the colour saturation turned up to 11.  Oh it must have been good to have colour printing back after the war.  So good that they were prepared to overlook the fact that it didn’t really make the food look tasty.

Stork cakes in glaring technicolour

The booklet is anonymous, with no one taking any credit for that wonderful cover.  In a way, I find that quite pleasing, because this booklet is a great example of a particular type of British food advertising. There are line drawings, usually in black and white, more often than not there’s a sense of humour about it too (just go back and look at Mr Stork in his tweeds on that front cover).  It often spills over into recipe books and pamphlets from the newspaper and magazine advertisements where it really belongs.  I suspect that a great deal of it springs from the relentless Ministry of Food campaigns during World War Two.

Ministry of Food Dinners for Beginners Leaflets

40 million of their advertisements were printed every week throughout the war, and it was one of the most successful Home Front campaigns.  So no wonder it set the style for more than a whole decade afterwards.

I did get another Stork booklet at the same time; sadly it’s not quite so exuberant.

Stork quick cooking

But its little graphic inside is even more of a direct link to those wartime illustrations.

Inside graphic from second stork leaflet

This kind of work isn’t glamorous or valuable.  It probably isn’t even noticed  very often (the fact that these kind of designs were produced for women, and for the home, probably doesn’t help their case either).  But it is important.  These graphics were everywhere for at least fifteen years, quite probably much longer than that (I have a whole heap of this kind of ephemera, but sadly it’s all in storage so I can’t dig it out for an answer).  They were everyday graphic design, not something that people stepped back and pointed at, but part of the warp and weft of daily life, creating the sense of place and time even if they mostly went unsung.

Not all graphics are produced by heroic designers, and not all design has to stop you in your tracks.  Everyday design can be just as important.  And more often than you expect it can be as good as well.


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