Death and the Poster Designer

I’ve always loved the smiliness of Tom Eckersley’s posters.

Tom Eckersley vintage hastings travel poster
Hastings, n/d

Between the late forties and the mid 1950s, his work is filled with cheerful characters, from spoons to beach balls.

Tom Eckersley Enos Fruit Salts advertisement 1947
Eno’s Fruit Salts, 1947

Tom Eckersley Vintage British Railways poster Bridlington 1955
Bridlington, British Railways, 1955

And of course people.

Tom Eckersley Vintage Guinness poster seal topiary 1956
Guinness, 1956

So I was rather disappointed to discover that Eckersley himself didn’t like these posters later on in his life – he said that he wanted to get rid of the whimsy and the smiling faces as they almost made him angry.  Which seems a harsh judgement on something so delightful.

Then, a couple of months ago, I read an interview with the poet Jo Shapcott, in which she discussed her experience of having cancer.

I ask whether that period changed her sense of the world. She says it did, dramatically. “When Dennis Potter was dying, he filmed that famous interview, in which he talked about looking out of the window, and observing the blossominess of the blossoms with an increased urgency and joy. And I think that does happen to cancer survivors – apparently it’s really common to feel euphoria[.]

But it was her final words which really struck me – and, strangely enough reminded me of all of the posters above.

Does she still feel the euphoria she did at the end of treatment? “I do,” she says. “All these years later, it hasn’t gone away.”

Because perhaps we – and also Tom Eckersley himself – have been doing the 1950s a disservice.

It’s really easy to characterise the early 1950s as an era which was almost feeble-witted.  See the women gladly strap on their floral pinnies and get back into the kitchen while the men take their pipes, sow the vegetable garden and tidy out the shed.  Imagine their pleasure in a brand new fridge or washing machine.  Look at their simple-minded delight in the primary colours and pretty shapes of the Festival of Britain or happy posters with smiles on.

Festival of Britain postcard

All of which is rather patronising, and, I think, wrong.

Because these are not a new generation of air-heads but the people who have lived through six years of war. For the first time it’s not only the men on active service who’ve faced death every day, but the women and children, the clerks and the old men too; they have all spent years in which they knew that they might not make it through to the next morning.  Having lived with death breathing down their necks for so long, might they not feel euphoria too once it has departed?

Festival of Britain Battersea Pleasure Gardens vintage poster 1951


They weren’t being dim when they they enjoyed the simple pleasures of their home, or the visual delights of the Festival of Britain.  Rather than a child-like wonder, it was the more c0mplex pleasures of people who have been through the fires and survived.  Perhaps, in fact, they were both more clever and more alive than we are now?

Tom Eckersley vintage British railways poster Mablethorpe

To be fair to Tom Eckersley, he himself partly knew this.  Because he also said of these posters that they were done sincerely. It was just that he couldn’t ever do them again.  Maybe, in the end, the euphoria does fade after all.

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Sale Number

It’s gone a bit quieter on eBay now, which is a bit of a relief, at least it is here at Crownfolio Towers because we’ve spent a bit too much recently.  Nonetheless, there are still a few things worth reporting.  Like this, which is one of the linen-backed London Transport posters I wrote about a while back.

Ebay Beath vintage London transport poster Winter Number 1936

It’s by Beath, it’s from 1936 and it is currently bid-free at £14.99.  Now I rather like these, as perhaps rather un-English examples of good typography.  But it would seem from the lack of other interest that I am perhaps alone in this.  Never mind, I still might get ours framed one day.

While in the States, an unusually early poster has turned up.

Emilio Tafani vintage London Transport poster Denham 1918

Dating from 1918, it’s by Emilio Tafani and is also mounted on linen, although a little battered.  And yes, I have seen the carpet.

Back in this country, the Honey Monster would like you to go skiing.

Vintage British Railways Skiing poster 1959 Studio Seven eBay

Not Studio Seven’s finest hour really.

I know nothing at all about these but I rather think I need to.

Motif Journal of visual arts from ebay I covet this

The listing is reasonably informative, and also has enough pictures to make me want them very badly.

Motif Journal of visual arts from ebay

Motif Journal of visual arts from ebay

Motif Journal of visual arts from ebay

But at £650 for the set, I can’t exactly justify it.  Does anyone know any more about the history or who the artists are though?  Particularly that Cooks for fruit illustration above.

There’s a bit more interest in an auction in Norfolk next week.  Only a bit though as several of the posters are Of Railway Interest, like this wartime morale-booster which has a very reasonable estimate of £100-120.

In war and Peace we serve vintage WW2 railway poster

Although I do find myself quite liking this pre-war design (also est £100-120).

Easter Travel 1930s LMS poster Keys auction

But the most interesting, to my mind at least, is this (no estimate given).

Xenia come to Britain vintage travel poster 1954

This is partly because it’s not a railway poster but produced by the British Travel and Tourism Authority, but also because it’s by Xenia, who I’ve never come across in any other context.  And it’s brilliantly mid-50s.  But we’ve got one already, so it’s all yours if you want it.



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On the buses (and bus stops too)

One of the real joys of writing this blog is getting a response on a subject from People Who Really Know.  So after my post about long thin posters, it was very good to hear from Michael Wickham who gave me a lot more information about where these kind of posters were displayed.  Along with illustrations, and permission to share it with everyone here.  I don’t really need to say much more, do I?

Posters were/still are produced for the timetable panels on bus stops. These are very close to A4 size (or double that or treble that, vertically) and have been produced since the late 1920s. Until quite recently, they were produced with two punch holes in the top cormers and hung on screws inside the frame. Nowadays, they are laminated. The 1974 Harry Stevens you mentioned on 9/3 is one of these, as you suggested.

Of course, the vast majority of these posters were timetables, in tabular form without any artistic element whatsoever. However, LT filled unused spaces in the frames with other material, eg exhortations not to drop litter, to avoid rush hours, queue properly etc and, occasionally to advertise attractions which could be reached by bus. For some of these, an established artist would be employed.  Here area couple from my collection, both by Clifford Wilkinson – London’s Country Houses  from 1953 (triple A4 vertical)

Clifford Wilkinson vintage bus stop poster London's Country Houses 1953

and Windsor Castle from 1951 (double A4 vertical).

Clifford Wilkins vintage bus stop poster Windsor Castle 1953

The timetables have survived in reasonable numbers because bus enthusiasts have collected them but the “artistic” posters are quite rare survivors.

Other posters have been produced for interior use inside buses (above the seats). There are two standard sizes of these: 25″ x 8″ used from the 1930s until the present and a larger size (25″ x 11″) used on more modern types of buses. Below are a 1944 issue of the first type, by Midge,

Midge vintage bus poster 1944 help the conductor

and a 1976 issue of the second, by Harry Stevens.

Harry Stevens 1976 bus poster travel information

In addition, there were sundry-size posters for the buses in the 1950s-70s for specific panels, eg on the front bulkhead, above the front windows on the upper deck and on the staircase panel. Some examples of these:

Vintage Galbraith bus poster 1960 Please Help The conductor

A 1960 Galbraith – “Please help the Conductor” – 20″ x 9″

Vintage London Transport poster Galbraith bus Avoid Rush Hour Travel

A 1959 Galbraith – “Avoid Rush Hour Travel”  - 24″ x 5″

Anna Zinkeisen 1934 Aldershot Tattoo vintage London transport poster

A 1934 Zinkeisen – “Aldershot Tattoo by private bus” – 12″ x 10″

The 12″ x 10″ size was also used on the Underground from the 1930s until the 1970s. The Underground ones had a non-see-through backing, usually dark grey, because these posters were affixed to the glass vestibules by the train doors.

There are two other common sizes on the Underground: the cards which go in the carriages above the windows and the portrait type used on the escalators. I don’t have any “artistic” ones of either of these as they are largely used for commercial advertising.

All of which is comprehensive, brilliant and very much appreciated.  What’s more, he’s also very happy to answer any questions if you have any.  So thank you very much, Michael Wickham.

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March Mad Hatters

Real life has rather got in the way of blogging for the last week, so apologies for that.  It’s also meant disorder here at Crownfolio Towers.  Yesterday, an unopened envelope turned up underneath a pile of newspapers.  It turned out to contain this.

Dorrit Dekk Mad Hatters Menu card SS Arcadia design

We bought it on eBay for no better reason than it looked rather fun, but it turned out to be by Dorrit Dekk; her signature’s on the reverse.

Dorrit Dekk menu SS Arcadia Mad Hatters Ball reverse

It’s another P&O menu, this time for the Mad Hatter’s Ball Dinner on the SS Arcadia in 1962.  The chef recommends Jellied Turtle Soup.

I, meanwhile, recommend the P&O archive.  This is something that I’ve been meaning to mention for a bit, after it suddenly appeared in amongst a Google search a few weeks ago.  There are posters, brochures, luggage labels and much more.

SS Oronsay travel brochure 1951 P&O Collection

The online selection is by no means comprehensive – there are, for example, only about 6 menu cards on show, which is about as many as we’ve got ourselves.  But it’s still much better than nothing at all.

P&O Koala luggage label from collection

And there are some truly wonderful posters in there as well.  But I’ll come back to those in the next couple of weeks, because they really do deserve their own post.

The website also has a rather useful guide to where you can see pieces from the P&O collection in museums.  I can heartily recommend a trip to the River and Rowing Museum in Henley, which houses John Piper’s Landscape of the Two Seasons, designed for the Oriana in 1960.

Mural designed by John Piper for Oriana 1960 in River and Rowing Museum

The painting is much more spectacular in real life, not least because it’s monumentally large.  But it’s a very rare reminder of the almost industrial quantities of design and and art which were produced for P&O’s liners in the late 1950s and 1960s – other than that, it really is just the menus which remind us of the style in which it was once possible to sail.

One of the many, many things I have to do this week is book a trip on Brittany Ferries; I don’t think the experience will bear much comparison with the golden days of P&O.

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Spring Madness

We’re all broke and there’s a massive recession, it should all be doom and gloom.  Except in eBay, it seems, where hope springs eternal in springtime and posters are going for silly prices.  Even ours.

I wasn’t planning on revisiting our own selling fiesta again, but the results have been startling enough to deserve comment.  Furthermore, I also owe at least one eBay seller an apology.  Having taken the mickey out of someone with the temerity to put one of the black and white Britain tourist posters on at £49.99, we then went on to sell one for £108.

Vintage British travel poster Teignmouth early 1950s eBay

I know. You may consider me well and truly astounded.

But what makes this worth telling you about is that it’s almost a scientific test of the market.  Because we’ve tried to sell these posters on eBay at least twice before in the last three or four years.  And we’ve had no takers at all, even when we put them on at 99p (yes, really).  Now, suddenly, they’re worth £30 on average, and some much more.  That’s quite a change, not only in value it seems to me but also in sentiment.  As though vintage posters are now established in people’s minds as valuable objects, so that even posters like these, which are very much on the fringes of what is usually collected, are seen as worth buying.

Quite apart from the fact that this unexpected bounty allows us to buy new posters (of which more later), it also proves something which I’ve been feeling for a while, which is that eBay is generally on the up.  This is a real contrast to my perception of the auctions where, at best, prices are static but in many cases seem to be declining.

This isn’t just a question of prices alone, people also seem to be willing to trust much higher-quality posters, that might previously have gone to an auction house, to the rough and tumble of eBay.  Like these two classic (that’s classic in the sense that lots of other people would be prepared to spend good money on them rather than classic I actually like them) railway posters, on sale in the States.

Frank Mason Stour and Orwell vintage LNER travel poster 1932

Frank Mason Tyne vintage LNER railway poster 1932 eBay

They’re both finishing in a couple of hours, but I thought worth pointing out anyway, as they’re good examples of the trend.

Also across the Atlantic, another example of what I was asking about the other day, railway posters printed specifically for the US tourist market.

vintage British Railways poster Durham river view American

It’s not my favourite kind of image (in fact it reminds me of the Ladybird Peter and Jane books more than anything else) but it is very interesting in that it’s a post-war example of this kind of publicity, which is the first I’ve come across.  More research clearly needed, although possibly not by me.

Back in the UK, this really lovely Underground poster by Clive Gardener from 1936 came up on a Buy It Now for £150.

Vintage London Underground Poster Clive Gardiner 1935 Virginia Water

And then it went very quickly.  I’m not surprised.

Worthydownbookstore have also put some more posters up as Buy It Nows too.  Now all labelled as post-WW2, so perhaps they’ve been reading this.  Hello, if you are. I’m also pleased to report that they do, as they say they will on their listings, accept reasonable offers.  So we spent some of our eBay gains on this Fitton.

James Fitton Milk HMSO public information poster 1946

And, just because I can, here it is on display at Britain Can Make It in 1947.

James Fitton milk poster on display at Britain Can Make It 1947

Finally, a game.  It’s called Spot the Padden.

P&O menus on sale on eBay

The winner may well get a bargain, as the whole lot currently stands at £1.04.  Mind you, they do also get a lot of paintings of birds and miscellaneous wildlife too.  Proof that not everything produced by P&O in the 1960s was design gold.


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Thick and Thin

This has been hanging around on the bookshelves for a bit, waiting to find a home.

Royston Cooper vintage coach poster lounging on bookshelves

Which is quite a tricky problem as I can’t exactly roll it up as it’s on card.  Fortunately I’m starting to quite like it where it is; it may be there for a while.

The design is by Royston Cooper and dates, according to Christies at least, from 1960.  Until the long one turned up on eBay, I’d only ever known the image in its upright form.

Royston Cooper Thames Valley flower coach poster in portrait form

But I think I prefer it reclining.  Here’s the whole thing for your delectation, and to enable you to consider just how little a coach trip from Worcester to Slough in 1960 would be as much fun as the poster.

Royston Cooper Thames Valley coach vintage poster in landscape long thin

All of which made me think about long thin posters.  Partly only so that I could post this, which is one of my favourite posters ever.

Atoms at Work vintage 1950s poster Sheffield Atomic Energy Authority

The entire 1950s encapsulated in a fifteen inch long piece of paper.  Genius.

Mr Crownfolio remembers that the seller told him this was produced for the Sheffield buses, but other  long thin posters turn up in a couple of places.

For example, the GPO produced strip posters for their vans.  At  51″ long, they were almost like till rolls and I’ve only ever seen them on the BPMA site.  Which makes this Austin Cooper, at a mere 6″ x 20″, a bit of a mystery.

Austin Cooper Vintage GPO poster Telegraph less 1944

It dates from 1944 so perhaps they were fixed to bicycles rather than vans.  Or something.

London Transport were the other home of strangely shaped posters, like this 1974 Harry Stevens that I think may have been meant for display on a bus stop.

Harry Stevens bus stop litter poster business man 1974

And this Eckersley from 1960 which the LT Museum site call a panel poster.

Tom Eckersley London Transport Panel Poster 1960 Lost Property

Which were meant for both buses and tubes, it seems.

Panel posters were produced for display in Underground car interiors, as well as on the inside and outside of buses and trams. Because they did not have to fit a standard frame or wall space, they are smaller than other poster formats and vary slightly in size.

And I imagine that because so many were pasted on, only a few survive.  That’s a shame really, because in many ways they are very manageable posters, much easier to find space for than some of their bigger cousins.  At least I hope that’s true, because we’ve bought another two from the seller of the Cooper, by Studio Seven and Lander this time.  More on those when they arrive.

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