Travel, send, deliver

Please accept my apologies in advance, but Quad Royal is going to be a bit flakey for the next few weeks.  Not only is it the summer holidays, but we are apparently moving house next month too.  A normal service will resume in September, I hope.

None of which is the reason for the short state of today’s post, that’s all eBay’s fault.  The summer holidays have got to them before they have me, and there really isn’t very much out there for the picking.  But I did want to point out this.

Karo Book here coach poster 1950s from eBay

It’s a bit expensive at £150 (or possibly quite a lot expensive if I’m honest) but it’s by Karo, and it’s rather good.  Now I know very little about him, and haven’t been able to find out much more, but what I can say is that pretty much every single bit of his work that I come across, I like.  He seems to have done quite a few bits for the GPO during the 1950s and 1960s, including a few very wonderful Properly Packed Parcels Please posters.  Unfortunately the BPMA’s catalogue is down right now, so you’ll have to put up with our slightly more homely photographs of the couple we have.

Karo Properly Packed Parcels Please Vintage GPO poster 1968

Karo Properly packed parcels please vintage GPO poster 1968

They’re both from 1968 and one day when we have enough walls that top one will be framed and up on them.  This one already is.

Karo Sending Soft Fruit by post 1952 vintage gpo poster

I know I’ve posted that before, but it still amuses me far more than it should, as well as being a lovely thing to look at too.

Karo also did quite a few coach posters as well as the one which is up for sale – a good dozen at least must have come up in the last Morphet’s Malcolm Guest sale.  This went for £140.

Karo Happy Christmas Travelling from Malcolm Guest Morphets

But in amongst all of that, I can find out almost nothing about him and his life.  So if anybody does know something, please do get in touch.

And finally, given the recent discussion of vans, this.

Austin van lovely brochure from eBay

At just 99p right now with only a day and a half to go, it’s a bit of a bargain.  But it’s also a reminder that the modern design wasn’t the only game in town back in the 1950s, and the Ladybird Books school of illustration was probably as equally ubiquitous.

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Don’t mention (all of) the war

Back in my student days, now rather some time ago, I was sent to chaperone some Belgian friends of the family when they made a short visit to London, to assist with the language and the mysteries of the London Underground. There are three things that I remember clearly from this trip: a meal out at an Aberdeen Steakhouse (an experience I have never found it necessary to repeat), seeing what was apparently ‘the last bomb site in the City of London’ on a guided tour, and taking them to the Imperial War Museum. From the last I brought back souvenirs, postcards of World War Two posters.

Vintage World War Two Make do and Mend poster c1943

This has to have been one of the experiences which turned me into a poster collector, although at the time I had no idea that such a thing was even possible. I just bought the postcards and stuck them on the wardrobe door in my student rooms.

James Fitton Turn Over A New Leaf vintage world war two posters

I have said this before, but it is very satisfying to now have a genuine copy of the James Fitton hanging on the wall when it was one of the ones which I had picked out as a postcard.

But this isn’t just an anecdote about one of the ways in which I discovered posters, I remembered it because I’ve been thinking about how World War posters are used.  Both then and now, it seems that we only want to see in them a highly selective version of the Home Front experience. This is something I say about poster history often enough, but I do find these choices and omissions particularly revealing.  There were a huge number of posters produced during the war, and so the relatively few we pick out end up telling us as much about ourselves and our present day anxieties as it does about the war.  After all, why would we need propaganda anyway these days?

Churchill speech vintage world war two propaganda poster

That there is a ‘myth’ around this era, a vision of World War Two as the high point of the British nation when everyone pulled together selflessly and class-consciousness disappeared in the heat of the battle, is not a new idea. It was first expounded by Angus Calder in The Myth Of The Blitz in 1991 and is now an established part of historical thinking about the period.

Myths don’t arise just by accident, though, they always have their uses. Calder, in his preface, is completely open about why he wants to question the established story of Britain during the War,

My anger, firstly over the sentimentalisation of 1940 by Labour apologists, then over the abuse of ‘Churchillism’ by Mrs Thatcher during the Falklands War, led me to seek, every which way, to undermine the possibility of the mythical narrative.

Even though Calder exposed its mechanics, the myth has refused to disappear. The darkest days of World War Two still represent an apotheosis of Britishness, and one of the ways by which we maintain this idea is through the Home Front posters that we choose to like.

People certainly do like them. Not only do they fetch increasingly high sums at auction when they appear, but a single Home Front poster, Keep Calm and Carry On, has become the Athena poster for the start of the twenty-first century, reproduced, parodied, everywhere. So why do we want to keep repeating these stories, and what use are they to us now?

Keep calm and Carry on original image 1939 not the reworking

The core belief is the same as it was when Calder described it:

a myth of British or English moral pre-eminence, buttressed by British unity.

This is still the ideal which has singlehandedly sold almost every copy of Keep Calm and Carry On. But there is not just pride in our achievements here, behind it also lurks anxiety. We wouldn’t need to keep reminding ourselves that Britain was once great if that was still indisputably true. The fear is now that we may be a second-tier nation, dependent on others; perhaps also we are afraid that we have lost our traditional grace under pressure. Perhaps, even, we are afraid that if we were tested so severely again we might be defeated this time. And so we need to keep reassuring ourselves with the story of the war and how well we did.

These are thoughts which are not often articulated elsewhere in our culture. So the posters function like dreams, dragging thoughts up from our subconscious which are not quite safe to express in any other ways. Like dreams, they are visual more than verbal too, so we don’t have to put into words the ideas they express, which might force us to analyse these uncomfortable truths.

Behind other posters lurk other fears too. Still much-loved are those for the various kinds of salvage and austerity; we repeat the slogans and reprint the images.

Mrs Sew and Sew Make do and mend vintage world war two propaganda poster

Some of these, particularly ‘Make Do and Mend’ weren’t in fact popular then – housewives felt that they were already doing as much as they could to reuse and repair and some of the tips were therefore a bit insulting. But they are popular now. Even as we buy more phones, more fast fashion and throw more food away, we also know that we consume too much and waste too much. Perhaps we would be better people if we did not, perhaps we might even be more British.

Any Old Iron salvage vintage world war two propaganda poster

The other really popular category are those about food, and in particular, growing your own.  It’s no surprise really that the ‘Dig for Victory’ posters are popular in an era where allotments are over-subscribed and the provenance and Britishness of food is becoming more important.

A E Halliwell vintage world war two poster Dig for Victory

Their message seems quite clear if we want to read it, that we are too dependent on the supermarkets, we don’t know where our food comes from, that self-sufficency has to be a good thing.

WW2 pig food vintage propaganda poster

But there’s also a deeper undertow at work here. One of the cores of Britishness is an identification with the land and the countryside (see David Matless and Patrick Wright if you want to read some much deeper thinking than mine on the subject). So there is also a fear that as we become more urban, more detatched from the land and its produce that we are losing sight of our essential selves. If we all had a spade and a piece of soil, might we also be better Britons too?

WW2 dig for victory vintage photographic propaganda poster

At this point you may be thinking, yes, well, this is all fine and good but isn’t it reading just a bit much into some old posters which people like because they are pretty and cheerful? Another way of making the point, though, is to look for the absences, the posters that we don’t tend to look at and remember.

A fascinating example of this came with the MoMA exhibition about kitchens earlier this year, which included a set of British Home Front posters by Henrion and the mysterious Herbert Tomlinson.  They don’t tend to get reproduced much in this country, even though they are on the perennially popular subject of food.

Anti vermin poster world war two home front propaganda Herbert Tomlinson

World war two anti vermin propaganda poster home front herbert tomlinson

MoMA has as its founding principle a wholly other myth, which is the inescapable rise and total superiority of International Modernism. These posters (unlike the vast majority of Britain’s wartime output) fit into that very nicely, so the museum has collected and displayed them. Over on the other side of the Atlantic, though, this is not how we want to remember the war, as a grubby fight against vermin in bomb-damaged homes.

Two posters by Henrion telling you to turn nice fluffy rabbits into PIE

And we certainly don’t even want to think about eating rabbits which have, in the last seventy years, almost completely made the journey from food group to pet. So we have edited them out of the collective record (despite the fact that these are all in the IWM collections too).

The same might be said about posters informing people about VD. This design by Reginald Mount is a design classic, but that still doesn’t mean you’re likely to see it republished very much.

REginald Mount VD vintage world war two propaganda poster

Nor, indeed, this one, for slightly more complicated reasons. The lines are from G.K. Chesterton, the sentiment almost impossible to imagine nowadays.

Early world war two vintage propaganda poster oddly indeed

A more subtle example is provided by this Zec poster, which is one of the ones I bought as postcards from the IWM all those years ago.

Zec women of Britain come into the factories vintage world war two home front propaganda poster

Then, it was very popular, but this was a time when feminism was more vocal and more active, campaigning for greater workplace equality for women rather than proposing pole-dancing as a form of liberation. So the war could and was represented as a time of emancipation for women when they could do any job they chose, including the dirty factory ones. Nowadays we believe, whether it is true or not, that this particular battle is over and women can do whatever they want; there is no anxiety there any more so we no longer need the poster to express our thoughts and it has sunk below the horizon once more. Its Sovietesque stylings may also have been its undoing too, now that there is little of the heroic to be found in Communism any more, not even for students.

Sometimes the myth requires that we ignore the evidence which is in front of our eyes.  One of the reasons that we want to remember the Home Front is the sense of collective effort, the idea that every single person’s attempts to salvage or save or grow some greens made a difference to the common cause.  It’s a satisfying idea, and not a belief which is easy to have today.

But at the time, the British self-image was very much one of individualism, in clear contrast to Germany, where the individual was subsumed into the masses of the Nazi state.  So if you look at these, and indeed almost any World War Two poster, what you will find time and again is a single person (or indeed elephant) doing their bit out of choice, not as part of a mass movement.

Eckersley Lombers green vegetables poster vintage world war two propaganda

Even in the case of the forces, where you might think that it was good to show that we did have plenty of man-power, the image is much more likely to be of a single ship than a whole marching platoon of men.  The poster below is perhaps one of the more populated ones that British propaganda ever produced.

The Few Vintage world war two propaganda poster

But even then, the men are not only clearly represented as individual people, but also characterised as ‘The Few’.  However much we like the idea of the wartime social spirit, we’re never really going to find it in the posters.

A more complex example are the set of posters by Abram Games imagining post-war life in comparison with what had come before. They are (and I will come back to this aspect of Games’ work during the war another day) quite exceptional, in that generally British posters and propaganda avoided considering the world after the war had ended.

Vintage World War Two ABCA poster Abram Games your Britain fight for it now

The poster of Finsbury Health Centre below is particularly famous, mostly because Churchill very much took against it. He ordered the poster to be suppressed, complaining that it was a ‘disgraceful libel on the conditions prevailing in Great Britain before the war’.

Abram Games abca Finsbury Health Centre rickets vintage ww2 poster

It could be argued that it was the controversy which made the poster’s mark on history. But other poster controversies during the war ended up forgotten; these posters are remembered because they have important resonances as well. For a long time World War Two has been seen as the crucible which dissolved class consciousness and lessened ingrained inequalities, an achievement which was an essential part of the myth. For Calder, this was one of its redeeming qualities.

…at least the Myth had fostered the notion of the mutual responsibility of all for the welfare of all.

But there are not many posters which reflected this ideal, so the few which do are particularly valuable.

Vintage world war two poster ABCA Abram Games

Or at least they were. We live in a time when many of the egalitarian achievements of the post-war reconstruction – universally available higher education, council housing, a moral investment in state education and social care – are being undone, will these posters in their turn disappear from view? I hope not. Now more than ever we need the reminders that these values are still very much worth striving for.

(Almost all the images are from the Imperial War Museum collections on VADS).

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Shiny happy people

Or at least one person.

Manfred Reiss Vintage post office savings bank poster

He’s by Manfred Reiss and I would guess dates from some point in the late 50s, although as he’s not yet in the BPMA catalogue I can’t give you an exact date.

Reiss did quite a few designs for the GPO, as well as for ROSPA during and just after the war, but the Post Office seems to have been his main source of work.  I’ve been meaning to post this 1949 image for a few weeks now, simply because I like it.

Manfred Reiss vintage GPO poster 1949

There is also a small biography on wikipedia as well if you’re interested.  I suspect I may be able to dig up more, but that may have to wait until later on as events are slightly conspiring against me today.  More on Reiss, and some slightly convoluted thoughts about the afterlife of WW2 Home Front posters when they stop.

 

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U-Turn (on the river)

As I am sure many of you will remember, when we debated the subject of reproduction posters, and London Transport reproductions in particular, I said something about how I really wouldn’t want to buy a poster with ‘This is a Reproduction’ stamped all over the bottom.

It turns out that I am wrong, because we’ve just bought two.  Worse than that, we might even frame them.  It’s all down to the quality of the illustrations though, and these are spectacularly great ones by John Burningham.

John Burningham A Day On the River vintage London Transport poster 1965

The originals are both from 1965 and were probably both reprinted in about 1971.  Above is A Day On The River, but I like Winter even better than that.

Winter John Burningham vintage London Transport poster 1965

While I am on the subject of John Burningham, can I also recommend his illustrated and very good autobiography.  Not many artists or designers are able to write so fluently about the process of designing and making, so it is well worth the (slightly coffee-table) price.  From this you can find out that designing posters for London Transport in the early 1960s was his first real leg-up to a career in illustration.   This is his first ever poster, from 1961, courtesy of the London Transport Museum site.

John Burningham Rush Hour vintage London Transport poster 1961

Even though the posters are lovely, I’m still a bit surprised at our volte face.  The only consolation is that we are in illustrious company, as Rennies have a copy of A Day on the River on sale on their website.  Perhaps reproductions are the new vintage poster.  Or perhaps just John Burningham reproductions are.

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Every poster tells a story

Well, a few do at least.  This justaposition is so wonderful that I have pulled it out from the comments for a post all its own – but it’s not my discovery, the Eye-Spy skills belong to mm instead.

So, here is the Ramsgate poster, as posted on Monday, from the Swann Galleries sale.

Alan Durman vintage travel poster Ramsgate 1955

I have subsequently discovered that it’s by Alan Durman and dates from about 1955.  And that date turns out to be important, because this isn’t the only poster he did for the town.  But perhaps I should let the next two posters speak for themselves.

Alan Durman vintage Ramsgate poster 1958

Alan Durman Vintage Ramsgate poster 1950 British railways

How brilliant is that?  It’s like a Just Seventeen picture story in posters.  The other two are, of course, by Alan Durman as well and date, according to Christies at least, from 1958 and 1960 respectively.  I’m impressed that she made the bikini last so long.  A huge thank you to mm for finding the series, it’s quite made my day.

 

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Stuff Stuff Stuffety Stuff

It’s time for a round-up of what’s for sale at the moment.  I’ve been swerving this for a few days, mainly because there are bits on offer all over the place in a rather scattergun fashion.  But bear with me and we will take a tour, starting with the Swann Galleries.

Unfortunately their new catalogue doesn’t have the stellar offerings of their last Modernist posters sale, and the British posters are spotted all the way through.  In a way, this is a good thing, as it shows that they’re being taken seriously rather than tucked in a corner like some elderly aunt to be patronised.  But it does make flicking through the catalogue much harder work than it might have been.

It also makes for some interesting juxtapositions.  This English bathing beauty from 1955 is valued at a rather startling $700-1,000 (by someone who has clearly never experienced the reality of Ramsgate).

Vintage British Railways ramsgate poster 1955 From Swann auctions

But just a few pages before is her American counterpart from 1960.  Which does rather make me think that the Americans did some parts of ‘midcentury’ better than we did.

Santa Fe California anonymous American poster 1960

She’s also a bit less high-maintenance at $500-750.

For the same price as the Ramsgate bathing beauty you could instead have this rather fine Shell poster by Colin Statham, about whom I can find out nothing at all (except that someone of that name is very active in amateur dramatics in Berkshire).

Colin Statham 1937 vintage Shell poster Wolsey's Tower You can be sure of shell

I did learn that this design is apparently the only poster in this series with a background colour that isn’t neutral, so there you go.

But for me one of the most interesting posters on offer in the sale is also one of the least visually interesting.

Come Here For Water

My mind is on the subject of World War Two posters quite a bit at the moment, so you may not be as excited as I am.  But it is worth thinking about, for two reasons.  One is that it’s a reminder of the fact that design often wasn’t the main driver when these posters were produced.  This comes as part of a lot of nine posters, which also include: Only Use Boiled Water; How to get Help After Air-Raid Damage; This Shelter is Not Gas Proof; You Can Get Water At; If You Have Lost Your Home; For Help and Information Go To; This is a Rest Centre.  All of these must have been designed for immediate use in the aftermath of a raid, so their concern is being visible and legible, not being pretty.  Each and every wartime poster had a purpose, and ‘good design’ was only used when it might help that purpose, it wasn’t their main reason for being.

It’s also a reminder of just how many posters were produced during the war, and that not only were the numbers vast, they are also pretty uncountable today.  The Imperial War Museum Archive on VADS doesn’t seem to have a record of any of these nine, and I’ve never seen them reproduced anywhere else before.  Which means that there are probably plenty of others which have disappeared entirely, and so a full record of every poster of the war will never be possible.  So keep your eyes peeled, and you could perhaps hit the marketing jackpot with the next ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’.  Although perhaps not with these posters.

Back on this side of  the Atlantic, there are also a couple of railwayana auctions, at Talisman and Gteat Central Railwayana.  While both have a reasonable selection of perfectly fine railway posters (although, as ever neither estimates nor dates), nothing is leaping out screaming ‘buy me!’.  Although Great Central Railwayana do have this Studio Seven gem, which would probably do quite well in the Swann Auctions.

Minehead vintage British Railways poster studio seven

And this, which I am just amused by.

Berkhampstead school vintage LMS poster by Norman Wilkinson

The catalogue tells me that it is ‘from the series Famous Public Schools on the LMS’ so there are more to collect should you feel the urge.

I can only ever bring myself to admire this Pat Keely London Transport poster from afar, rather than actually wanting to own it and have it on the wall.

Pat Keely London Tours vintage London Transport poster

At Talisman, as well as no estimates or dates, there aren’t even proper pictures, so you will just have to look to the bottom right here to see what I am going on about.

I rather like that, partly for the typography, but mainly because I cannot imagine the circumstances under which Weston Super Mare would be better still.  Than borstal, perhaps, but that’s about it.  It’s got a muddy estuary instead of sea, a tide that goes out half way to Wales and a prevailing wind that gets sand into each and every sandwich.  I used to wonder why there were so many railway posters advertising it, until I realised that no one would go there otherwise.

And finally eBay, which has been a bit quiet recently, which might be down to the summer holiday lull beginning to kick in.  Although MrSpencer007 would like you to pay the best part of ninety quid for this.

vintage GPO schools poster GPO at docks on eBay

I, for one, am not biting.

A similar aura of optimism applies to the pricing of this Lowestoft poster too.

Lowestoft vintage travel poster British Railways eBay

Cheerful, yes, but not £450 worth of cheerful I don’t think.

But there are more reasonable prices to be found, most notably with a seller called 2mkantiques, who has clearly found a whole treasure trove of posters somewhere, 93 to be precise.  It’s a real mixed bag, with everything from Dutch bus posters to 1970s Sealink advertising, but there are some good ones in there, and mostly at reasonable prices.

I like both of these 1950s travel posters, for example, and they’re at £150 and £100 respectively.

Great Yarmouth vintage 1950s travel poster anonymous

British Railways Continental Excursions poster John Cort ebay

Plus the seller will take offers, so you may even get them for less than that.  There are also some National Savings posters, at slightly higher prices – this Norman Wilkinson is on offer for £250, for example.

Norman Wilkinson vintage National Savings poster ebay

But the real star exhibit, for me at least, is this, yours for £199 or thereabouts.

B & I lines belfast to Dublin poss Henrion?

Now, what does that signature say?  I could almost swear it reads Henrion. Anyone else got a thought on that?  It has a pair, too, which is on for £225 even though it’s not quite as  nice.

Belfast vintage travel poster poss Henrion

There have been a couple of other finds on the Bay too, but they haven’t made this post because we’ve bought them.  Sorry about that.  More on a few of those later in the week.

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