Auction fever (or not)

The next Christies poster sale is upon us; the lots are online, the printed catalogue is sitting on my desk.  But I’ve been avoiding writing about it for the last few days, mainly because I can’t work up much enthusiasm for what’s on offer.

This, if I am pushed, is probably the best of the bunch.  But it’s American, so it doesn’t really count, even if it is by Herbert Bayer.

Herbert Bayer Eggs vintage American wartime poster
Herbert Bayer, c.1940, est £700-900

The next best offerings are also American, a selection of TWA travel posters by David Klein.

David Klein travel poster Christies Auction
David Klein, c.1958, est. £1,000-1,500

David Klein vintage TWA travel poster
David Klein, c.1960, £1,500-2,000

I’ve pondered the excellence of these before, because they have a quality which no British poster of that era really manages, an intense optimism about modernity, not simply as an ideal to be aimed for (which is much more the British mindset) but as something experienced in the present moment.  They are glad to be alive in this modern world and the joy is infectious.

David Klein vintage TWA poster
David Klein, c.1960, est. £700-900

In the realms of things which I really should be contemplating, there is a Fougasse I haven’t seen before.

Fougasse vintage WW2 propaganda poster salvage
Fougasse, 1942, est. £600-800

Along with an interesting and early McKnight Kauffer.

McKnight Kauffer Cornwall vintage Great Western poster
McKnight Kauffer, 1933, est. £800-1,200

And then two Landers which are not new but now come with quite eyewatering estimates.

Lander Paignton vintage railway poster
R M Lander, 1956, est. £600-800

Another Lander Paignton railway poster
R M Lander, 1956, est. £600-800
I’m intrigued by these posters; they’re not necessarily the best of his work but they come up time and again at auction, unlike anything else he did.  It could be that there are just more of them about, or it may be a self-perpetuating phenomenon: because people have seen them fetch good prices before, that brings more out of the woodwork.  But he did do more interesting stuff, and I’ll post a few of our (rather battered) examples one of these days.

Then there is also this.

Daphne Padden vintage railway poster Hastings and St Leonards
Daphne Padden, £1,00-1,500

Now it is by Daphne Padden, because it’s signed Daphne Padden, even if at first glance it looks much like her father’s style of work.  Judging by  the style of clothing, it must be from the very start of 1950s, so is probably one of her very earliest posters.  Which makes it interesting, but I can’t say I particularly like it.  Although the estimate suggests that Christies think that a large number of people will be expensively intersted in it.

There are other mildly interesting lots; a few from London Transport, of which my favourite is this Bawden.

Edward Bawden 1936 Vintage London transport poster Kew Gardens
Edward Bawden, 1936, est. £600-800

As ever, there are also the usual slew of railway posters including lots of pretty landscapes and detailed pictures of trains.  This one does at least get a prize for being, er, different.

Flying Scotsman Greiwurth poster 1928
Greiwurth, 1928, est. £3,000-5,000

Oh to live in the simpler age before Freud thought of phallic symbolism.

Overall, though, the excitement just isn’t there.  Really I think that – with the odd exception when a great collection comes up for sale – Christies’ sales just aren’t for me any more.  The higher minimum lot value means that so much of what I’m interested in – the Royston Coopers and Tom Eckersleys – just don’t appear there any more.  But these posters also not turning up anywhere else instead.  So where have they gone?  Are you sitting on a heap of these things and don’t know what to do with them these days?  In which case, I might be able to help.

While I’m on about auctions, I should for the sake of completeness tell you that Poster Auctioneer have a new auction coming up tomorrow, but again with very little British interest in there, so you’ll have to make do with this Donald Brun instead.

Donald Brun

Most of their posters are Swiss, which isn’t unreasonable for an auction house in Switzerland.  What’s more puzzling is that Poster Connection, who are in the States, also have an auction stuffed with Swiss posters this time round.  You can choose between an ample selection of Swiss graphics.

Hans Neuburg Zurich artists poster 1966
Hans Neuburg, 1966, est. $360

Or simply posters for Switzerland.

Herbert Leupin Pontresina vintage travel poster 1949
Herbert Leupin, 1949, est. $500

There are a very few British posters in amongst all the snow and sans serif, of which the most interesting is this Norman Weaver.

Norman Weaver vintage 1948 travel poster BOAC
Norman Weaver, 1948, est. $500

With a rarely-seen Abram Games coming up a close second.

Abram Games Vintage BOAC poster 1947
Abram Games, 1947, est. $600

But all is not lost.  Swann Galleries have promised me that there are some lovely London Transport pieces in their forthcoming auction.  I’ll let you know as soon as it appears online.

Show Card

The designs here may at least be familiar to careful readers and/or shoppers.

Tom Eckersley Holiday Haunts showcard

Because both of these appeared in the final Morphets sale last year.  The blue bird above is by Tom Eckersley, the happy beach kit below by Abram Games.

Abram Games Holiday Haunts showcard

But these particular examples aren’t posters, instead they are rather wonderful display cards, presumably for use in ticket offices and travel agents.

two British Railways showcards on our mantelpiece

This might seem like an extravagant piece of publicity, but Holiday Haunts was a major production for British Railways, with over 200,000 copies printed at its peak.  (If you want to know more, I’ve gone on about it at some length before.)

The design alone was quite enough reason to get these (from eBay, for a reasonably small sum), but actually the format is fantastic.  They’re small and have their own stands.  We don’t need to frame them or find some wall space and they look very fetching on the mantlepiece. I’m starting to think all posters should look like this.

Refined Lard

Today something alarming but also brilliant, the Sainsbury’s Own Label book by Jonny Trunk.

Sainsburys Own Label cover

It’s alarming because I’m now old enough for people to be digging up forgotten bits of my past and selling it as retro.  In this case, supermarket packaging.

Sainsburys Lemon pie mix


We always shopped at Sainsbury’s when I was small, so these designs do have a Proustian whiff of being six years old for me.

Lard Packaging sainsburys own label book

As for brilliance, the design speaks for itself, even if I wouldn’t fancy eating too many of the contents.  But in a way, that’s a further compliment to the vision of the design.  Who would feel today that a lard wrapper was worth spending good design time on?  Not many people I suspect.  (If you want to follow this thought further, there’s an interesting Creative Review article which compares the designs in the book to what’s on offer today, even if it does wimp out of the conclusion that most design now isn’t half as good.)

dried peas

Sainsburys dog food label

The book is also an interesting portal into a moment in design which doesn’t get spoken about as much as it ought to, particularly in terms of graphic design.

I’ve always thought of the period between about 1962 and 1967 as the brief moment when ‘proper’ modernism was finally taken on board by British designers, even if it was only an interlude between Scandewegian light wood and psychedelic curliques.  This book is a reminder that while it might not have lasted for long, the takeover was total.  What’s more, it wasn’t just high end manufacturers and poncey magazines embracing the style; instead it was part of the design of everyday life, just as good modernism should be.

cod packaging sainsburys

Imagine a whole supermarket full of design of this force and ambition.  It’s something I will probably never see again, and never properly appreciated when it was in front of me either.

Pale Ale

The Sainsbury’s designs in the book start in 1962 but go all the way through to 1977, although I imagine that the most striking designs here date from the earlier period of the studio’s work (somewhere I have an early 1970s Party Dip package which is definitely more psychedelic than anything on show here). But I haven’t read the book yet, so will doubtless have more to say when it does arrive.  Here’s a preview of just a few of the delights inside.

book spread


I thought I’d mention it in advance though because it is a limited edition print run.  A few copies are available from the designers, Fuel, or you can wait until Amazon get their copies in.  But once they’re gone, they’re gone.

While you wait for your copy to arrive, it’s also worth reading Jonny Trunk’s account of how the book came to be.  I tend to believe that the most interesting ideas come out of people following their own eccentric enthusiasms rather than making a calculated decision about what other people are interested in, and this is a classic example of that happening.  Well done that man.

Plain Sailing for Women

Three things you might want to know about Tisbury in Wiltshire.  Firstly, it has a very nice rural station, drowsy in the Adelstrop kind of way on a summer’s afternoon.  Second, Mr Crownfolio’s forefathers made the clock in the village church.  Last and probably most interestingly of all for most readers of this blog, it has a second-hand bookshop which is at this moment selling some posters on its website.

Woman's Realm vintage newsagents poster

They’re not the best examples of graphic design you are ever going to find (the one above is probably my favourite of the bunch).  But they are rather interesting, because they’re a kind of poster which doesn’t normally survive.  This particular batch came from the attic of a newsagents.  They would have been changed in the shop almost every week, and the old ones were just obsolete and so thrown away, apart from this one newsagent who clearly stuffed them into the attic for whatever reason and forgot about them.

Christmas disc newsagents poster

So regardless of what you think of their style, they’re probably very rare.  And as such they’re a useful reminder that we just don’t get to see most of the graphic design produced between 1930 and 1960, only a tiny proportion actually survives.

The other important thing to remember is that it does tend to be the good stuff which survives too.  Not only are average posters like these less likely to be kept in the first place, but most of the reference materials available today (I’m thinking about Graphis and the Modern Publicity annuals here) are also only selecting the best.  The mediocre just disappear from the record.  So a cache like this is design history gold dust, regardless of whether you’d like to have them on your wall or not.

Knitting booklet newsagent poster

But there’s more to these posters than just being a sample of the forgotten graphic design of the 1950s.  They also give us a view into the highly gendered world of the decade where men need action and adventure – note also that men are identified with John Bull, i.e. Britain itself.

John Bull poster

While women, separate to the body politic, need only to think about holidays and clothes.

Woman magazine newsagents poster

Woman magazine newsagents poster

Oh, and romance too.

Now the above may seem like a statement of the blindingly obvious, but it’s a point worth making because, strangely enough, this kind of gender-defined vision doesn’t actually happen much in posters of the same period, and this is something that I’ve been meaning to comment on for a while now.  In fact the posters of the 1950s are probably aimed more at a neutral audience than even a newspaper is today.

I will expand on all of this in a longer post one of these days*, but just to give you an example, the Guardian illustrated a story about the Ivy on its business pages yesterday with an image of Keira Knightly, who has apparently eaten there now and again.  The presumption is clear, that any reader of these pages, is a man, and so would rather look at Keira Knightly than a picture of some food, a male chef or the front of the Ivy.  So why don’t 1950s advertising posters usually do that?  I genuinely don’t know.

*One of the reasons I haven’t written the post yet is that I have lost one of my key exhibits.  It’s a railway poster depicting a man carrying a tray of tea (including a china teapot) across the beach to his family.  My idea of holiday heaven, but I can’t trace it, so if anyone knows the poster I mean, can you let me know what resort it’s for?

Brave New World, again

I’ve just got round to watching Saturday night’s Festival of Britain programme, and wanted to draw your attention to it as it’s only  on iPlayer until this coming Saturday.  (Apologies, as ever, to those of you who are outside the UK and so can’t get hold of it.)

Festival of Britain at night promo for BBC2 documentary

There are quite a few things to enjoy about the programme, not least seeing Dorrit Dekk interviewed on the television, and what’s more also spotting an archive picture of her with this poster in the background.

Bones vintage 1946 public information poster propaganda

She wasn’t alone either, as they’d interviewed a whole host of original designers and visitors.  Even better than that though, the programme is stuffed full of  tons of contemporary colour footage of the festival, set to some great music.  Whichever researcher found the calypso Festival of Britain song, which included amongst many memorable lines a paen to the Charing Cross pedestrian bridge, deserves a medal.  And the editor too, for letting the whole  thing run without interruption, so just sit back, put your feet up and let the festival spool past.  (If you can’t be bothered to watch the programme, shame on you, but the song is by Lord Kitchener and you can find it here.)

Festival of Britain transport pavilion postcard

There were, of course, irritations too.  The same care in casting had not been applied to the modern day pundits, so representing the historians we had Dominic Sandbrook, who is it seems a compulsory part of any programme about this era, and Jonathan Glancey (ditto, any programme about the history of design and much else besides).  Which meant, perhaps unsurprisingly, that the conclusions were no great shakes either.  The Festival was very happy (this is probably true, but I’d still like another point of view one of these days).  The Festival was Very Influential on architecture and design (stated, but never proven, and almost impossible to deal with given the programme’s almost infinitely all-encompassing definition of modernism).  Council flats made people very happy in the 1950s (yes, but can we not try a little bit harder).

Architecture exhibition at Poplar

From all of this waffly unthinking, though, a couple of nuggets did manage to emerge.  Despite Dominic Sandbrook’s ubiquity, he may yet have a purpose.  He pointed out, and it’s true, that the Festival was a version of the future, not necessarily in the way it looked, but in its emphasis on technology and science, which prefigured the white heat of the 1960s.  Interesting idea, give that man a television programme.  Oh, hang on a minute, perhaps not.

The other thought came from one of the architects.  Talking about how grey and depressing Britain was in the run up to the Festival, he said that no wonder the the whole country looked run down, because almost every house hadn’t had a coat of paint outside for the last ten years.  It’s a small point, but one which makes that shabbiness as imaginable as can be.  No wonder the Festival’s bright colours were so different, so appealing.

Festival of Britain postcard

New In

While I am often griping about how posters cost too much on eBay these days, there are, every now and then, exceptions.  Some of which I point out on here, some of which Mr Crownfolio and I throw a bid at.  A few such bargains have arrived here recently (well, via a trip to the sorting office; we have a ridiculously small letterbox now, which is an absurd thing if you collect posters), and a couple are quite interesting.

First up, an anonymous Keep Britain Tidy poster, about which I know nothing at all but would probably date as being around the same time as the first Reginald Mount designs for the campaign.

Anonymous Keep Britain Tidy vintage poster HMSO from eBay

It looks like the work of Harry Stevens, but could frankly be by anyone or no one.  If you’ve got more idea than that, please let me know.

Secondly is this 1960s poster for the Motor Show.  It’s worth a look because it’s quite good, and also because this kind of poster doesn’t crop up very often.

1960s Motor Show poster, off eBay

It’s by Roy Carnon, who did a fair bit of illustration in the 1950s and 60s but, much more important than that was ‘visual concept artist’ to Kubrick on 2001: A Space Odyssey and is therefore Very Important.

But there are other reasons to like it too; for me it’s a visual embodiment of the great British dilemma of ‘just how modern are we?’.  The centre panel is a very good 1960s-modern poster.  But then, somewhere along the line, someone has had a crisis of confidence and thought that you just can’t put The Queen into that kind of design, it’s just not fitting.  And so we have a nice tasteful border with unthreatening serif type in which to put her.  It’s a brilliant metaphor for the whole muddle, and revealing in a way that a truly perfect bit of design wouldn’t be.

Finally, the third poster is simply rather nice.  It’s from 1967 and the painting is by Paul Millichip, who is still alive and working in the Chilterns.

Paul Millichip vintage 1957 London Transport poster country walks spring

Although I do think the typography is a bit unusual; I’d more expect to find it on a poster of the 1930s or 1960s.  But I am sure there are plenty of examples out there which prove me wrong.