Bossiness is in the eye of the beholder

Bossiness, it seems, is all a matter of context.  After musing on bossy World War Two posters the other week, I’ve been doing some more digging, and found John Gloag considering the subject of propaganda as it was happening in 1941.

Now, I find posters like these (once more from the Imperial War Museum, via VADS)  at the very least, a bit abrupt.

Take Your food with you railway long train journey vintage WW2 poster

Be brief on the telephone vintage GPO WW2 poster

But to Gloag, they are the very epitome of restraint.

Unlike the admonitions, threats, boasts and hysterical appeals that foam and froth from totalitarian propaganda departments, offical propaganda for home consumption in Britain has been sober, restrained and well-planned. [...] There have been suggestions, not bleak instructions, often conveyed with real human understanding.

Now I don’t think Gloag is necessarily wrong – he also makes some very good points in the same essay about humour being the secret weapon of British Propaganda which I think are definitely true.  What interests me is the gap between how he sees the propaganda of the time, and how we perceive it now.

Austin Cooper vintage GPO poster Telephone less WW2

Sixty years on, we have a very different attitude to authority, and we don’t much like our posters giving us orders, however understated they are about it.  Although I am sure that the note of this one would have wound me up even under the conditions of total war.

Housewives, know your place, vintage World War Two propaganda poster

There are suggestions, too, that I wouldn’t have been alone in my resentment.  This slogan – used on a range of posters –  caused an exchange in Parliament that seems strangely contemporary.

Be like dad, keep mum, vintage WW2 propaganda poster

Dr. Edith Summerskill asked the Minister of Information whether he is aware that the poster bearing the words “Be like Dad, Keep Mum,” is offensive to women, and is a source of irritation to housewives, whose work in the home if paid for at current rates would make a substantial addition to the family income; and whether he will have this poster with drawn from the hoardings?
Mr. Cooper I am indeed sorry if words that were intended to amuse should have succeeded in irritating. I cannot, however, believe the irritation is very profound or widely spread.
Dr. Summerskill Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this poster is not amusing but is in the worst Victorian music-hall taste and is a reflection on his whole Department?
Mr. Cooper I always thought that Victorian music-halls were then at their best.
Dr. Summerskill Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that if he goes to modern music-halls, he will find that this kind of joke is not indulged in and that this suggests that he is a little out of date for the work he is doing?

There are also signs of a more general resentment.  One Mass Observation reporter wrote in 1941,

Taking a short walk from the office where this report is being written, you will see forty-eight official posters as you go, on hoardings, shelters, buildings, including ones telling you:

to eat National Wholemeal Bread
not to waste food
to keep your children in the country
to know where your Rest Centre is
how to behave in an air raid shelter
to look out in the blackout
to look out for poison gas
to carry your gas mask always
to join the AFS
to fall in with the fire bomb fighters
to register for Civil Defense duties
to help build a plane
to recruit for the Air Training Corps
to Save for Victory.

It’s hard not to hear a note of brow-beaten exasperation in there.  Probably intensified by the fact that, while we tend to see only the most memorable and best designed posters of the time, the vast majority of that list wouldn’t have been much to look at.

Fall in with the firebomb fighters vintage ww2 propaganda poster

So was Gloag right or not?  I don’t really know.  He was writing in the middle of the war, so his essay was itself a piece of propaganda, keen to show the differences between the propaganda of the totalitarian regimes, and the gentle, herbivore suggestions of good old democratic Britain.  And I think he’s keen to protest so loudly, partly because there is an underlying fear that this total war, which requires conscription, directed labour and mountains of propaganda, might seem to be turning Britain into a less gentle and more authoritarian place.

But how would we react to Gloag’s suggestions now? Or get the British public to mobilise in this way?  Now that I really don’t know.

Finally, I have no idea at all what this poster wants me to do, but I do like the design.

Give a Hand To cotton vintage propaganda poster

Next week, more auctions I think.

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Hamster Joy

This poster would be worthy of your attention for its headline alone, because Hamster Joy is indeed how it is being advertised on eBay.

Hamster Joy Celestine Piatti vintage poster 1960

I think the caption really means something like saving is fun, but Hamster Joy is much more pleasing.  If that tickles your fancy, you will also be pleased to know that it comes “without linen on backside’. Although you may be less chuffed to discover that they want about £160 for it.

But I’m not just posting it for the pleasures of the mangled translation. This poster is just the tip of an iceberg, an iceberg so huge that it is forcing me to go off our usual paths and into the strange territory of the European poster.  In fact Hamster Joy is just one of almost 1,500 posters being sold out of Switzerland by PosterConnection.  Want to see a few more?

Donald Brun Gas poster 1956
Donald Brun, 1956, £266

Celestine Piatti carpet ad with contented cat 1960
Celestine Piatti, 1960, £244

H.+L.Gantenbein Sport vintage poster 1948
H.+L.Gantenbein, 1948, £1,152

They’re all being sold as Buy It Now, in dollars, hence the slightly odd pricing.  The listings suggest that they will accept Best Offers too; a few seem to have been sold this way, although our offer on this Karo – the only British poster in there – was rejected.  But then it was a bit cheeky.

Karo Happy Christmas travelling vintage coach poster
Karo, 1960, £133

I’m guessing that’s a coach poster – any thoughts, anyone?

What will be obvious already is that this an incredible set of posters being sold here.  I do know of a couple of huge collections in Switzerland, one of which has been up for sale as a whole for some time (details here in case you have a yen for Swiss posters and a ton of cash to dispose of).  But the illustrations of that one seem earlier, and I can’t match up a single image between them – this is a much more contemporary and modernist collection.

Vintagetravel poster texas phoenix air 1960
Anonymous,1960, £139

Which then suggests that it’s the other big Swiss poster collection (who have bought some things from us in the past) just disposing, as we did, of some unwanted flotsam and jetsam.  In which case I’d very much like to see what they’re keeping.

What’s on sale covers pretty much every poster subject you can imagine, so what I post on here can never be more than a partial survey.  Please do go and look for yourself, because it’s an education for the eye.  For example, there are several Brussels Expo posters that I haven’t seen before.

Villemot vintage poster Brussels Expo 1958
Villemot, 1958, £72

Jacques Riches vintage poster Brussels Expo 1958
Jacques Riches, 1958, £218

In fact the collection as a whole is quite strong on posters for Expos and trade fairs in general.

Danish Textile exhibition vintage poster 1950 H Simon
H Simon, 1950, £388

vintage poster Japan trade fair 1956
Anonymous, 1955, £466

Texas World fair bull vintage poster Buelow 1965
Buelow, 1965, £175

But looking at the collection also makes me consider some of the differences between European and British posters at this time.  To start with, Johnny Foreigner is much better at doing animals than we were (the Gilroy Guinness ads being perhaps an honourable exception).  Some of these, like Donald Brun’s Zwicky cat, are classics.

Donald Brun Zwicky cat 1946
Donald Brun, 1946, £533

But there are plenty more where that came from.

Fox Lottery Pierre Bataillard vintage poster 1947
Pierre Bataillard, 1947, £278

Frog juice Donald Brun 1958 vintage poster
Donald Brun, 1958, £339

Piatti seal vintage postal poster 1958
Piatti, 1958, £72

On a more serious note, one thing that I do envy about European posters is that so much more of their commercial work has survived.  Our walls are rather dominated by railway and London Transport , and I would  love to have some posters for food and other household stuffs up there too.  But tbey just don’t survive in the UK.  If someone can explain to me why they do survive in Europe (could you write to Zwicky or Knorr and ask for a poster?), I would, genuinely like to know.

Baby food vintage poster Piatti 1957
Piatti, 1957, £133

Coop laundry vintage poster 1940
Anonymous, 1940, £181

Given that our household would grind to a halt without coffee, I’d particularly like something along these lines.

Coop coffee vintage poster H.R.Erdmann 1960
H.R.Erdmann, 1960, £115

Rocca Mocca Coffee vintage poster Fritz Bühler 1958
Fritz Bühler, 1958, £181

On a slightly different tack, these two posters are a delight simply because they remind me of the days when the telephone was like a talking internet.  Well nearly.  These are for news and weather, but Mr Crownfolio can remember dialing up to hear the chart rundown back in the day.

parrot news via the telephone Piatti  1967
Piatti, 1967, £212

Weather telephone vintage poster René Gilsi 1950
René Gilsi, 1950, £121

There are so many posters, and so many great ones there, that I could go on almost indefinitely.  But I won’t; instead just two final observations.

The first is that an exhibition about House Cats sounds like a very good idea, and I would like to see one please.

House cat exhibition poster C.Kuhn 1994
C.Kuhn, 1994, £115

The second is that, as the observant amongst you may have noticed, I really like the work of Celestine Piatti a great deal.  I kept finding myself pulling them out from the listings without, most of the time, realising they were by him.  Really, they are excellent.

Piatti 1955 Knorr poster
Piatti, 1955, £175

Piatti Owl Joy
Piatti, 1960, £181

Furthermore, he must be a great man, because he has written a book about Happy Owls.  It’s a good job that he’s not British, and so outside our self-imposed guidelines, otherwise I think a very expensive spending spree would be coming on.

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You what?

Mr Crownfolio brought this to my attention with the description ‘sense of proportion failure’ and he’s not far wrong there.

1978 railway poster chessington zoo from eBay

This delectable image from the late 1970s is on offer to you for the grand sum of three hundred pounds.  Yes, £300.  And that’s the starting bid, not even a Buy It Now.  I was going to say that I’m lost for words, but I’m not, I have found them.  Not all railway posters are worth a lot of money. Especially not this one.

But in trying to find out who was responsible (for the poster, not the eBay listing), I did come across a couple of rather fine Chessington items.  They’re both by Bromfield, the first from 1962, the second two years later.

Bromfield vintage British railway poster chessington zoo 1961/2

Bromfield Chessington Zoo vintage railway poster British Railways 1964

And if you go fiurther back, to somewhere in the late 1930s, there is this, by Burley.

Chessington Zoo poster Burley 1930s Southern Railway

If you like it, one of the same series, featuring an elephant this time, is up for sale from Dodo Posters.  And for £375.

Chessington Zoo seal poster Burley 1930s vintage railway Southern

But ifor a complete overview of how railway poster design went downhill from these designs to the 1970s, as Chessington changed from a Zoo and Circus to a World of Adventures, then this is the page for you.

Chessington leaflets

The above is just a short excerpt; sadly, there is a lot more where they came from.  I dare you to take a look.

Finally, though, I have to say I’m grateful to the eBay seller in the end.  The poster is part of a whole trove of Chessington memorabilia, including this programme.

Chessington Zoo programme 1975

Which is so good – and so much cheaper – that we bought it.  When it arrives I may be able to tell you who the graphic designer is; then again I may not.  Why didn’t the posters look like this then?

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By Gyroscopic Monorail

Nothing warms the cockles of my heart like finding a new archive or designer.  Even better, both.  So today – thanks once again to the lovely online library which is VADS – meet A E Halliwell and his archive.

Halliwell was more of an arts educator than a full-time designer, teaching at the Central School and Camberwell.  But before that, he did do a number of rather good modern posters, mainly for London Transport.

Trooping the Colour London transport poster A E Halliwell 1929

A E Halliwell vintage London Transport poster Molesey Regatta

Surprisingly, not all of the designs in the Halliwell archive are in the London Transport Museum Collection – like the Molesey Regatta one above.  I don’t know whether this is because the designs were rejected or in fact that the LTM archive isn’t as omniscient as I’d always thought.  It would be interesting to know though.

Given the style of the designs above, it’s not surprising to discover that he also produced posters for the Southern Railway too.

A E Halliwell Southern Railway poster vintage travel

Although he did also manage to introduce a surprising touch of Bloomsbury to railway advertising with this 1928 poster.

A E Halliwell Southern Railway Holidays abroad poster Bloomsbury stylee

It’s good, but I also think it’s a nifty piece of niche marketing, the idea being that people who had enough money to travel abroad (not many in 1928) were probably sophisticated enough to deal with a less literal version of the modern.

But there are other gems in there too.  Some of his best work, for me, was done for the state.

A E Halliwell LCC poster VADS

A E Halliwell Dig For Victory vintage World war two propaganda poster

But there are more reasons to like the archive too.  One is that it preserves a lot of Halliwell’s more ephemeral designs, the kind of things that not only don’t tend to survive, but are rarely attributed when they do.

A E Halliwell vintage advertising designs

I particularly like the Birds Custard design.

Even when Halliwell moved more into teaching than commercial work, he still designed, and the archive also has a good selection of these, too.  I’m guessing, as it’s one performance only, that this must have been a student play.

A E Halliwell Dumb Wife of Cheapside poster archive theatre

While others are more obviously related to his teaching work.

A E Halliwell facets of art education poster vads archive

All of these are dated 1930 by the archive.  I would be surprised, to say the least.

But best of all, if you’re like me and prefer the more modern stuff to the 1920s deco, is that Halliwell also collected some of his favourite student work over the years.  Some of which is really excellent.

Olympia festival of light A E HAlliwell; archive

I particularly covet this one.

Carters Seeds student work A E HAlliwell archive

Although I’m not entirely convinced I haven’t seen that in a 1950s design annual.  I will do some research and report back.

I have definitely seen this one before too, but can’t remember where.  Can anyone help with where or how?

Re-dedication of Coventry Cathedral poster A E HAlliwell archive

This one, meanwhile, could only have been student work.

Underground student madness

Why didn’t the future look like this in the end?  I think we were robbed.




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Bracket Semaphore Signal

I’ve said it before, but there are too many auctions around right now.  And another day brings another catalogue in the post, this time for Talisman Railwayana Auctions.

This pre-war Ralph Mott poster is for me, the nicest piece in it.

Ralph Mott GWR factory sites poster

That’s a rather good, and unusual, bit of modernist design used for a splendidly appropriate theme.  Roll out the gleaming new factories and let us hurtle into the technical future along gleaming railway lines.

There are, though, other ways of looking at it.

Dramatic artwork of a modern factory building by Ralph Mott with ‘King’ and Pannier tank steam locos and a bracket semaphore signal.

That’s the catalogue speaking.  Truly we are in the world of railwayana here.  There probably is a bracket semaphore signal itself in the catalogue somewhere; there’s certainly nearly everything else you’d need to build a railway.

There are also some posters too, but you’ll mostly have look yourselves, because all the catalogue pictures are like this:

Talisman illustration 1

Apart from the booking office grill and the bottle of commemorative railway champagne, there’s also a rather nice Pembrokeshire poster top right.  However, I don’t have the time or energy needed to find each poster as an individual image, so I’m not going to talk about them.  But they are there.  Although, once again, without any form of estimate at all.  I am almost getting used to this as normal for railwayana auctions, even though I am sure it makes me less likely to bid if I have no idea at all what they are expecting.  However, this catalogue introduces an additional twist, because telephone bidding is offered in the auction, but only for lots estimated at £250 or more.  So there is an estimate out there, somewhere, it’s just that they don’t want to tell us.  Sigh.

Rather than rack my brains over any of that, I thought I’d look for the collected works of Ralph Mott instead. And Mr Mott turns out to be rather good; operating on the borderline between modernism and deco in the years leading up to WW2.

Earlier Holidays Ralph Mott GWR

Ralph Mott North Stafford Hotel image of geniu

I like that hotel one very much indeed.  Even better is this, for the Lancashire Industrial Development Council and the Travel association.

Ralph Mott lancashire poster

I’m unsure whether they want me to holiday in Lancashire or build a factory there, but it’s still stunning.  Ralph Mott is also responsible for one of the iconic railway images of the time.  If you like trains, that is.

Ralph Mott speed to the west GWR image artwork

He even diversifies into a more romantic style at times, particularly where abroad is concerned.

Ralph Mott continent poster

Ralph Mott the continent two

But there is a twist in the tale.  Because even though several reputable sites, including Christies, give Mott’s dates as 1888-1959, he never actually existed as a person.

What did exist was the artists’ agency of Ralph & Mott, who worked for all manner of people including railway companies and magazine publishers, and who used the pseudonym of Ralph Mott for some of their best designs and posters.

What’s even more interesting, is the discovery that Reginald Montague Lander was their studio manager, and one of the designers.  This 1935 advertising brochure (it is a brochure advertising advertising itself, if that makes sense) seems to suggest that it is Mr Ralph and Mr Mott who do most of the work though.

Ralph Mott from advertising brochure

Ralph Mott spread 2 advertising brochure

Apologies for breaking up the double page spread, but the book is too big for the scanner.

I’d need to take a proper look at the dates, but it looks as though the Ralph & Mott agency did most of their work before World War Two – this 1950 poster is the only exception I can find.

Ralph Mott parties of eight vintage railway poster

Perhaps they never really managed to get back to their previous pre-eminence after the war.  This would also fit with the fact that the vast majority of Lander’s signed work is post-war (the NMSI site says that he worked for them 1930-39).  But then there’s this GWR poster which he did sign.

R M Lander vintage GWR poster Ross on Wye

There’s more research to be done here, not just on the dates but also the question of which other artists worked for the studio.  And I am slightly hoping that someone else has done all of it already.  Does anyone have any leads?

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Radiowl Times

You may have noticed by now that not only do I like Barbara Jones, but I perhaps like her owls best of all.  Which means that I have been wanting a copy of this, the apotheosis of all her owlery, for quite some time.

Barbara Jones Twit and Howlet front cover

It’s a late children’s book from 1970, and given that the only time I’d ever seen it on offer was for £650 on Abebooks, I didn’t think we’d ever own one.  But, finally, eBay came up with a copy.  And at a price which meant that we didn’t have to mortgage the cats to buy it, either.

Now, as a set of illustrations of owls by Barbara Jones, it can’t be bettered. Here are the family having their nightly row about the correct colour balance of the television set.

Barbara Jones Twit and Howlet argument about TV

And here are Twit and Howlet themselves.

Barbara Jones Twit and Howlet the twins

This is their house.

Barbara Jones Twit and Howlet Owlery

And here is a passing cat (owls and cats are, of course, deadly enemies).

Barbara Jones Twit and Howlet cat

But it’s not just the drawing which make the book delightful, some of the page layouts are a total joy as well.

Barbara Jones Twit and Howlet title pages

Barbara Jones Twit and Howlet double spread

This is perhaps my favourite.

Barbara Jones Twit and Howlet double spread 2

Barbara Jones Twit and Howlet sand

Barbara Jones Twit and Howlet umbrella

The details are also brilliant, like the sand in the illustrations above.

Barbara Jones Twit and Howlet sand detail

Along with the provisions the two owls buy for their trip.

Barbara Jones Twit and Howlet provisions

Barbara Jones Twit and Howlet corned vole

But having said all that, I can see why there aren’t many copies available, because it doesn’t really work as a children’s book.

The plot is quite simple – Twit and Howlett build a hot air balloon and accidentally fly across the Channel and win a French balloon race with it. Organised by French owls, obviously.

Barbara Jones Twit and Howlet French balloon race

But most of the book isn’t concerned with what happens, it’s all about building the balloon.  And it’s done with a sense of humour (and a few long words) that is probably beyond the average picture book reader.

Barbara Jones Twit and Howlet Critical Path analysis

Thinking about what there was left to do, Howlet got depressed. ‘Critical Path Analysis,’ he said.  Twit looked startled. ‘That means start the longest problem first and our longest problem is the gunge for the envelope.’
‘What’s gunge?’ Twit asked.
‘Oil, rubber or mastic,’ replied Howlet, importantly.
‘What’s mastic?’
‘Gummy stuff, I think.’
Twit gave Howlet a withering look. ‘Same as gunge, in fact; what a one you are for complicating things.’

Meanwhile the owl family are still arguing over the television set.

Barbara Jones Twit and Howlet owl tv argument again

Next morning Howlet went back to the library and then on to the Chemist’s. He came back at last with a tin of something that the books and the Librarian and the Chemist all said would be suitable.

Barbara Jones Twit and Howlet gunge

They started to treat the envelope, first with elation, then with stickiness, and at last with a creeping immobility that had to be felt to be believed; but it was all done at last and hung up to dry.

Barbara Jones Twit and Howlet gunging

The Chemist had prudently given Howlet a bottle of gunge-solvent, so they had a long gruesome preen before dinner.

I love it, but I don’t think that’s quite the point.

I also think that she lost interest once the balloon had been built – the later illustrations do rather tail off in quality and detail. But you will be relieved to hear that the owls do get home safely in the end, and they get to see themselves with the cup on television.

Barbara Jones Twit and Howlet best colour row ever

It was the best colour-row ever.

Barbara Jones Twit and Howlet back at home in bed

Barbara Jones Twit and Howlet  back cover

And quite possibly the best owls ever too.


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