In another place

I keep trying to contemplate posters, but my brain isn’t complying and wants to think about archaeology instead.  So, for one day only, the stone circles of Wiltshire as represented in graphic design.  Only on Quad Royal.

Although our first offering isn’t all that.

mcKnight Kauffer Stonehenge vintage Shell poster 1932

Despite the fact that it’s in the collections of both the V&A and MoMA and therefore has to be a Modern Classic, I don’t really like it.  There’s too much artistic licence in the hilliness and the surrounding stones for my taste, although I will give it points for being a very interesting collision between high modernism and an almost 18thC romantic view of wild landscape at night

But I have another grievance against the poster which is that I don’t really like Stonehenge either; it’s a freak and an abberation rather than a proper stone circle.  That is a serious point, not just prejudice.  The shaped and stacked lintels of Stonehenge may have become our default idea of what a stone circle looks like (I would say ‘icon’ except that I’d hate myself afterwards; a shame because the word used to represent a useful concept before it became debased).  But no other stone circle in the country looks anything like this.  And you only have to go twenty five miles along the road  – still staying in Wiltshire – to find the real thing.

Shell Shilling Guide to Wiltshire Keith Grant

…it does as much exceed in greatness the so renowned Stonehenge as a Cathedral doeth a parish church.

That’s what John Aubrey said about Avebury in the seventeenth century, and it’s still true today.  Which is why Keith Grant was wise to choose its stones for the cover of the Shell Shilling Guide to Wiltshire.

That’s not the only time Shell got it right, either.  The Ridgeway is the prehistoric track which leads across the high downs to Avebury (now walkable as a tidy National Footpath all the way from Tring), and David Gentleman included it in his ‘Roads’ series of posters.

David Gentleman Ridgeway shell poster llustration

This is not the poster but the original artwork.  David Revill posted a comment on the blog the other day to say that he had bought this very picture at the auction of Shell’s original artworks in 2002.  I am envious.

My favourite picture of all though (and yes, I have said this before) is John Piper’s Archeological Wiltshire.

John Piper Archaeological Wiltshire - genius

I would quite happily mortgage the cats for a copy of that, and probably throw in a few posters too, but it seems there is only one and it lives in a museum in Scotland.  But if anyone knows differently, please do say.

I think that’s actually better than the picture below, even though Nash’s re-imagining of Avebury is far more known.

Paul Nash equivalents for the megaliths

Nash’s colours are just a bit too weedy for me to really love this – and the hill fort in the background is about to topple forwards any minute now.  But seen from the present day, it is a remarkably prescient painting.  The hills all over the Wiltshire downs are now covered in geometric bales, cubes and cylinders, which turn his surrealist imaginings into reality every year.

With a bit of luck I have now got that out of my system and a normal service, in which we talk about posters, will resume tomorrow.

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Chaps like you

A bit of a miscellany today, of which the most notable items are these.

They’re a pair of 1940s government information posters, but what makes them different is that they’re not wartime posters but date, I am reasonably sure, from just after the war.

old government public information posters from eBay

The message is certainly right for the times.  World War Two itself may have been over, but the sense of emergency hadn’t gone away because the end of American Lend-Lease finance meant that the bill now had to be paid.  What was needed now was more National Savings and even more production for export earnings.  So, just as during the war, sheaves of posters were produced exhorting the nation to greater effort.  The government’s publicity budget in 1946 was nearly £3m, almost as much as it had been during the war; by contrast, in 1938, they had spent just £257,000.

It wasn’t just the quantity of posters which carried on, plenty of the wartime messages didn’t change either, and in many cases the austerity slogans are almost indistinguishable from those produced while the war was on.

Bones vintage 1946 public information poster propaganda

The ‘still’ is one clue in the poster above (which is ours and so not for sale on eBay right now),  but it is definitely post-war, because it was designed by Dorrit Dekk, who only joined the Central Office of Information in 1946.  But without that attribution it would be almost impossible to give a definite date to it.

But what’s really interesting about all of these posters, and what makes the pair for sale on eBay so unusual, is that in comparison with the wartime posters, very few of them survive.  And I think there’s probably a very good reason for this.  During the war, it was clear to everyone that this was a moment of great historical importance and so at least a few people saved the posters as souvenirs or documents or whatever you care to call them.  After the war, though, the austerity and effort had been a noble cause was now just a relentless grind in a grey, bombed-out, rather cheerless country.  It wasn’t a time that many people wanted a memento of.

There’s another reason, too.  People were sick of posters telling them what to do.  Six years of almost constant exhortation and instruction had left their mark, and no one wanted to listen any more.  All of which make these eBay survivals both rare and unusual.  Although whether they are £140 worth of rare is another question altogether.

Mind you, they’re not along as there seems to be quite a lot of expensive on eBay at the moment.  At first this London Underground poster doesn’t look unreasonable at £140, because it is lovely.

Vintage 1939 London Transport poster from Kiki Werth on eBay

But then it is only 10″ x 12″, so that’s quite a lot of money for a small bit of paper.  Mind you, if I start thinking like that, I’ll never buy anything again.

Elsewhere, this 1960s London Transport poster for the Imperial War Museum is definitely overpriced with a starting price of £125.

Andrew Hall 1965 Imperial War Museum poster London Transport

While this pair of school prints are at least starting at a reasonable £40 and £30 respectively, although I suspect they may go higher.

Michael Rothenstein school print


Leonard Tisdall School print

The first is by Michael Rothenstein, the second by Leonard Tisdall, both rather good.  I’ve written about the school prints before, but it’s probably worth pointing out that it’s yet another example of artists in the 1940s and 50s taking work for children seriously.  Good art was a very important part of the new world they were building; I wonder where that impulse has gone now.

Finally, a rare feature which is things liked by Quad Royal turning up on television.  Doesn’t happen often, so twice in one night is nothing short of a miracle.  Firstly, a set of Fougasse Careless Talk Costs Lives posters turned up on the Antiques Roadshow, where Mark Hill valued them at £1,000-1,500.  Mr Crownfolio, on our sofa, said £750.  Any thoughts as to who might be right there?  Then, straight after this on BBC Four, The Secret Life of the Airport featured Margaret Calvert talking about designing signs and typefaces for Gatwick.  That bit’s about 10 min from the end, but the rest of it is worth your attention for some cracking archive footage too.

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Everday good design

There are a few ideas that I want to pursue on the blog at the moment – I haven’t forgotten, for example, that there is more to be said about Graphis in 1950.  That will get said soon, but for today I’m going back to my thoughts about how children shouldn’t be fobbed off with second-rate design, because it made Mr Crownfolio remind me about these (and I shouldn’t have needed reminding as Shelf Appeal mentioned them in dispatches recently too).

Puffin Picture Book The Clothes We Wear cover

These are Puffin picture books, produced between 1940 and 1965, and they are things of beauty.

Puffin Picture Book Printing harold Curwen

I’m not going to give you a full history of how and why they were produced, partly because it’s Friday, but mainly because there has been a book produced about exactly that, called Drawn Directly to the Plate and available here. (And do get it there, because they’re charging just £20, while the only copy on Amazon is priced at £85.  Nice work if you can get it).  It’s a bit of an odd book, because it veers between serious history and collectors’ handbook, sometimes within the same paragraph, but it’s still a useful introduction to a slightly different side of British graphic design.

Puffin Picture Book Village And Town badmin cover

This difference is one of the interesting things about these books, because the illustrators are, in the main, a very different set of people to those who designed posters, even Shell posters.  Although S R Badmin did produce several wonderful books for them over the years.

Puffin Picture Book SR Badmin Trees cover


Puffin Picture Book Badmin trees oak inside

Anna Zinkeisen who designed posters for London Transport before the war also illustrated one – a book which contains all the scenery and characters you need to stage Priestley’s play.


Puffin Picture Book High Toby Zinkeisen

As did one other celebrated artist.

Edward Bawden The Arabs Puffin Picture Book

But that’s about it.

Now this may be a result of one of the other interesting things about these books, which is they are produced by autolithography, i.e. the illustrators drew straight onto the lithographic plate.  This was partly a way of keeping the costs down, but it did also give the books a distinct and appealing style.  You get most of a sense of it with the covers, which are the most complex parts of the whole books.  There are colour spreads inside, but they tend to have a more limited palette.

Puffin Picture Book Building a House

Most of the books do have a wonderful double page illustrated spread in the centre too, but unfortunately the format won’t fit in the scanner, so you’ll just have to take my word for that.  Here’s as much of a typical cloth manufacturing town as I could fit in.

Puffin Picture Book clothes cloth town

The format is pretty much the only thing which links the titles, which range from practical handbooks on woodwork through factual introductions to storybooks – including the wonderful Orlando The Marmalade Cat, who was clearly much loved even at the time.

Puffin Picture Book Orlando's Night Out Kathleen Hale

If they have anything in common though, it is the post-war faith in modernity.  So many of the factual books end with the idea that we are now building a better world, quite often in concrete, or at very least light wood and glass.  (This is the back cover of the Badmin book above, by the way).

Puffin Picture Book S R Badmin village and town reverse

Puffin Picture Book Gordon Russell Furniture inside spread

Despite this, there is also an enormous range of styles in the series, perhaps unsurprisingly given that they were produced over more than twenty years.  This book is one of the most idiosyncratic (although, as you will note, it is still very much in favour of the modern).

Puffin Picture Book The Building of London

Puffin Picture Book Building of London inside spread

But the most important thing about them is that once again, these are illustrators and designers taking children seriously.  And not with a £75 collectors edition, but in the form of cheap, everyday books.  A whole series of them.  But these days we have so little faith in social equality that we certainly can’t believe that everyone deserves good design, least of all children.  When they deserve it most of all.

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A Miserable Reflection

In trying to put together the history of the Post Office : Lines of Communication posters last week, I spent some time wandering within the BT archives.  Where I found this.

Clifford and Rosemary ellis vintage GPO poste 1935.

Which does, truly, justify the existence of the entire archive on its own.  It’s by Clifford and Rosemary Ellis, it’s from 1935, and it is bonkers.  I also have no idea what it means.  Answers on a postcard please, if you have any.

Now I’ve mentioned before that the BT online archive is quite a curious and obscure thing, which may perhaps be why this Abram Games has lurked there unnoticed for so long.

Abram Games vintage GPO poster greeting telegram 1937

On the other hand, its obscurity may have something to do with the fact that the archive’s search facility is, how shall we say this, a bit challenging.  A search for Abram Games doesn’t bring it up, while a search on Greetings telegram just produces a deluge of material; I only found this by putting in ‘Good wishes’.

But there is good news on this front, because BT do now have a  more accessible way of looking at some of these images, which is the interestingly named Telefocus Media Gallery, a title which for some reason just makes me visualise the Post Office Tower, but never mind.  It’s mainly aimed at picture researchers, but it does have a reasonably browsable gallery of images, including both of the ones above and plenty more besides.

A telephone for your guests vintage GPO poster 1937

Be warned though, there are still lots of pictures of Busby and trimphones in there, so take care.

I did also discover a bit more about the Lines of Communications posters while I was there.  Mainly that there is also an artwork by Abram Games for the series.  All I can tell you about it, because there is no illustration, is that it features ‘twelve coast radio stations working to ships’ and is, once again, artwork.  If anyone fancies a stroll down to Holborn in order to tell me whether it’s as good as the rest or not, feel free.

More strangely, I found this.

Beaumont, lines of communication, vintage GPO poster

It’s by Beaumont, and it is an actual poster which seems to have made it out into the world rather than just existing as artwork.  If possibly just once, because I’ve only found it in a single auction, which was Van Sabben’s last sale just a few months ago.  (They regularly get interesting GPO posters for each sale, and I would like to know where from).  But this one isn’t where it ought to be in the BT Catalogue – not even its artwork – so the mystery just deepens.  Any more thoughts anyone?

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East Wind (blustering)

A while ago, I wrote about John Griffith’s fantastic drawings of shop-fronts for Motif.  Which are so good that they can easily stand a bit of repetition.

Motif 3 art journal of brilliance front cover by John Griffiths

Even a bit more.

Motif 3 John Griffiths shopfront pictures Fratelli Camisa

They’re so wonderful that I not only wanted to find out more about him, but also wanted to see some more of his work, without much luck.  Mr Crownfolio got on the case, though, and we don’t yet have anything like a biography, he has turned up these three BBC Schools booklets.  This one dates from 1968, and is the most reminiscent of his Motif drawings.

John Griffiths 1968 BBC Schools Time and Tune booklet front cover

This theatre and orchestra could easily have come from Motif.  Here’s its other half.

John Griffiths 1968 BBC Schools Booklet Time and Tune back cover

Nothing inside is quite as good as that, although I do quite like this scratchy little set of musical drawings, which remind me a bit of Barbara Jones, not least in the seemingly random way they’ve been put onto the page.

John Griffiths 1968 BBC Schools Booklet Time and Tune

He was also commissioned to produce another the next year.

John Griffiths BBC Schools Booklet Time and Tune 1969 front cover

I particularly like this illustration inside, which is more than good enough to be framed and hung on a wall.

John Griffiths BBC Schools Booklet Time and Tune 1969 inside illustration

East Wind (blustering) is the title of the song, along with tempo instructions.

Now I’ve said it before but it’s a point worth repeating, the illustration in these BBC booklets is not only of a fantastically high standard, but also interesting, even edgy.  I can’t see children today being exposed to things of this quality as a matter of course.  Yes, there are some children’s books which are interesting, risky, eye-opening.  But in the general litter of ephemera which is aimed at them at school or at home, is there anything which has ambitions even one tenth as high as these booklets?  If there is, I can’t think of it (and I’m not going to post a picture of the CBeebies art magazine to prove my point but trust me, it makes my eyes ache).

Does this matter?  Yes I think it probably does.  Because this is the third BBC booklet by John Griffiths that we’ve managed to find, dating from 1973.

John Griffiths 1973 BBC Schools music booklet

I was completely taken aback when this fell out of the envelope because know that I sang from this booklet at school.  In particular, I remembered the spread below as though I’d only seen it yesterday.

John Griffiths 1973 BBC Schools Booklet inside

Now I’m not saying that it was John Griffiths’ illustrations that turned me into a design fiend (if I’m honest, I like this booklet the least of the three).  But the fact that I can remember these pictures so clearly despite the passing of well over thirty years suggests that I stared at them so hard and so long that they became part of the structure of my brain.  So if we are furnishing our children with things that might perhaps last a lifetime, hadn’t we better make sure that we’re giving them something good?

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Lines of disappearance

As I mentioned then, the Graphis article I posted about a couple of days ago has raised a few questions.

The easy one – in the sense that it is factual rather than philosophical – is about this wonderful set of GPO posters, Lines of Communication.  Four are illustrated in Graphis, of which I can find three in the BPMA catalogue.

GPO vintage Poster lewitt him lines of communication 1950
Lewitt Him

GPO vintage Poster Zero Hans Schleger lines of communication 1950
Hans Schleger

GPO vintage Poster Jessie Collins lines of communication 1950
Jessie Collins

The fourth one in Graphis is also by Schleger, but doesn’t turn up in the BPMA catalogue at all. It does very much remind me of his pre-war poster for Shell too.

Hans Schleger post office lines of communication poster

I think the artwork for this one probably went to the BT archives instead because it’s about telegraphs; there is certainly something likely there, but it’s not illustrated so I can’t say for certain.

But why aren’t these fantastic posters better known?  My guess is that they were never produced.  This is partly because I’ve never ever seen one in an auction or illustrated anywhere else, but also because even the BPMA and BT archives only have the artworks, no printed posters.  Which, considering they are some of the loveliest things ever to come out of the GPO is nothing short of a crime.

It gets worse.  Because there are more in the series that they inexplicably failed to send to the printers either.

Two are by Henrion.

Henrion  Lines of Communication vintage GPO poster

Henrion lines of communication vintage GPO poster

While the third is by John Rowland Barker, aka Kraber. (He’s clearly very interesting, and we will return to him another day I think.)

GPO vintage poster lines of communication kraber john rowland barker

Graphis seem to have merged two different series of posters into one in their article, because the Country Postman image also has a pair.

Vintage GPO poster postman in the potteries Jessie Collins

There is also a third illustration of The River Postman which might have made up the series, but it’s not one tenth as good so I won’t bother you with it.

Judging by their format, these were most likely intended as GPO Educational posters which were distributed to schools rather than displayed in post offices.  But why these ones were commissioned but never printed or sent out I do not know, I really don’t.

Somewhere in the archives, there must be a memo explaining this folly, and one day I will dig it out and tell you why.  For the moment, I will just weep gently.  And if anyone else out there can shed any more light on this, please do let me know.

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