It’s a rare thing, the intersection between Quad Royal and literary fiction, but by Jove I think we have found it.  Or perhaps I should say, by Barbara Jones!

Jonathan Coe expo 58 cover

The work in question is Expo 58 by Jonathan Coe. Now this – if you have my mindset at least – was always going to be a promising subject, because the whole novel is centred around the British Pavilion at the Brussels Exposition of 1958.  And here it is.

British Pavilion Brussels Expo 1958

The British Pavilion has turned up on here before, mainly because its catalogue was designed by, of course, Barbara Jones.

British brochure Brussels Expo 1958 cover Barbara Jones Illustration

And it’s very good.

Brussels Expo 1958 catalogue for British Pavilion Barbara Jones illustration

More of it here if you like.

Mr Coe has done his research too because, lo, here on page four of the novel is our hero (ish) flicking through this very booklet.

This afternoon, in the middle of February 1958, Thomas was checking the proofs of a pamphlet he had helped to put together for sale outside the pavilion: ‘Images of the United Kingdom’.  There was a small body of text, interspersed with attractive woodcut illustrations by Barbara Jones.  Thomas was checking the French version.

Which, as it happens, is the one featured here.

Brussels expo 1958 British pavilion brochure page spread cow

Although if those are woodcuts, I am quite prepared to eat a model Atomium.

I obviously have to tell you to read the book, because clearly anyone with an interest in post-war design and international exhibitions needs as much encouragement as they can get.

But – and I am only half way through – I have to say that it’s probably the only reason to read it, because the rest of it is well, a bit odd.  The experience is, well a bit flat and dull.  I can see that some of this might be my own prejudices; if I’m going to imagine myself at the Brussels Exposition, I’d like to be shown every single design detail that I would have noticed if I was there, please.  And I’m not, it isn’t a very visual book, which is a bit odd considering that it’s about a giant extravaganza for the eyes and senses.

I suspect thought that plenty of people would find it a bit of a cardboardy book.   I can see how this has happened.  The narrator is, deliberately, a bit of a dull chap.  Which is, in some ways, fine, because boring people should deserve to be in books as much as anyone else.  Except they don’t, because they’re not that much fun to read about.

The thin-ness of the telling is also, in some  ways, a kind of period detail.  People did publish novels just like this in the 1950s, and lots of people read them.  So perhaps it is just one giant post-modern joke on itself.

I really hope that’s true, because the alternative is, and I am beginning to consider this, that it just isn’t that good a book.

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Price Conspiracy

Now, I know I’ve been saying recently that eBay prices are going up and can sometimes be a match for the auction houses these days.  Clearly I am not the only person to have come to this conclusion.

A seller called the design conspiracy (a name just asking for a snarky comeback) has put this poster on.

1928 London Transport poster Austin Cooper golliwog

For £500.

Now it is an Austin Cooper London Transport poster, and it is framed.  But it’s a picture of a golliwog, it’s just not going to happen.  It probably wouldn’t have happened anyway even if it were a picture of an ickle fluffy bunny, but it’s definitely not going to fetch that for a golliwog.  And in case you think I’m being harsh, it’s already failed to sell and been relisted at least once.

However, that is the pricing of a sane person compared to our next offering.

Andrew Hall London Transport poster 1965 Imperial War Museum

This is by Andrew Hall from 1965, it is not framed and it too is on offer for, wait for it, £500.

We bought one on eBay  a few years ago; it cost us £19.99.  I think someone is going to be a bit disappointed here.

Amazingly though, I can top that.  Here is a Terence Cuneo poster (not one of my favourite phrases, I must say).

Terence Cuneo Forth Bridge scottish holidays railway poster

Quite apart from the fact that it seems to have been bolted onto the wall, it’s an odd one.  Come to Scotland for your holidays, it’s trying to say, but the picture is not beaches or promenades but the Forth Road Bridge.  Perhaps the engineering holiday market was bigger than I imagine.

Peculiar though that may be, it’s still overshadowed by the price, which is a truly boggling £3,100.  Has a Cuneo poster ever gone for that kind of money, particularly one with brown sellotape marks on it?  Surely not. (Bidding has actually ended, but I still had to show you anyway).

There are still a few bargains out there, though.  Two of which may be the subjects of my next post.  Watch this space.


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Oh what an unprofitable war!

Hello everyone.  My attendance really isn’t getting much better, is it?  We’ll have OFSTED round soon if I’m not careful.

Anyway, I thought I’d better post something about last week’s poster event at the National Army Museum.  Lots of people who know about posters spoke; more frighteningly, lots of people who knew about posters also sat in the audience.  And for light relief after lunch, they all got me, rattling on and trying to fit everything I had to say about Home Front Posters into 40 odd minutes.  There were some very odd minutes in there too.

Much of the content wouldn’t have  come as much surprise to anyone who has been reading my posts on here, but the basic thesis was that most of our shorthand generalisations about Home Front Posters are wrong.  That in itself isn’t exactly news, but it’s all too easy to imagine that all Second World War posters came out of a giant, all-powerful Ministry of Information determined to tell the public what to think.  I think we have George Orwell to blame for that, but the truth was rather less like 1984, and, well, rather more shambolic and British.

Lewitt Him Shanks Pony world war two home front poster

Most obviously, posters didn’t just come from the Ministry of Information.  In fact they came from everywhere but.  To start with, the two biggest-spending government departments, the Ministry of Food and National Savings, didn’t bother with the MoI and made their own.

Tom Eckersley elephant poster ministry of food world war two

Then there were the London Transport posters…


…the GPO posters…


…the railway posters…

British Railways wartime holiday at home poster

And that’s before we’ve even mentioned Abram Games’ posters produced for and by the Army.

Abram Games Ventilate your quarters poster

Or RoSPA’s innumerable workplace safety posters.

Tom Eckersley goggles RoSPA poster

But the reason I’m telling you this, is that one of the people who attended, Kirill Kalinin pointed me at some Home Front posters I hadn’t seen before, posters which were produced by private companies.

Now why, you might be asking, would private companies spend money on advertising during war, when everything was rationed, production was centralised and it was nigh-on impossible to buy anything inessential?  It’s a good question, and the answer lies in taxation.

One of the prevailing views then about World War One was that large companies had profiteered from the war, and it had made the rich richer.  So, at the start of World War Two, a tax of 100% was levied on any company whose profits rose above their pre-war levels..  Clearly there was no incentive to make any extra profits, and companies looked for ways to spend the money rather than give it to the government.

One easy thing to spend it on was advertising.   Hence the pages and pages of adverts like this in every wartime newspaper and magazine, either for goods that were in such short supply that they didn’t need advertising or, quite often, weren’t available at all.

World war two ad for Bovril

Despite the restrictions on paper use, a few posters were also made.  I’d included this one in my talk.

Fougasse World war two poster for fillings

I think this is a result of Tillings donating poster space in their coach stations to the war effort, although in the absence of any real archives it’s hard to tell.

But Kirill has now introduced me to these, which are produced by the Motor Industry Association, and which I’d never seen before.

Motor Industry Association world war two poster torpedo


Motor Industry Association world war two poster bomber

I have no idea where they were displayed or anything about them at all.

Motor Industry Association world war two poster tank

They’re also interesting because they show the ironmongery of war, something which most Home Front posters, with the exception of National Savings, avoided almost entirely.

All of which pretty much proves my overall point from last Saturday, which was that whatever generalisation you make about Home Front posters, it’s always possible to find a poster to disprove it.  So if you have any more oddities you’d like to point out, please send them this way.

And if you like the Motor Industry posters, Kirill has them for sale on his website.

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Back, back, back as Smash Hits used to say.  And apologies to all those people who thought I’d been hospitalised by my abscess.  I haven’t, I’ve just been ridiculously busy.  By way of apology, have a picture of an otter.

Vintage Shell poster Kennedy north 1931

It’s traditional.  Normal service resumes later in the week.

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Your war posters need you

I am back from holidays but now have the most appalling toothache and can’t think straight.  But I do need to string just enough sentences together to tell you about this.

war poster chat thingy

An entire seminar at The National Army Museum at which lots of people who know about wartime posters are going to be speaking, and then so am I.  Should be entertaining, although in what way I am not sure.  I will do my best though.

Full details here, and perhaps I will see you then.  If this blooming toothache ever goes away that is.

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Finish the job

Apologies for the long gap, summer holidays and renovations are rather eating into my writing time.  But I am going to dash in quickly now to tell you a bit more about the furthcoming Swann auction, because that is coming up in just four days time, on the 9th.

Anon, Florida, Trans Canadian airlines poster
Anon, 1950s, est. $400-600

Not unreasonably, it’s almost entirely stuffed with American posters, with European posters coming in a close second.

Esteban Santander poster 1958
Esteban,  1958, est. $400-600

But nonetheless, there are a few interesting items worthy of our British notice.

Harry Beck London Transport poster Chess Valley Rambles 1933

I mentioned the Harry Beck poster above last week, but if London Transport is your thing, there is also a Percy Drake Brookshaw on offer.

PERCY DRAKE BROOKSHAW (1907-1993) GREEN LINE in all weathers 1936 London Transport poster

It comes with a pair, as does this Betty Swanwick.

Betty Swanwick, Kew Gardens, London Transport poster 1937
Betty Swanwick, 1937, est. $400-600

Which comes as part of a job lot with a Dora Batty.  This is a bit text heavy, but even so both this and the Brookshaws don’t look expensive at all.

There are a similarly small number of railway posters on offer, but the few that there are do at least have the grace to be interesting.  I’ve never come across this rather jolly number before.

Broads, Arthur Michael 1937 railway poster
Arthur Michael, 1937, est. $1,000-2,000

While further down the listings you can also find this, which is another one to add to my list of industrial posters produced by the raliway companies.

1935 Albert Martin South Wales Docks Railway poster
Albert Martin, 1935, est. $700-1,000

Moreover, it’s a bit different to the ones we were discussing before, as its purpose doesn’t seem to be to demonstrate the glory of England’s industrial north, but rather to advertise a service to manufacturers, or indeed anyone else who would like to export things.

A forage in the National Railway Museum’s collections does reveal a couple more like this too, so it wasn’t a one off.

ÔCapacity/Mobility on the LNERÕ, LNER poster, 1933. Poster produced by London & North Eastern Railway (LNER) showing the Dogtooth Loading Dock, Ardwick, Manchester. Artwork by Henry George Gawthorn (1879-1941), who started out as an architect but later turned to pictorial art. He wrote several books on poster design and publicity and produced posters for LNER. He often inserted a self-portrait into many of his posters, complete with pince-nez and a panama hat.

Hull: Britains Cheapest PortÕ, LNER poster, 1929.

Although from 1933 and 1929 respectively, they are both by the same artist, Henry Gawthorn.  What that signifies, though, I don’t know.

Again, there are a few British World War Two posters are to be found lurking amongst the americana, like this Henrion.

FREDERIC HENRI KAY HENRION (1914-1990) VD / A SHADOW ON HAPPINESS. 1943.  British World War Two propaganda poster
FHK Henrion, 1943, est. $700-1,000

Graphically superb, but I’m not about to frame it and hang it on the wall.

And there’s also this Pat Keely, which I don’t think I’ve ever come across until now.

PATRICK COKAYNE KEELY (?-1970) THE NAVY THANKS YOU. 1943.  British propaganda poster ww2
Pat Keely, 1943, est. $800-1,200 

Along with a ton of these, which are good if you like pictures of machinery but that’s about all I can say in favour of them.

1942 briitish propaganda poster world war two help britain finish the job anon
Anon, 1942, est. $600-900

Terence Cuneo 1942 British propaganda poster world war two gun Help Britain Finish the Job
Anon, 1942, est. $600-900

The bottom one is apparently by Terence Cuneo, although that doesn’t seem to make any difference to the estimate.

Finally, there’s also an old favourite.

Denis Constanduros Farmers Prefer Shell poster

This is one of the posters which, a while back, led to my finding out a lot about Denis Constanduros and his aunt Mabel.  The short version is that he produced a few excellent posters and then was lured into broadcasting, quite possibly by his famous aunt Mabel.  Full details here and again here if you need to know more.

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