The Clever Housewife

Auction time is upon us once again.  In fact we are currently so beset by auctions that I’m unlikely to get them all into one post and (oh the shame) I’ve even missed a couple.  Nonetheless, we will persevere.

The very lovely Swann Auctions in New York have sent over the catalogue for their sale of Rare and Important Posters on Occtober 18th.

N. CRAMER ROBERTS (DATES UNKNOWN) DUNGENESS / BY THE ROMNEY, HYTHE AND DYMCHURCH RAILWAY. 1928.
N Cramer Roberts, 1928 est. $800-1,200

It’s all very lovely, while at the same time being not really my kind of thing, and also really quite expensive.

PETER IRWIN BROWN (1903-?) YOUR CONTINENTAL HOLIDAY. 1932.
Peter Irwin Brown, 1932, set. £7,000-£10,000

For the sake of both my taste and my bank balance, I’m probably better off waiting for their sale of Common and Insignificant posters instead.  I suspect the contents would be much more my kind of thing.

All of which probably explains why I forgot to tell you about Christies’ auction of October 2nd, with the even more portenteous title of Graphic Masterworks: A Century of Design.

Abram Games BOAC poster 1956

This was the sale of a single collection, amassed by Martijn le Coultre (and if you want to read a sensible piece about it, Paul Rennie has written just the thing).  The Games above is not even remotely representative, because the bulk of it consists of highly influential european works.  A bit like going to a design history lecture in short.

who-knows

Unfortunately, because the sale has been and gone, I can’t get at the online catalogue any more.  Which makes things quite tricky, because as the results page shows, a significant number of the posters on offer don’t appear to have sold, including this Bauhaus poster which was being touted in advance as the highlight of the sale, and had a corresponding estimate of £150,000 – £200,000.

Joost Schmidt (1883-1948) STAATLICHES BAUHAUS AUSSTELLUNG lithograph in colours, 1923

This Donald Brun poster from 1928 did sell though, and so it should have done because it’s fantastic.

Donald Brun Liga 1928

Much as I love British design, I do sometimes wish that we’d taken just a bit more notice of what the Swiss were up to.

Anyway, we’ve missed that sale, but not the regular Christies October poster sale which is on October 30th.

David Klein (1918-2005)  LAS VEGAS, FLY TWA , c.1963
David Klein, 1963, est. £800-1,200

However, with the exception of a handful of David Klein and Stan Galli midcentury bursts of colour, there isn’t much to linger over.  At least half of the two hundred or so lots are film posters, and quite a lot of the rest are foreign, which doesn’t leave a great deal.  There are a heap of early underground posters, most of which are by Charles Paine.

Charles Paine, London Transport Poster 1922,
Charles Paine, 1922, est. £1,000-1,500

Along with a small quantilty of railway posters, of which the following is noteworthy simply because of the difference that a picture of people with sticks makes.

Andrew Johnson  NORTH BERWICK  lithograph in colours, 1930,
Andrew Johnson, 1930, est. £7,000-9,000

At least five thousand pounds it seems.  Compare the estimate with the Frank Newbould below.

Frank Newbould (1887-1951)  EDINBURGH, 'MONS MEG'  lithograph in colours, 1935
Frank Newbould, 1935, est. £2,500-3,500

There are also a selection of Fougasse posters too.

Fougasse world war two coach posters

These – there are actually eleven in the lot – are the most interesting, because they’re interesting examples of private wartime propaganda.  I believe that they were issued by the Tilling Group of coach companies, presumably for display in their own coach stations.  How they negotiated for the paper I don’t know.

Finally, if you’re not completely exhausted by all that, PosterAuctioneer over in Zurich have an auction.  As ever, the posters are almost entirely Swiss, but this gives me a second excuse for giving you some more Donald Brun.

Donald Brun sock poster
Donald Brun, 1954, est. 140 CHF

That would cost about £100 of your Britsh pounds to buy.  I might have to start rethinking my UK only poster strategy.

There are more auctions to go, but I thnk we’ve all had enough for now, haven’t we?

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Memorable

There are of course other exceptions to my rule (as stated below) that most 1960s posters aren’t worth hanging on my wall.

Patrick Tilley Sunday Times Vintage 1960s Posters Accurate

The obvious ones are of course Patrick Tilley’s posters for the Sunday Times.

Patrick Tilley Sunday Times Vintage 1960s Posters Perceptive

I’ve posted about them on here before.

Patrick Tilley Sunday Times Vintage 1960s Posters Entertaining

Along with, thanks to Patrick Tilley himself, the follow-up set of designs that never ended up being used.

Sunday Times poster statue and bird Patrick Tilley

I would quite happily put any or all of these up in my house, and in fact probably will do one of these days.

Patrick Tilley Sunday Times Vintage 1960s Posters alert

But I’m not sure why that is.  They’re not throw-backs to the 1950s, they’re very much of their time and yet I still like them.  Explanations on a postcard please, because I certainly don’t have any.

But I’m clearly not alone in this.  I was surprised – mainly because they are fairly rare posters – to see this exanple on the Rennies website.

postertimestilleyprovocative

For £1250.

We’ve got the set.  And frankly, if anyone were to offer us six times that price for them, we’d probably have to accept.  It would go a long way towards paying for the kitchen….

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Egging it

If I use the words Philip Larkin and 1963 in the same sentence, you pretty much know what’s coming next, don’t you?

Sexual intercourse began
In nineteen sixty-three
(which was rather late for me) –
Between the end of the “Chatterley” ban
And the Beatles’ first LP.

(rest of the poem here if you want)

I suspect that part of the reason that Larkin’s thoughts are so often used, almost in danger of becoming a cliche, is that they express for us something that isn’t otherwise easily said.  At some point in the early 1960s, there was not just a sexual revolution but a sea change across all of British culture.  Virginia Woolf noted a similar moment fifty years before:

On or about December 1910, human character changed. I am not saying that one went out, as one might into a garden, and there saw that a rose had flowered, or that a hen had laid an egg. The change was not sudden and definite like that. But a change there was, nevertheless; and, since one must be arbitrary, let us date it about the year 1910.

What Larkin saw happening was the end of what you could call the ‘long 1950s’, which lasted from 1946 until, well, about 1963.  For these seventeen years, Britain was still very much defined by being a country recovering from the Second World War, a country that wanted a fairer and more equal society, refrigerators for all, but most of all a nation that wanted a quiet, decent life.  It’s no accident that this era lasted for seventeen years either, because what 1963 marks is the coming of age of the first children for whom the war wasn’t a defining experience.  They didn’t need the reassurance of a quiet life after chaos, for the simple reason that all they had known was peace.  The result, of course, was the 1960s.

What provoked these thoughts, oddly enough, was the arrival of these posters at Crownfolio Towers.

Go To work on an egg poster- girl

Go to Work on an egg classic poster -

With blessed thanks to eBay, which coughed the pair of them up at an entirely reasonable price.

These are of course posters from one of the classic advertising campaigns of the 1960s and 1970s, ‘Go To Work on an Egg’, a campaign so famous that it has its own website.  The campaign started in 1957 with television ads starring Tony Hancock but, as far as I can tell, these posters date from 1964-5.  At least that’s when they were winning awards.

There are others too.

Go To Work on an egg pink poster Egg Marketing Board

Go to work on an egg alarm clock poster Egg Marketing board

And of course there is a debate or controversy or whatever you will about whether Fay Weldon or Salman Rushdie invented the slogan.  I can’t say I’m particularly fussed.

Because what’s interesting about these posters, at least for me, is that I would like to hang them on the wall.  Which is unusual for posters of this period – and by this period I mean any time after 1963.

At various points in time we have bought ‘good’ – i.e. critically acclaimed – posters from after the 1950s, such as this Saatchi and Saatchi legend.

Saatchi and Saatchi pregnant man poster

Or this protest poster by David Gentleman.

David Gentleman protest poster

While I admire them, I can’t in truth say that I love them.  And I most definitely don’t want to hang them on the wall.

Whereas I can go through editions of Modern Publicity from the late 1950s and early 1960s and covet really quite a lot of what was on offer in there.

harry Stevens tilling group luggage poster 1958

Tom Eckersley Omo poster 1962 Modern Publicity

So what changes at the end of the long 1950s?

A proportion of it is down to simple practicalities, most importantly the rise of television means that people are spending less energy and creativity on posters.  It’s possible that this also means that posters have to try a bit harder to get noticed, hence the increased use of shock tactics.

But I’d also argue that there is a much deeper change in what we might call the mood of poster designs.  As demonstrated by that Tom Eckersley Omo poster above, the 1950s is the decade of the grin.

'Mablethorpe', BR poster, 1960.Artwork by Eckersley.

Tom Eckersley vintage hastings travel poster

I’ve written about this in the context of Tom Eckersley before, about how it’s very easy to dismiss these posters as child-like and simplistic when actually they are the result of much more complex emotions, of relief at the end of the war and a resultant ability to take pleasure in very simple things.  It’s also worth noting that if I’d had a washing machine in 1962, I’d be pretty chuffed too.

And of course Eckersley by no means had a monopoly on the grin.  Here’s Harry Stevens at it as well.

harry Stevens vintage southport coach poster 1950s

Harry Stevens Boulogne vintage travel poster 1959

And it forms the basis of one of Abram Games’ most famous posters.

Abram Games Guinness poster 1957 big G

I could go on.

Hans Unger (1915-1975) Daily Mail Ideal Home Exhibition Olympia, original poster printed by S H Benson

And on.

Eastbourne vintage travel poster 1950 Bromfield British Railways

And on.

E Tatum train to the continent poster 1958

As I tried to point out in the Eckersley post mentioned above, this is may look like a simple, child-like joy, but it is nothing of the sort.  It’s much more complex and adult than that, stemming from the chance to savour the simple pleasures of life – train trips to the continent, a pint of Guinness, a washing machine – which are all the more appreciated after the dislocatons and horrors of the war.

This is the simple joy of a late Matisse painting.

Matisse collage, who knows what

Or of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence.  (I was forced to read these as a snarky seventeen-year -old for my A-Levels, with the entirely predictable result that I thought these were a set of feeble-minded rhymes about lambs skipping and that the grown ups clearly had no taste.  It’s only now, as a grown-up, that I can see Blake’s point at all.)

But when a new generation arrives, a generation which has not passed through any of the hardships of war, this subtle emotion can’t survive any more.  So it’s out with the old, goodbye to the grins and the taking pleasure in life, and in with shock tactics, subversion and generally getting a rise out of the grown ups, something which could only be done if you had no idea what they went through.  And while the results are often admirable, I don’t often want to hang them on the wall.

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Exposition

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.

 

Posted in eBay, London Transport | 13 Responses

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…

IMG_1701

…the GPO posters…

IMG_3583

…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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