Put it there

What do these four posters have in common?

John Burningham for London Transport vintage poster autumn
John Burningham, London Transport, 1961

Andre Amstutz Camping Coaches poster British Railways
Andre Amstutz, British Railways, 1956

Royal Blue Daphne Padden Coach Poster c1957
Daphne Padden, Royal Blue Coaches, c. 1957

McKnight Kauffer for Shell 1934
Edward McKnight Kauffer, Shell, 1934

Well, three out of the four of them are on the walls here, but you’re not really expected to know that.  Perhaps more to the point is that they represent four out of the five areas of ‘collectable’ posters: railways, London Underground, Shell and coach* posters (the fifth for me would be World War Two posters, for what it’s worth).

*This may be wishful thinking on my part, but we do seem to have quite a lot of them now (thanks to Malcolm Guest, mainly) and so they are at very least collectable by us.  Anyone else?

But those four areas also share something more than just being collectable.  In each case the companies they are advertising owned the hoardings that the posters went on.

South Kensington Station January 1938

That’s reasonably obvious for the bus, tube and train stations – but Shell posters were also designed to be displayed on the vans which delivered petrol to the garages.

Shell van displaying poster on side 1925

Now set down like that it doesn’t seem like so much of a blinding revelation.  But it isn’t, as far as I know, something which has been much commented on.  And yet it had a big impact on their posters.

The most obvious example is that all of these companies had a much greater incentive to produce posters than anyone else.  Not only was this in effect a subsidised form of advertising for them, but they also needed to churn them out in order to fill up spaces when they hadn’t sold enough commercial advertising.

Enfield West station with advertising visible

Here’s Enfield West Station in 1934, with a McKnight Kauffer poster for Eno’s Salts clearly visible on the hoardings.

They also continued to produce posters in great numbers later on, when the poster had ceased to be the main medium for advertising, because the spaces were still there and still needed filling.

In addition, there may have been more reason for the companies  to produce ‘artistic’ and possibly also more subtle posters, because this will have a very direct effect on the station environment.  Although this probably worried Frank Pick more than it did the owners of Victoria Coach Station.

Victoria Coach Station 1962

I’ve also read an interesting suggestion that in the early days, London Underground commissioned lots of posters of wide open spaces to counteract the perceived claustrophobia of the tube, but I don’t think there’s any proof of that.

Burnham Beeches walter spradbury 1912
Burnham Beeches, Walter Spradbury 1912

Now originally this was going to be my only point, that all of these people owned their hoardings and so had to invest more in posters and poster design than other companies, which in turn may be one reason why their posters are collectable.  And that this hadn’t really been noted until now.

But then I found a really interesting article by David Watts (insert Jam or Kinks record into your head here as you wish) about pre-war depictions of Yorkshire in railway posters.  It’s an exemplary look at how posters worked and were consumed, rather than just what they looked like, and backed up by a ton of research.  The world of posters could do with a lot more of this kind of rigorousness (not that I’m volunteering to read 200 volumes of railway company internal correspondence, you understand).

One of his points is that the context of railway posters is all-important.  They didn’t need to have pictures of trains on, because they were posted up in stations.  The fact that they were advertising railway travel rather than just the location pictured could be asssumed.

Woodhall Spa vintage railway poster
Andrew Johnson, no date

The same is true of London Transport posters.  They can just say Go to Uxbridge.

Uxbridge London Transport poster Charles Paine, 1921
Charles Paine, 1921

That you’d use the underground to do so is implicit in the fact that the poster is displayed at a tube station.

But, as Watts points out, this contextualisation of the posters has other implications.

…omitting any visual reference to rail travel allowed posters to be detached easily from their ‘mundane commercial purpose’.

So the companies, as I’ve mentioned before, could promote their posters as examples of good design for the masses, and even as fine art, in part because they didn’t need to say Go By Train in large letters at the bottom.

Now Watts argues that this made railway posters at least a rather poor form of advertising.  And he does put forward some evidence that the train companies themselves thought this way by the early to mid 1930s too.  Images of trains, or at least the idea of train travel did become more prominent after then – as in the Tom Purvis that is coming up at Christies next month.

Tom Purvis 193o LNER poster

But he also says – and I think that this is entirely right – that the fact that the posters were semi-detached from their commercial purposes is one of the factors that has made them so collectable.  They exist in a limbo between fine art and outright commercialism, and are so more appealing than an advertisement for Eno’s Fruit Salts or Gilette Razors.

Although it is worth remembering that it’s only because the companies were promoting them as ‘art’ that these posters are available to collect at all.  Shell, Underground and railway posters were all available for sale to the public when they were first produced, so they do survive in attics and collections, while the most commercial billboard posters weren’t and so aren’t.  (I’ve mentioned this in passing before, but really ought to pull together all the sources on this one day, because it’s not said often enough.  Even here.)

But I think there’s also another way in which the context affected railway posters in particular (although the same is probably also true of London Transport and coach posters to some degree as well).  Watts points out how much the railway posters are selling an image of ‘deep’ England, by which he means an archaic, un-modernised and highly rural vision of the countryside.  Now whenever this vision is called up at this time, it is almost always intended as a direct contrast to the modernity, ribbon development and speed of the 1920s and 30s.

Edwin Byatt Vintage railway poster 1940
Edwin Byatt, 1940

But in the railway station, that contrast is always there anyway.  Most of these poster would have been displayed in an urban setting, and even where they were put up at local stations, there was the machinery and bustle of the railway itself.  So the posters are also using their context to suggest that there is an alternative, an escape.  And that’s something else that they don’t need to spell out in words at the bottom.

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By the book

As things stand this morning, this is a bit of a bargain.

Tom Eckersley Poster Design book from eBay

And that’s even with £10 or so of shipping from the U.S, but then it does tend to go for £50 or so on Abebooks or eBay over here.  When you can find it at all.

Although I’ve posted a few of my favourite images from the book before now, I’ve never really gone into much detail about it.

But the seller has photographed it well, and it shows one of my favourite things about Poster Design.

Inside of Eckersley poster design book from eBay

In it, Eckersley isn’t just writing about his own work, he’s generous in his praise of many of the other designers who were working at the same time (on this page Bernard Cheese, Pat Keely, Lewitt-Him and Cassandre as well as Eckersley himself).

And the book is like this throughout.  Here’s another page of his generosity.

inside page from Tom Eckersley poster design

I like to think that this is a reflection of his personality as a whole; people who knew Eckersley say that he was both modest and kind.  It’s good to know that we can still see that for ourselves.

GPO poster Tom Eckersley Cable Canada 1957

While also remembering that he was also rather good at designing too.

[Addendum.  Mr Crownfolio has pointed out that the Herbert Bayer looked rather familiar for something that was just in his portfolio.  So he went and found it.

Chemical Brothers album cover

The artist is Kate Gibb, who doesn't seem to have been too vocal about her appropriation of Herbert Bayer.  But it has been noticed elsewhere.]

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Observation

With this post, I am coming dangerously close to heckling myself.  Worse, I am heckling myself about railways and railwayana.  So I shall keep it brief; those of you with a sensitive disposition should look away now.

Last week I mentioned this poster, which is coming up for sale at Christies next month.  I wondered what this train was, and whether I could ride on it.

marc Severin, 1947 British Railways poster for Devon Belle

I had thought I might be deluged with very detailed answers from People Who Know about Railways, but I wasn’t, so I had to find out for myself.

First and most important fact is that this is the back of the train not the front – an observation car rather than an engine.  So it is a bit less like something from the 1947 World’s Fair than I had thought.

Pretty much everything else you might want to know about the Devon Belle can be found on Wikipedia and elsewhere, right down to what the observation cars were before they were made for the train (one was originally an ambulance car from the First World War, which is a pretty creative piece of recycling).  It was meant to be a glamourous and luxurious train, but back in the austerity days of 1947, the travelling public weren’t very keen to pay a supplement for all of that flummery, so it only lasted until 1954.

But before that, British Transport Films made a film about the Devon Belle, and you can see some stills from that at the Science and Society Picture Library if you want.  I’ve tried looking for the film itself on YouTube, but have only found a rather considerable amount of footage of people giving their Hornby Devon Belle’s a turn around the model track.  Which isn’t quite the same.

But that doesn’t matter though, much more important is that the answer to my second question is yes.  Both the Devon Belle’s observation cars are still preserved and so yes I can ride on them.  They’re not too far away from me either, at Swanage and Dartmouth.

Devon Belle observation car running at Dartmouth

Although looking at this picture of it running close to the edge in Dartmouth I may opt for genteel Swanage instead.  I don’t have a good head for heights.

Now, on the one hand this is just a brief digression on the subject of rolling stock.  But it’s also a reminder as to why posters can be so interesting.  They’re not just artworks, but they’re also a window into pieces of the past which might otherwise get overlooked.  Not just the histories of a pair of carriages, but the tensions at play in the late 1940s, when the British people desperately wanted a sleek, modern post-war world which looked like the World’s Fair, but were faced with the realisation that they couldn’t really afford it.  All of which sounds just very slightly familiar.

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Right to copy?

We’re all about questions today on Quad Royal.  Or rather, one question in particular: just how much of what is sold in the poster department of eBay is in fact legal?

The reason I’m asking is that, I was playing with the eBay app on the iPad, and so stumbled back into their bottomless pit of poster reproductions.  Normally there’s a whole set of clever filters and searches (operated and maintained by Mr Crownfolio) which means that I don’t even notice that these items exist.  But on the iPad, none of this is set up, and so an idle search for ‘vintage poster’ reminded me of the sheer volume of prints, giclee prints and A3 photocopies that are out there should you want them.

They range from reasonable quality,

Paignton GWR reproduction of vintage poster from eBay

to ones where even the seller isn’t convinced about the reproduction.

Clevedon reproduction of vintage railway poster from eBay

These posters are meant to be affordable reproductions of vintage posters that are rare and hard to acquire elsewhere. There are more expensive and higher quality prints out there. Our posters look great on the wall but may not stand up to a thorough examination. I fully admit the small print may be blurred and slight pixelation may occur on certain prints. These are fun items, not works of art.

Despite that write-up, he is still selling them.  By the hundreds every month, judging from his feedback.

But I’m not asking philosophical questions about the relative values of reproductions versus originals this time.  I’m just wondering how legal these are?

Jack Merriott 1959 British Railways poster reproduced on eBay

The basics of copyright are quite simple, that if an artist died after 1945, their work is protected for 70 years after their death.  Which means that if a seller is selling a print of a 1950s railway poster (for £4.99, printed on a photocopier or bubblejet printer), there is a reasonable chance that they are infringing copyright somewhere along the way.  The example above, incidentally, is by Jack Merriott, who died in 1968).

But what happens after that?  Do you need to be the legal owner of a piece to have the right to reproduce it? Let’s take this 1923 poster by Grainger Johnson as an example.

Grainger Johnson Fort William poster from eBay

No one seems to know much about him and his biography, so we will be generous and assume it is out of copyright.  Does that then make it fair game for the eBay copyists?  Or do they need to own a copy of the poster in order to have the right to reproduce it?  I don’t know, and I would like to.

The next question is whether the nature of a commercial contract changes copyright too?  (This link seems to suggest it does).  So if a poster is commissioned by Shell, or London Transport or British Railways, do they still own the rights over the image?  And for how long – for the same 70 years as the artist or until the company ceases to exist?

Vintage London Transport Poster Charles Burton Trooping the Colour 1930 copy from eBay

In other words, can these reproduce this 1930 Charles Burton as much as they like on their bubblejet printer, or should London Transport be consulting a lawyer?

Finally, is this also true of Crown Copyright, in particular where this applies to the huge number of World War Two posters which are being reproduced?

Vintage WW2 poster copied on eBay

Questions, questions.  But can anyone out there help me answer them?

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Calling You

While I am sure that you are all now saving up every last penny for the Christies sale, there are a couple of good odds and ends on eBay right now.  And, not surprisingly, they are a bit cheaper.

Pick of the pops are these two ARP posters, being sold by one MrsLovely.

McKNight Kauffer vintage WW2 ARP precautions poster

Pat Keely vintage WW2 ARP poster from eBay

The McKnight Kauffer I have seen before (not least because we have a smaller version on our sitting-room wall) but I don’t think I’ve ever come across the Keely until now.

What’s interesting is that if you take a flick through MrsLovely’s feedback and past sales, you will discover that she’s already sold one copy of the Keely (for the £120 asking price) and two copies of the McKnight Kauffer.  So someone, somewhere must have come across a stash of pre-war ARP posters which were never used.  Which does give me hope that there are still plenty more old posters out there waiting to be discovered.  By me, preferably.

Also in her past sales, I found this Paul Nash.

Paul Nash print from eBay

It’s a collotype proof for Urne Buriall (enough to recommend it on its own) and a rather wonderful thing to get should you have had £180.

If you’re feeling rather more lighthearted, though, you could always plump for this wide-eyed giraffe.

BOAC giraffe vintage poster from eBay

A little eaten, but still currently quite covetable at £39.99.

And finally, proof that aesthetic value isn’t everything in posters, particularly when there’s railways involved.

This 1960s Christmas poster went for just £14.49 a few days ago.

British Railways 1961 Christmas poster from eBay

While this one from the late 40s made £72.

British Railways 1940s Christmas poster

Now, in a fight on looks alone, I think I’d probably just pick the 1961 poster, although I probably wouldn’t put either of them on the wall.

So why did the second one make so much more?  Yes, it’s older.  And yes, it does also have a certain historical value as a record a period when British Railways had only just been formed but the identities of the pre-war railway companies hadn’t entirely disappeared yet (although you could read them on this poster as going up in flames).  But even that, surely, can’t make almost £60 worth of difference.  It has to be just the sheer fact of those names being there which has given this poster the extra value.   Strange, but true.

Both of these posters, incidentally, came from the Malcolm Guest collection, which means that I can tell you that the seller spent £65 on them and so is just about in profit, with four more posters to go.

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Going Underground

So, the Christies auction.  Which is coming up on 5th November.

I do have to admit that I was a bit hard on it last week when I said that it didn’t containg anything I was interested in.  This is not true, it just doesn’t have anything I can afford.

Austin Cooper 1933 London Transport Poster
Austin Cooper, 1933, est £800-1,200*

I think my cynicism might have been caused by Christies’ brand new ‘cool wall’ technology, which does let you browse through whole swathes of an auction at once (screenshot below).  It moves and tilts and does all sorts of other fancy things too that I can’t show on here.

Christies poster wall screen shot

All of which has the side-effect of reducing the posters to small coloured blobs which are quite easy to dismiss.  But I now have a PDF of the catalogue, which means that I like it a great deal more.

Picadilly express McKnight Kauffer London Transport poster 1932
McKnight Kauffer, 1932, est £600-800

What I like most is the first hundred lots or so.  These are a stunning collection of pre-war London Transport posters, which all come, apparently, from one collection.

Vintage London Transport poster Betty Swanwick 1936
Betty Swanwick, 1936, est £600-800*

Lucky them, because it’s an incredible selection.  I can hardly pick out my favourites.  But I rather like the type on the Pears boats below.

Charles Pears London Transport poster 1935
Charles Pears, 1935, est £600-800

While this is just fantastic in every which way: subject, image, title and general un-Britishness.

Vladmir Polunin 1934 London Transport poster
Vladmir Polunin, 1934, est £700-900*

What’s interesting (if you’re me, at least) is that I had several of these posters on my wall when I was a student – only as postcards mind you.

Alan Rodgers London Transport poster 1930
Alan Rogers, 1930, est £600-800*

Frederick Manner 1929 London Transport poster
Frederick Manner, 1929, est £800-£1,200

Annie Fletcher, London Transport poster 1926
Annie Fletcher, 1926, est £1,500-2,000

But I don’t think there has ever been a time when I could have afforded them (or indeed anything else nice from the period) so I ended up collecting, and interested in, post-war design.  It goes to show how much taste is formed by necessity as much as pure aesthetic appreciation.

I shall also, have to mourn, once more, that I never bought one of this pair when it was for sale for considerably less than that at Rennies.

Edward Wadsworth London Transport pair poster 1936
Edward Wadsworth, 1936, est £1,00o-£1,500

It is also my duty to point out that there are not one but two rather good Edward Bawdens up for sale too, should you have a couple of thousand pound burning a hole in your pocket.

Edward Bawden London Transport poster 1936
Edward Bawden, 1936, est £800-1,200

Edward Bawden London Transport poster 1936
Edward Bawden, 1936, est £600-800

Other than the swathes of London Transport joy, there are some railway posters, which are generally the usual suspects, apart from this Tom Purvis, from a series that I have always rather liked.

Tom Purvis 193o LNER poster
Tom Purvis, 1930, est £600-800

And this train-nerdy one which looks like a vision of the future rather than anything to do with British Railways.  Does anyone know if it ever actually ran? And can I go on it?

marc Severin, 1947 British Railways poster

Then there is the usual miscellany of Mucha, foreign travel and other odds and ends, of which these two Herbert Bayers are probably the most interesting.

Herbert Bayer 1930 Exhibition poster
Herbert Bayer, 1930, est £1,000-£1,500

Herbert Bayer Olivetti 1953 poster
Herbert Bayer, 1953, est £1,000-£1,500

Despite all of these wonderful things, I am nonetheless still going to complain. And, as usual, my complaint is about Christies’ minimum lot price.  It’s supposed to be £800, although given the number of posters estimated at £600-800, they’ve clearly softened their line a bit these day.

It has two rather unfortunate effects.  One is that there is very little post-war design about at all – and what there is ain’t British.  Apart from the Herbert Bayer above, there are a few kitschy railway posters and then these two rather fabulous American posters by Stan Galli from 1955 and 1960.

stan Galli california poster 1955

Stan Galli Los Angeles poster 1960

But that’s your lot, and I, for one, am disappointed.

The other, and perhaps more serious one, is that there are far too many multiple lots.  For example, the Alan Power Speed poster above, also comes with “two posters by T. Eckersley and E. Lombers”.  Eh?  Surely these are things of value in their own right? And that’s not the only one – Electricity Supercedes St Christopher comes with six, count them, six other London Transport posters. While this fabulous Herry Perry comes with four.

Herry Perry, London Transport poster 1930
Herry Perry, 1930 est £700-900

I’ve asterisked all the ones which are parts of multiple lots, just so you can see precisely how many there are.

Now, why does this annoy me?  One reason is that there are tons of posters in this catalogue that I just can’t look at.  Being based in the sticks, I can’t just wander down to South Kensington and take a look at the other parts of the lots.  Yes, I could interrogate someone at Christies and ask for pictures of all of them (I have their name, and I may just do that), but it rather takes the point out of there being a catalogue.  Furthermore, it seems rather a retrograde step.  One of the great things about the internet is that auctions not only all over Britain but internationally too have become available to everyone.  You no longer need to be there to see what is on offer, and to bid.  But the Christies catalogue takes some of that away from me, and I think it’s a shame.

Perhaps even more problematic, though, is that multiple lots make it harder to value individual posters.  When the Alan Power is sold, will its value be for itself alone, or for the two Eckersley/Lombers which come with it?  How shall we tell what share of the worth comes to them – or perhaps they will be bought by an Eckersley collector who will sell the Power on elsewhere.  Then who can tell what the value of anything is?  Not me, that’s for certain.

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