Time future contained in time past

I have to face the fact that I do not know where most of the collectables in this house have come from.  I can account for almost every table and teaspoon, but not it seems the ephemera, the posters and the books.  Especially not the books.  I came across two Hans Schleger exhibition catalogues while looking for something else the other day.  “You’re going to say that you’ve never seen those before,” said Mr Crownfolio, and he was right.  But I’m sure I haven’t.

Still, those are for another day; today’s post is a different unaccountable book instead.  We’ve had it for a while, that’s all I can tell you.  It’s The World in 2030 by the Earl of Birkenhead, illustrated by Edward McKnight Kauffer.

McKNight Kauffer Earl of Birkenhead illustration world in 2030 everyday life

Having been thinking about McKnight Kauffer on here recently, I got this down from the shelf.  And then when Shelf Appeal in turn posted another of his illustrations, it only seemed fair to continue the conversation.

But what a great subject for Kauffer this is: how better to express the future than in the modernist style?  Reaching its apotheosis in the final illustration, the future as seen in 2030, a double layer of a future so exciting that it can’t quite be expressed.  Although looking, in the end, quite a lot like a London Transport poster.

McKNight Kauffer Earl of Birkenhead illustration world in 2030 the future

But, as is the way of prophecies, the book is less revealing about the future than about the time in which it was written.  The first, long, chapter for example is all about the future of war.

McKNight Kauffer Earl of Birkenhead illustration world in 2030 the future of war

While this illustration is for ‘The Amenities of 2030’

mcKnight Kauffer Earl of Birkenhead Amenities illustration world in 2030

Amenities isn’t a word that sings the future to us any more, is it?  Local amenity societies, town planning, public conveniences.  It’s a word which wears a cardigan and slippers these days.  But it was young and futuristic once too.

As so often with these books, I can recommend the illustrations more than the text.  Birkenhead was an M.P., Lord Chancellor, great friend of Churchill and sensible enough to commission Kauffer, but his views haven’t aged as well as the illustrations.

An average woman is more valuable to the state than the average man: but the most gifted woman is less valuable to the state than an exceptional man.

She doesn’t look very  pleased with her proposed lot either.

McKnight Kauffer Earl of Birkenhead Woman n 2030 illustration

It seems to be fairly expensive on Abebooks at the moment, although I’m sure we didn’t pay such monies for it.  Then again, what do I know?

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Going, gone

So it’s back to work after the birthday festivities, which today means a brief round-up of eBay and auction news.  Such as there is.

Thebasement101 seems to have an almost inexhaustible stock of slightly obscure London Transport posters backed on linen.  He has put another three up for sale this week, of which my favourite is this Victor Galbraith owl from 1960.

Victor Galbraith vintage London Transport poster owls 1960

Although I do not like it with £99 worth of like.  I must research Victor Galbraith properly one day, because the few bits of his work I’ve seen I always enjoy.  But I’m not even going to look today, as who knows where it will end up and I have other things which have to be done.  But if anyone out there knows something, please do get in touch.

Mr Basement also has the two posters below, by Stella Marsden and Maurice Wilson respectively.

Vintage London Transport poster Stella Marsden 1955 brass rubbings

Vintage London Transport christmas poster 1951 Maurice Wilson

If you prefer railway posters and steam trains (is this the Quad Royal demographic?  I’m not sure) then there is also this Studio Seven piece, which is quite good if you do want a piece of 1960s text about steam trains.  And a lot cheaper than £99.

Studio Seven last steam train vintage railway poster 1960 Swindon

Elsewhere on eBay, two conundrums.  Exhibit A is undoubtedly an interesting and very rare survival of some World War Two propaganda that is also commercial advertising.  But it’s the picture that’s the problem.

Vintage World War Two hitler winsor and newton poster

Because at first glance it could easily be mistaken for a pro-Nazi poster.  Which is an interesting reminder that context is all; I am sure that no one in an art shop in 1942 would have thought that way.  But which makes me feel that it belongs in the context of a museum.  Or am I being too sensitive here?

Exhibit B is only really a conundrum in the sense that I am forced to wonder who on earth thinks it is worth that money?  Yes it is a McKnight Kauffer poster, but it is a 1973 reprint for the V&A with, frankly, not very nice lettering added.

McKnight Kauffer 1973 V&A Exhibition poster

If that is worth £159, I am a stick.  It’s not even ‘Must-have’ as the seller suggests in the title.  Really.

The rest of this post is a slightly sorrowful litany of Things We Have Missed.  Starting with this Barbara Jones book.  Now the seller didn’t do themselves any favours -here’s their photo.

Barbara Jones book on eBay

And here’s the cover scanned rather than photographed in infra red.

Barbara Jones cover for fairs and markets book

But even so, I would have expected it to go for a bit more than just £7 when it goes on Abebooks for between £40 and £50.  (To my chagrin we put a stupidly low bid on it because we’ve already got one, and now I feel foolish).

And finally, this.

A collection of posters, Keep Britain Tidy, Henry Moore Exhibition, Heath Robinson posters etc

That’s all the lot description said, and it caused a mad panic here at Crownfolio Towers, because the email alert arrived on the day of the auction.  I do know that it had one of these in.

Royston Cooper lion keep britain tidy

And also, possibly, a 10 x 15 version of one of these.

Royston Cooper pelican vintage poster keep britain tidy

Along with a couple more Keep Britain Tidy posters that I can’t trace.  But more than that I will never know, because it went for £10 over our top bid.  I can, just about, live with that, because we hadn’t seen the condition or anything.  But I would still love to know what the posters were, so if any of you lot bought them, can you send the photos over?  I promise I won’t be too bitter.

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Now we are one

To my surprise, Quad Royal is a year old this week.  So happy birthday to us.  Now I am not going to write a long and self-congratulatory post, but we will be waving a few flags, as there are a couple of things which do need to be said.

Guinness coronation poster vintage John Gilroy animals toucan

First and foremost is a thank you to everyone for coming over and not only reading but commenting and linking and generally adding to Quad Royal.  It’s been a great pleasure meeting people and conversing with them, not only on the blog, but also by email and on Twitter.  (Pleasingly, we’ve just reached 200 followers on Twitter in time for this birthday, but if anyone else would like to follow Quad Royal on Twitter, it would be lovely to see you too).  I’ve learnt a lot from some very knowledgeable people, and it wouldn’t have been one tenth as much fun without everyone.  So thank you.

But getting to one has also made me think a bit about what the purpose of the blog is, other than a form of occupational therapy for me.  It’s something I’ve been forced to consider anyway, as last week’s post about the Kinneir and Calvert Railway Alphabet (except it may not be that, go and look at the comments if you want to follow the story in all its typographical detail) has attracted more attention than anything else ever posted on here.  Not only have the modernist type-nerds of the world tweeted it and linked to it, but it has turned out that the two posters (one illustrated below) are not only rare but of some historical importance.

black rail type Kinneir calvert again

Which is, to say the least. surprising.  If  you rewind to the beginning of it all, Mr Crownfolio and I bought a huge lot of misc posters from the tail end of the Malcolm Guest sale for the grand sum of £10.  These then sat about in the corner of a room for six months in a tube marked ‘selling’.  After I finally remembered that this was there, with the thought of putting them on eBay, I had a proper look at them for the first time.  And when I did that, along with a bit of research, they turned out to be more interesting than I thought.  Then, when they were up on the blog and other people had a good look at them they turned out to be really quite rare indeed.

All of which has made me realise that one of the important things about this blog is looking at graphics and posters closely.  Because quite often they can turn out to be much more interesting than a cursory glance would lead one to suspect.  The alphabet posters are perhaps the most extreme example of this, but it’s true of so many of the things featured on Quad Royal over the last year.  Posters can tell us stories about how people lived, and what they thought about how they would like to live; they are designed by interesting people whose lives are intertwined with some of the important ideas of the last century, and in amongst all that they are a great pleasure to look at.

Of course, Barbara Jones got there long before I did.

Barbara Jones BBC Schools booklet 1954

barbara jones school booklet 1954 looking at things reverse

Her BBC Schools series is all about the pleasures of seeing in detail.  So here’s to another year of looking at things.

Incidentally, in case you think this is all a bit self-important and puffery, here’s a further cautionary tale.  In writing this, I looked up the original Morphets lot which had the type posters in, to find out what we paid for them.  Only it said ‘4 typographic posters’.  Sure enough, down the back the shelves where miscellaneous things live were two more historically important documents.  I really would have made a very bad museum indeed.

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Things. In archives.

Now that there are posters in archives doesn’t exactly count as hot news.  But it’s worth revisiting nonetheless, for a couple of reasons.

One is that new delights can appear.  It’s been said before, but I love the VADS archive as a model of how digitisation can work brilliantly.  And every so often I go back and discover that items have been added.  I’m sure I’ve never seen this Lewitt-Him ROSPA poster before as I would have remembered a puss in boots as fine as this.

Lewitt Him vintage ROSPA safety poster world war two propaganda

Puss can be also found in the Jan Le Witt and George Him: Design book which is one of the vast backlog of books which I’ve failed to mention on here.  Like every other title in this series I’ve seen, it’s a very good outline introduction to their lives and work.  So that’s one down, unfortunately another three arrived this week.

Elsewhere, new archives spring up.  I was moaning very recently that the Wellcome collection had a fine digital catalogue but no images.  But now there is Wellcome Images.  Almost an entire universe from germs to tattoo designs, but also containing posters.  Which is where I found this. Once again, modernism is exactly the right style where progress can be celebrated – and a fall in infant mortality can only be good.

Infant Mortality poster Wellcome images

This very pure, almost continental modernist design is by Theyre Lee-Elliott, who I’d never come across before.  But it turns out that  he also designed the archetypal airmail wings.

Theyre Lee Elliott airmail wings design in use on airmail stamp

As well as the Imperial Airways Speedbird logo, a design which endured beyond Imperial’s incorporation into BOAC and well into the time of British Airways.

Imperial Airways speedbird logo designed Theyre Lee-Elliott

Those two designs alone – both classics which survived well past World War Two and beyond – should have been enough to secure Lee-Elliott more fame than he currently has.  But Lee-Elliott also designed some rather good posters.  Some of these were expansions of his logo designs for Imperial and the GPO.

Theyre Lee Elliott Imperial airways vintage travel poster showing speedbird logo

Theyre Lee Elliott Airmail poster for GPO 1936

But he also designed a pair of really rather wonderful posters for London Transport in 1936 (from the wonderful LT Poster archive).

Theyre Lee Elliot vintage London Transport poster light 1936

Theyre Lee Elliot vintage London Transport poster Four times the number carried 1936

As well as these posters for Southern Railway, all from 1937 (from the more idiosyncratic NMSI archive).

Theyre Lee Elliott Stock rambling vintage poster for Southern Railway 1937

Theyre Lee Elliott Stock Horse racing poster for Southern Railway 1937

Theyre Lee Elliott Navy Week Vintage poster for Southern Railway 1937

A set of work which makes it all the more mysterious that he is not celebrated as one of the great modern designers in this country.

His later life may be one reason for this.

Theyre Lee Elliott Trooping the Colour Vintage London Transport poster 1952

Although he designed one more poster for London Transport in 1952, he seems to have given up graphic design for fine art – in particular paintings of dancers. Here’s a brief biography as told by one of his nephews:

David Theyre Lee-Elliott went from Winchester to Cambridge and thence to The Slade School of art and lived in Chelsea all his life, dying at the age of 85 in 1988. He never married but had seven nephews and nieces. Before the war he painted the scenery and backdrops at Sadlers Wells and met all the stars and painted hundreds of action pictures of them. Whenever he came to stay he always painted pictures for us of our toys and where we lived during the war and after. A lot of his paintings were bought by the stars of stage and screen of yesteryear.

This recollection – as well as many others – came from a dance blog, Oberon’s Grove – which has articles on Lee-Elliott’s dance paintings (here and here) which are a worth investigating if you want to know more about the man.

But he did more than paint dancers – there’s an interesting commentary one of his paintings held by The Methodist Church Collection of Modern Christian Art (a new discovery for me) which describes his compulsion to paint religious imagery despite, apparently, having no religious faith.

I’m clearly just scratching the surface here; Theyre Lee-Elliott was clearly a very complex and unusual person – apparently he had a novel written about his life at some point too – and I find it extraordinary that he has disappeared so completely from the history books, at least as far as graphic design is concerned. So if anyone can shed any more light on his life and work, as ever, I’d love to hear from you.

This has rather digressed from the simple post about online archives that I’d intended when I started writing.  But, in the course of it all, I did discover one more.  The Smithsonian Museum in Washingon has a collection of Air Travel posters online, called Fly Now! which is worth some of your time. Or possibly quite a lot of your time, given that there are 1,300 or so posters in their catalogue.

The collection is brilliantly omnivorous too, containing everything from design classics to high kitsch.  I will definitely have to come back to it one day when I’ve picked through it properly. But in the meantime, have some surprised llamas to brighten your Friday.

Llamas for Braniff.  Lllamas for all.

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That’s modernism, that was

This may not be the cause of great excitement for many of you, indeed it may not even be news, but the Journal of Design History is now freely accessible online.  Which has let me get hold of an article that I’ve been wanting to read for ages, John Hewitt on ‘The ‘Nature’ and ‘Art’ of Shell Advertising in the 1930s’.  Fortunately it turned out to be as interesting as I’d hoped.

Frank Dobson, vintage shell poster 1931
Frank Dobson, 1931

One idea in particular struck a chord, as it links in with the themes that I’ve been mulling over here recently.

By 1930 Shell had come to realise that any whole-hearted endorsement of modernisation was problematical.  The transformation of the environment, occasioned by increasing suburbanisation and expanding commerce and predicated on a dramatic expansion of the motor car industry intensified during the 1920s and 1930s provoking vigorous and sustained resistance from influential lobbies of middle class opinion.

All too soon it had become impossible to see the brave new modern world – as epitomised by the car – as wholly good.  Even worse, advertising itself was seen as a problem of modernity, as enamel signs and billboards sprouted.  So Shell’s advertising changed round about 1930, something which is often ascribed to the arrival of Jack Beddington at the company.  He was part of it, but as Hewitt points out, there was also an important cultural shift taking place.  Hewitt’s essay explores how Shell reconstructed its public image in terms of art and nature, making the threatening motor car seem much more part of a wholesome and quintessential British identity.

Which is undoubtedly true, but there is also another way of seeing it.  Because the change in their advertising was also a flight away from modernism.

Vic vintage shell poster quick starting pair 1930
Vic, 1930

Until Beddington’s arrival, Shell had primarily been selling its products on their technical qualities.  And the underlying language of that was very often modern.

Vintage Shell poster lubricating Tom Purvis 1928
Tom Purvis, 1928.

But when Jack Beddington arrived, he instituted a very different approach.  There was almost no direct selling of the qualities of the product; instead he tried to build up an image for the brand.  And this image was initially based on the English landscape and nature.

The clearest expression of this is in the ‘Quick Starting Pair’ posters.  Before 1930, these had used images of animals, but often treated in a very schematic way.

G S Brien, Quick Starting, chamois, 1929
G S Brien, 1929

But these were then replaced by much more naturalistic images.

Vintage Shell poster Kennedy north 1931
Kennedy North, 1931

As Hewitt points out, there is a tension between the technological idea and the imagery here which doesn’t necessarily make for successful advertising.

But it was the major landcape campaigns that Beddington, and indeed Shell posters in general, are most associated with.  These began with See Britain First on Shell.

Hal Woolf 1931 vintage Shell poster salcombe
Hal Woolf, Salcombe

Followed in turn by ‘You Can Be Sure of Shell’.

Merlyn Evans vintage shell poster 1936
Merlyn Evans, 1936

This is not only a very different kind of advertising, it is expressed in a very different visual language.  But it’s not simply a retreat back to traditional landscape painting.  This is still a very living idiom in the Britain of the 1930s, and the posters tap into the vein of British romanticism identified by Alexandra Harris and others before her.

Vintage Shell poster lord berners 1936
Lord Berners, 1936

Which is why I think this essay, and the changes it describes, are worth going into at such length.  Because this retreat from modernism doesn’t just happen in Shell posters.  I would argue that it is happening in many other places – and not just the graphic arts. Romantic Moderns contains a discussion of Virginia Woolf’s Between the Acts which shows how modernist writing was shifting as well.

I find it hard to be surprised by this, though.  Living in Britain in the 1930s, between the Great Depression and the onset of war, it must have been almost impossible to maintain any faith in the endlessly improving effects of modernity.  The evidence against it was easy to see.  And if you don’t believe in modernity, perhaps the jagged edges of the machine age aren’t going to feel very comfortable either.

Of course, reality is always much more complicated.  But by looking at some of the exceptions within the Shell posters, it becomes possible to see how some of these complexities worked.  Because there were still modernist posters being commissioned – here’s an example from McKnight Kauffer in 1937.

McKnight Kauffer vintage shell poster 1937

Celebrating its achievements of this sleek new aeroplane is still, perhaps a safe place to use a modern visual vocabulary.  Even if only one was every produced in the end.  Other technical advertising was done in this style too.

McKNight Kauffer vintage shell poster 1936
McKnight Kauffer, 1936

But campaigns that could be construed as selling a technical advantage didn’t necessarily use modernism as the decade progressed.

Percy Drake Brookshaw, Summer Shell vintage poster 1933
Percy Drake Brookshaw, 1933

Jack Miller vintage shell summer shell poster 1936
Jack Miller, 1936

The other way in which Shell could be said to be using modernism was in its choice of artists like Graham Sutherland, Ben Nicholson, Paul Nash and Tristram Hillier.  But as Hewitt points out, these artists might be called modernist, but that wasn’t really the way they were being used by Shell.

Graham Sutherland Shell poster vintage 1932
Graham Sutherland, 1932

Nor was the use of modernist artists a means by which Shell could celebrate its identification with modern technology… They were involved in the campaigns that played down any references to the modern qualities of speed and power.

Ben Nicholson vintage shell poster 1938
Ben Nicholson, 1938

The visual language was hardly defiantly modern either; none of these posters were very likely to frighten the horses as they raced past on a Shell lorry.  The modern artists had moved on too.

Hewitt also points out that these artists were not in a majority.  For every poster extolling the modern charms of film stars in an equally modern style,

kathleen Mann vintage shell poster 1938
Cathleen Mann, 1938

there was at least one with a much more traditional point of view.

Cedric Morris Gardeners Prefer Shell vintage poster 1934
Cedric Morris, 1934

This is possibly another case where hindsight gives us the wrong view of a period.  The ‘modern’ Shell posters – particularly the ones by the modernist artists – are much more interesting and collectable for us now, so we tend to privilege them and make them seem more normal than perhaps they were at the time.  But in writing this I’ve been through the online images from the Shell Collection.  And what’s there is a very different set of posters to the ones that are normally reproduced, whether in a book or a Christies catalogue.  Sometimes the hunt for modernism can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

One final footnote.  Shell’s advertising did take on a much more modern tone again in the 1950s.

Vintage Shell poster John Castle 1952
John Castle, 1952

Machinery and technological progress had become not just acceptable, but worth celebrating, one way or another.

Terence Cuneo Vintage Shell poster 1952
Terence Cuneo, 1952.

Modernism was once again possible in the 1950s .  Which is a thought I will be coming back to again one day.

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Que savez vous de la Grande Bretagne?

I got some lovely photographs by email before Christmas (so thank you Adrian Jeffery) and to my shame, what with one thing and another, rather left them to one side.  But now I am here to make amends.

Because this is a fabulous thing.

British brochure Brussels Expo 1958 cover Barbara Jones Illustration

It’s the brochure for the British pavillion at the 1958 Brussels Expo (home of the Atomium).  Which would be fine enough as it is, but what’s even better is that it’s illustrated by Barbara Jones.  And it’s something which doesn’t come up very much at all, even in the Ruth Artmonsky book.  This is the French version.

Brussels expo 1958 British pavilion brochure page spread cow

Now I’d be  more than happy just to wallow in the pictures here.  But the brochure (catalogue? guide?  I’m not entirely sure) is also more interesting than that, because it epitomises the debate that I’ve been mulling over for a while, the conflicted relationship between modernism and Britishness.

Brussels Expo 1958 catalogue for British Pavilion Barbara Jones illustration

Now, design historians tend to love Expos and other sorts of National Exhibitions, because it is design, if you like, giving a speech.  It’s fine to read them as a guide to the state of the nation, and its self image, because that’s exactly what they are designed to express.  So here we have a Britain of friendly policemen, tea and Scottie dogs.

Brussels Expo 1958 British Pavilion Guide barbara jones

But we also have modern industries, housed in sparkling factories.

Brussels expo British pavilion catalogue Barbara Jones illustration factories

The tension between these runs all the way through the brochure (catalogue? guide?  I’m not really sure) right until the back cover.  Here are modern machines, but made safe by a more traditional frame.

Back cover Brussels Expo 58 British Pavilion catalogue

Now it could be argued that if you commission someone like Barbara Jones, connoisseur of folk art and disappearing traditions, to do your illustrations, then this is what you are going to get.  But the same conflict runs through the entire display.  Here is the shard-like exterior.

British Pavilion Brussels Expo 1958

But this is what happens when you get up close.

Brussels Expo British pavilion lion and unicorn

And if that looks just a bit familiar, almost the entire design team for the Brussels Expo had indeed worked together on the Festival of Britain.  Here’s Jonathan Woodham’s summary of the problems they faced.

[Britain’s] national ambitions were caught between the worlds of heritage, as represented in the Hall of Tradition, of scientific innovation, as displayed in the Hall of Technology, and of economics and industrial competitiveness, as represented architecturally by the more contemporary character of the glass-fronted British Industries Pavilion.

All of this is made manifest in the brochure, from royalty to machinery.

Royalty spread from British pavilion catalogue Brussels expo 58

Machinery spread from British pavilion catalogue Brussels expo 58

I tend to see this later part of the 1950s as the height of Britain’s optimism about the brave new post-war world of spindly legs and bright colours and good design for all.  But even in 1957-8, it was impossible to be simply modern.  Being British was always much more complicated than that.

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