Over-modern and over here

An interesting comment appeared a week or so ago on a older post about Beverley Pick.

He was a man.  Bless him… He was my uncle and a very clever man..He also did the original Moby Dick… Beverley was originally from Austria and lived many years in Sunningdale during the winter. Autumn he would visit his House in Cork and in his latter years he and his wife would live in France where they had a gorgeous home. He is now buried in the Churchyard at Sunningdale. There was so much to this man we will never know it all…

I’ve written to Odile Walker, who posted those intriguing memories, and I hope she’ll come back and tell us more.  But in the meantime, one thing that I never knew stands out.  Despite his British-sounding name, Beverley Pick was an emigré from Austria.

Beverley Pick pig waste vintage WW2 propaganda poster
Beverley Pick, WW2 poster

Now, I’ve been thinking for a while about the degree to which post-war British graphic design was shaped by people who were one way or another foreigners. There are so many of them that it would be hard not to really.  But finding that this is also true for Beverley Pick has pushed me into action.

So here is a roll call of as many emigré designers as I can think of who worked in the UK in the decade or so after the war.  It’s an impressive selection. With, for no particular reason other than that’s the way it turned out, lots of GPO posters as examples.

Andre Amstutz

Whitley bay poster Andre Amstutz vintage british railway poster
British Railways, 1954

Dorrit Dekk

Dorrit Dekk vintage GPO wireless licence poster 1949
GPO, 1949

Arpad Elfer

Arpad Elfer design for DH Evans poster 1954
D H Evans, 1954

Abram Games

Abram Games vintage London Transport poster at your service 1947

F H K Henrion

Henrion Artists and Russia Exhibition 1942

H A Rothholz

H A Rothholz stamps in books poster vintage GPO 1955
GPO, 1955

Pieter Huveneers

Pieter Huveneers fleetwood poster 1950 vintage railway poster
British Railways, 1950


Karo vintage GPO soft fruits by post poster 1952

Heinz Kurth

Heinz Kurth design for Artist Partners brochure divider
Artist Partners


Lewitt Him Pan American vintage travel Poster

Manfred Reiss

Manfred Reiss vintage GPO poster 1950
GPO, 1950

Hans Schleger

Hans Schleger vintage GPO ww2 poster posting before lunch
GPO, 1941

Hans Unger

Hans Unger 1951 vintage GPO poster
GPO, 1951

Together they make up pretty much half the content of this blog most months.  And I am sure that there are plenty more I have left out – please feel free to remind me who they are.

That’s all I am going to say for now, partly because this is quite long enough as it is, but also because I am in the process of working out what the story might be.  So if you have any thoughts on why British design became such an emigré profession, I’d love to hear those too.

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Spacing Oddity

Just in case you thought it was all organised and museum-perfect here, a tale.  I discovered a poster tube in Mr Crownfolio’s office, labelled ‘selling’ and in it, quite apart from a poster I could have sworn we’d sold years ago, I found these two oddities which I had also completely forgotten about.  But when I took a proper look at them, they turned out to be quite interesting.

British Railways rail alphabet jock Kinnear display poster

They’re spacing rules for a typeface.

Detail from British Railways vintage poster Rail Alphabet Jock Kinnear

There’s something rather attractive about this kind of very detailed practicality, I think.

And a bit of research gave me some ideas of what they might be.  One clue is on the lower case chart.

British Railways Railway Alphabet vintage poster spacing detail Jock Kinnear

For those of you reading on your iThing, these instructions are by the great graphic designer Jock Kinneir. He’s best known for designing the template and typeface for Britain’s road signage along with Margaret Calvert (the Design museum have written an interesting piece about it if you want to know more). But in 1964 they also designed Rail Alphabet, as part of the Design Research Unit‘s rebranding of British Railways.

British Railways Rail Alphabet poster Jock Kinnear Margaret Calvert

So that’s what I think this is, particularly as the posters came as part of an assorted lot from the Malcolm Guest sale. I imagine that, given their battered and used state, they were up on the walls of a design office somewhere in the British Railways system.

British Railways Rail Alphabet poster Jock Kinnear Margaret Calvert

Now of course rendered obsolete by the computer. But a rather a fascinating bit of graphic design history nonetheless.

What I’ve also discovered in the course of writing this post is that Rail Alphabet wasn’t just used by British Railways, but also by Gatwick Airport and the NHS too, right up until the mid 1990s.  So it’s more than just a typeface, it’s the written identity of the post-war British state.  That’s quite an achievement by Jock Kinneir and Margaret Calvert, and one that deserves more than just being taken for granted.

Even though Mr Crownfolio spends his working days adjusting type into just the right places, I’m not sure that we’ll ever put these up on the wall.  Which begs the question of what to do with them.  Might the National Railway Museum want them?  Or anyone else?  Any thoughts?

While we’re on the subject of oddities, it also gives me the chance to post this.  I’ve always been fond of pictograms anyway, but some of these are particularly choice.

Chart of symbols published by British tourist authority

The poster is a chart of symbols for tourist attractions, published by the British Tourist Authority, sometime after decimalisation.  I’m guessing it’s meant as a set of suggestions for designers and guide authors.  While a few of them are familiar, not all of them caught on.

Symbol for traditional dishes

Some are possibly only required once or twice on any map of the country.

Coracle maker symbol

While others were too frightening ever to use at all.

Solarium symbol

Caravan of doom symbol

I particularly like the caravan of doom.  But there are so many.  Anyone for underground disco?

Caves are open symbol

This has to be my favourite, however, and heaven knows I’ve lived in some bits of London where it could have been applied.

Shooting arranged symbol

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Set fair for Hastings

After seeing the Bruce Angrave Hastings poster yesterday, Mondagogo tweeted with a link to her photos of this wonderful object.

Cartoon forecasts on Hastings Victorian Weather station

It’s a strange mechanical weather forecasting device – part of the Victorian weather station in Hastings.  Here’s the whole thing.

 Hastings Victorian Weather station

Although if you look closely, the cartoons aren’t actually Victorian.

Cartoon forecasts on Hastings Victorian Weather station detail

In fact they look suspiciously as though they might also be by Bruce Angrave.  Certainly the chins seem familiar…

Cartoon forecasts on Hastings Victorian Weather station detail

It seems Angrave did do cartoons as well as poster design (and illustration, and write books, and paper sculpture and  a lot more besides).  Here are a couple which were reproduced in Graphis in 1946

Bruce Angrave cartoons from Graphis 1946

Compare and contrast.

Cartoon forecasts on Hastings Victorian Weather station details

It certainly looks like his work, but I can’t prove it one way or another.  In a weird omission no one seems to have written anything at all about the weather station, so if you are in Hastings and know more, I’d love to hear from you.

And thanks to Anna from Mondagogo for the loan of the pictures.

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It’s all Shelf Appeal‘s fault again.  Her post about Bruce Angrave led to this French blogger posting some more late last year which was then tweeted by Kickcan & Conkers.  Which led in turn to some tapping and muttering in the next door room as Mr Crownfolio searched the web.  A few days later the postman rang on the doorbell.

Inside front cover of Bruce Angrave paper Sculpture book

Ex-Hendon library, with no dust jacket and all in black in white, but still a good use of just a few pounds.  Because it’s packed with goodies.  Quite apart from Angrave’s own work, like these figures for the Festival of Britain,

Bruce Angrave paper sculpture figures from Festival of Britain

there’s also a history of paper sculpture through the ages, as well as a review of paper sculptors working at the time.  And there were quite a few of them about.  This 5′ high paper fantasia was built by Alan Farmer for the Ideal Home Show.

Alan Farmer figure for HP Sauce Ideal home show from paper sculpture book

While this fairground horse was produced by Studio Diana for the British Industries Fair.

Studio Diana horse for British Industries Fair from Paper Sculpture book

Interestingly, along with a number of other examples in the book, the horse was commissioned by Beverley Pick, who clearly liked paper sculpture a great deal.

But best of all, there are instructions on how to make your own paper sculpture.  Perhaps you would like to make your own version of the wonderful gentleman here.

BRuce Angrave paper sculpture of posh old codger

Bruce Angrave paper sculpture how to diagram

The diagram above is just the beginning, there are also another ten pages of diagrams, instructions and photos.  There’s nothing like jumping in at the deep end, is there.  But if anyone wants to have a go, I will happily scan the whole thing, and then feature the finished results on here.

Quite apart from enjoying the book for its own sake, it has also provoked me to some thinking.  For a start, it’s made me look at Angrave’s posters again. Some are conventionally produced, like this Hastings poster that I’ve mentioned before.

Angrave hastings vintage travel poster

But others, like this 1964 London Transport poster, are actually produced as paper sculptures (and then photographed?  I have no idea).

Bruce Angrave London Transport poster 1964 Christopher Wren

We’ve got a copy of that somewhere I think.

But the other thought is provoked by this, the frontispiece photo.  In it Angrave is producing a logo for Pathe News, for use in what would now be called an ident.

Bruce Angrave makes Pathe News cockerel logo in paper

I had never thought that part of the purpose of paper sculpture was to produce CGI before the computer was up to the job.  But perhaps it was.

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Ski Monday

The new year has hardly begun, but still those auctions keep on coming. Although without much in them to cheer me up on a grey January morning.

Mind you, in the case of the Christies Ski Sale, I can hardly complain, because it’s only doing what it says on the tin.  There are lots of posters of skiing and not a lot else.

In amongst them, there are two Daphne Paddens, for Pall Mall, which means that they combine skiing with the rather less fashionable activity of smoking.

Daphne Padden vintage advertising poster Pall Mall

Daphne Padden vintage advertising poster Pall Mall

Both still warrant estimates of £800-£1,200 each though, perhaps because no one does rock climbing with quite such dash, or even coolness, these days.

Elsewhere, there are mountains and skiers, alleviated by the occasional chair lift.  Some of them are by the great European poster designers, while others aren’t.

Herbert Leupin Davos vintage ski poster
Herbert Leupin, 1958, est. £800-1,200

Bernard Villemot vintage ski poster 1954
Bernard Villemot, 1954, est. £1,500-2,000

And that’s about it, really.

At Swann Galleries forthcoming sale, there are also pictures of skiing, along with the usual run of Art Nouveau, posters of bicycles and so on.  And a very few British items.

Pretty much the only one which I like with any degree of enthusiasm is this Betty Swanwick.

Betty Swanwick Wild or Savage Vintage London Transport poster 1954
Betty Swanwick, Wild or Savage, 1954, est $600-900

It’s the pictorial half of a pair poster and rather lovely.

There are a handful of British railway and travel posters too, including this streamlined special by Pat Keely, celebrating the days when even the London to Brighton line had names for its trains.

pat Keely Southern Belle 1930
Pat Keely, Southern Belle, 1930, est $2,000- 3,000

Not even eBay can save us this week.  All it can muster up is this Daphne Padden coach poster.  On the plus side, it’s an image that I’ve never seen before.  The minus side is all too clear from the picture.

Daphne padden vintage coach poster from eBay

Even the listing says ‘This poster has seen better days’, and I’m not about to argue with that.

But there is some joy to be had.  St Judes tweeted to say that they won the Tom Eckersley Cat O’Nine Lives which was up for sale on eBay this week (and I never quite got round to mentioning despite the fact that the listing very kindly mentioned Quad Royal).

Cat o Nine Lives book tom eckersley from eBay

I hope it’s very happy in its new home.  If you want to see some more of the book, I posted some of the images last year and you can find them here.

Illustration from Tom Eckersley cat o nine lives

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Folded over

So, time to tackle the vastly overdue heap of new books which need our attention.  First in line is a book I have mentioned a while back, Empire Marketing Board Posters by Melanie Horton.

Melanie Horton Empire Marketing Board cover

Now I am going to try to be as nice as I can about this book, but it’s going to be difficult given the format it comes in.  Because it’s been designed by someone who a) had a rather over-blown sense of his own importance in the process, and b) hates narrative.

Although this book might appear at first to have pages, they’re deceptive.

Empire Marketing Board book simple page spread

Instead it is laid out like an Ordnance Survey map on acid.  Some of the spreads fold out like this.

Empire Marketing Board book wide spread

Others fold out like this.

Empire Marketing Board book high spread

Which makes it almost impossible to follow the text.  I think it goes across the unfolded bits first and then into the bits in the middle, but even now I am not entirely sure.  The whole experience is like wandering about in a badly-laid out exhibition without any sense of where you are meant to be.  No, actually, it’s worse than that, because it’s a book.  I’m meant to understand books.

As a result, I don’t even know that I’ve read it properly.  Which is a shame as there are some good nuggets in there.  Like the fact that the Empire Marketing Board posters had their own special display frames, and posters were designed in sets to make the most of this format and changed every three weeks.

empire marketing board specialist poster frame image from book

Apologies for the cropping, the picture is bigger than the scanner.

Now this is interesting, because as we’ve discussed here before, the context in which posters are displayed can make a real difference to their meaning.  So these posters must have been perceived in a very different way to product advertising – I would imagine that they’d be seen much more as propaganda as a result.  But the EMB seemed quite happy with that, as this parliamentary exchange from July 1930 shows.

Mr. MANDER asked the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs why it is the policy of the Empire Marketing Board not to make use of the ordinary hoardings for their advertising campaign?

Mr. THOMAS The Board have from time to time employed the ordinary hoardings for the display of posters on special occasions. They are, however, satisfied that their own poster frames are better suited than the public hoardings to the special requirements of their main poster publicity campaign.

Although Hansard also tells us that some posters were displayed in other situations too.

The SECRETARY of STATE for DOMINION AFFAIRS (Mr. J. H. Thomas): During the 12 months ended 30th June, 1931, 16 new sets of posters have been displayed by the Empire Marketing Board on their special frames. In addition, one new poster for display on the commercial hoardings, and 12 new posters for display in shops, have been published.

F C HArrison Christmas Empire Marketing Board Poster

I wonder whether the British housewife was more likely to buy Empire raisins if they were advertised next to other products, or if they were lauded on those fantastic long displays?  And I wonder if the EMB ever did the research to find out?

The other interesting nugget is the provenance of the collection itself.  It seems the Manchester City Art Gallery collected them as part of an embryonic ‘Industrial Art Collection’, but this idea was short-lived, the posters disappeared into storage and were only rediscovered in the 1990s.  I’d love to know what, if anything else, was part of that collection.

But beyond this, I have a problem with the book, and it’s not just caused by the layout.  The Empire Marketing Board collection is a very difficult one because Empire is a disputed subject, and because some of the posters can only be seen as racist (for a fuller discussion of the issues, see here).

Frank pape Smoke Empire Tobaco

And as a state-funded museum in a multi-cultural city, Manchester City Art Gallery undoubtedly finds itself in a tricky position.  All of which I completely understand.  Unfortunately here all of this contemporary background seems to be getting in the way of the analysis.

Because this is a book in which Melanie Horton does everything except look at the posters themselves.  It divides into two halves, an explanation of the workings of the Empire Marketing Board, and then a very brief scamper through the different themes of the campaigns.  But at no stage does the text ever actually refer to an individual poster, what it shows or how it was designed and what this might have meant then, as well as what it means now.  The ideology that the Empire is bad and therefore all of these posters are morally contaminated comes first and foremost, regardless of the posters themselves. Indeed in places, her argument is rather undermined by the illustrations.  Asking whether the imagery of the posters was representative of the British people as a whole, she says,

They flattered their implied consumers by representing them as stylish, active and independent…

On the opposite page is this, And We’ll All Have Tea, by Keith Henderson

Keith Henderson And We'll All Have Tea

This sense that the posters are not doing what she wants them to do comes to a head in her conclusion.

The posters gave no space to anti-colonial criticism or to any other inconvenient truths that  may have detracted from their message.  Neither do they reflect the conflict and tension that had already come to characterise many parts of Enpire.

This is a bit like complaining that Shell posters don’t mention pollution, or that World War Two posters fail to give adequate space to the Nazi point of view.  They’re advertising, propaganda; it’s what they do.  To expect them to do anything else is absurd, and not a point of view that makes for very good history.

How visual culture like posters and other graphic design is studied is an interesting and unresolved question (there’s an interesting debate over at Design Observer right now).  But however we do it, surely we have to look at the objects themselves.  If we are only able to view them through the lens of our current perspectives, we’re not going to end up seeing very much at all.

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