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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Golf and pageantry

The weather is grey, the economy going into a tailspin, but still those auctions keep on coming.  This week’s offering is from The International Poster Center in New York.

Because it’s in New York, it’s heavy on the usual suspects of Art Nouveau, bicycle posters (which for some reason that escapes me are disproportionally collected and expensive), French travel posters and so on.  Although I do quite like this Cassandre, if only as a terrible warning of what television might do to you.

Cassandre 1951 vintage poster for Phillips television
Cassandre, 1951, est. $1,400-1,700

Naturally there are golf posters too, although here at least there is a small amount of British interest.

Rowland Hilder come to Britain for golf vintage travel poster
Rowland Hilder, est. $1,200-1,500

North Berwick vintage travel poster golf Andrew Johnson 1930
Andrew Johnson, 1930, est. $2,000-3,000

People with lots of money do choose the oddest things sometimes.

Elsewhere there are a few more British odds and ends, although they tend towards the traditional, you might even say stereotypical view of Britain.  Golf and pageantry, that is probably what we mean to the Americans.

Christopher Clark Trooping the Colour poster 1952 vintage travel british railways
Christopher Clark, 1952, est. $1,500-2,000

Seeing as we’re here, the poster above raises an interesting question about dating.  The auction house have dated it as 1932.  Which is approximately when the picture was painted, but given that it was previously issued in 1930 as an LMS poster, I’m not even sure that that’s quite right.  Here’s the earlier poster from 1930.

Christopher Clark earlier 1930 for LMS vintage railway poster using same image

But neither of these are really the date of the poster, as the British Railways logo shows – it was actually printed in 1952.  So which is the answer ?  I suppose it depends whether you’re seeing this as a print of the painting, or as a poster itself.  I’d date it at 1952 on that basis – what do you reckon?

Along the same lines is this, which might as well be a print of a painting rather than the Southern region poster it claims to be.

Anna Zinkeisen Southern Region poster Laying of Foundation Stone at Southampton Docks
Anna Zinkeisen, 1938, est. $2,000-2,500

The frame is particularly bemusing, because the description says merely,

B+/ Slight tears at horizontal fold.

but the image on NMSI has no such frame.  So what is going on here?  Search me.

Fortunately there are a couple of pieces of modernity to lighten the day.  Like this Austin Cooper, even if the image is stubbornly retrograde today.

Austin Cooper golliwog vintage London Transport poster Shop between 1928
Austin Cooper, 1928, est. $1,200-1,700

Along with this McKnight Kauffer.

McKnight Kauffer vintage shell poster lubricating oil 1937
McKnight Kauffer, 1937, est. $1,000-1,200

Now the McKnight Kauffer isn’t alone, because one thing that the New York auction does have going for it is an interesting selection of Shell posters.

Vintage Shell poster friend to the farmer Applebee 1952
Leonard Applebee, 1952, est. $700-900

Vintage Shell poster friend to the farmer Hussey 1952
Harold Hussey, 1952, est. $700-900

These two are the most pedestrian of the bunch, but I’m putting them here because the estimates seem quite high.  I can say this from a position of some confidence, given that we bought one of these on eBay for the grand sum of just £12.50 a few years ago.

This Ben Nicholson, however, is great.

Ben Nicholson vintage shell poster Guardsmen use Shell 1938
Ben Nicholson, 1938, est. $800-1,000

But I also rather like this, by Sir Cedric Lockwood Morris.

Summer Shell vintage poster by Cedric Lockwood Morris
Cedric Morris, 1938, est. $800-1,000

I like it and him even better for having read this fantastic reminiscence.  Anyone who gets into a fight with Munnings has a lot going for them.

Should any of these take your fancy, you can bid online via LiveAuctioneers.  But I have to warn you that buyers’ commission comes in  at a rather painful 22.5%, and then you’ve got to get the thing back over the Atlantic too.

All of which makes eBay seem an attractive option.  If only there was anything out there to buy.  All I can offer you at the moment is a lot of rather late Public Information Posters.  Which I’m mainly pulling out to reinforce a point I’ve made before, which is that National Savings posters are rarely design classics.

Vintage National Savings poster from ebay Background to Savings

Vintage National Savings poster EU map

vintage national savings poster inflation

The only one I come close to liking is this incentive to teeth-brushing.

Magic Roundabout brush your teeth vintage public information poster

But I’m not sure I’d pay the £9.99 they’re asking, although I am sure someone will.

The best lot I can find at the moment isn’t even a poster.

Porgy and Bess LP cover by Reginald Mount

The cover design for this LP is by Reginald Mount.  But it would be wasted tucked away on a shelf.

There was one good thing on eBay this week, but we bought it.  So I’ll share that with you when it arrives.

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Books and Canons

Right, back to the bookstacks once more.  In a way I’m rather pleased that there’s a backlog of things I need to write about, it shows that posters and graphic design are starting to be taken seriously.  But more than most, today’s book is both necessary and useful.

Paul Rennie GPO Poster Design book cover

It’s GPO Design by Paul Rennie, a neat guide to the posters of the GPO.  Evem better, it’s reasonably priced and available.  That doesn’t sound like much to ask, but in this case, it’s about time.  Because until now, the only book ever written on GPO design was published by a private press in a limited edition, and went for £320 at auction the last time I saw a copy.  Which makes me particularly grateful for this.

What you get is a fairly straightforward run through the history and structures of the GPO as it affects poster design, the varying kinds of GPO posters and what they were meant to achieve, and a look at some of the artist and designers who worked on the campaigns.  Plus of course, lots of lovely posters to look at.

Tom Eckersley vintage poster Please pack parcels very carefully GPO 1957
Tom Eckersley, 1957

It’s simple, but given that absolutely nothing else is available, it’s exactly what’s needed.

So, for example, I now know why so many GPO schools posters survive compared to the commercial campaigns: they were sent out in their thousands to schools, where they were so much more likely to be kept, or at least thrown to the back of a cupboard, compared with the ones sent out to Post Offices.

John Armstrong vintage GPO educational poster 1937
John Armstrong, educational poster, 1935

Although, I have to say, I don’t find the designs of the school posters half as satisfying as the commercial ones, as they have a tendency towards the dreary.  The only exceptions being the McKnight Kauffer ones, which are rather fine.

McKnight Kauffer, vintage GPO educational poster 1937
McKnight Kauffer, educational poster, 1937

The book has provoked me to some thoughts, though.  Although they’re not really criticisms of the book itself, as it is meant to be a brief and straightforward run through.  My target is probably more design history as a whole, as reflected in this particular text.

What is starting to bother me is the existence of an established hierarchy of designers.  At the top of the tree are those who were also fine artists.  The chapter on individual designers here begins with Paul Nash, and moves on to ‘fellow member of Unit One, theatre designer and surrealist’ John Armstrong’, only later moving on to the poster designers themselves.

Implicit here is the idea that design itself is not enough, it is better (whether that is aesthetically more pleasing or simply more worthy) if it has been touched by the hallowed hand of fine art.  Alone, it does not deserve the attention.

Perhaps it is possible that posters designed by artists are generally better, although I’m not sure I subscribe to this point of view.  But where it really gets irritating is the continual reproduction of this Vanessa Bell design.  It turns up everywhere that GPO design is discussed.

Vanessa Bell unused post office design 1935

Now, this is a failed poster.  It was rejected by the GPO and never used.  Even Bell herself didn’t think the design worked.

I don’t know why it has been so, but for some reason it has taken me ages to do anything I thought would do at all – I think partly because of the difficulty of getting several figures into a small space and yet making them tell at a distance. I have stood about in Post Offices until your employees looked so suspicious I had to leave! – and yet I don’t know that in the end what I have done has much resemblance to a Post Office. However, there it is…

Letter from Vanessa Bell in BPMA archive, quoted in essay by Margaret Timmers

It is possible to see the design as an example of where art and commercialism failed to meet, and Rennie does discuss it in this context briefly.  But I don’t think that this alone is enough to account for its ubiquity.  Because this isn’t just art, it’s Bloomsbury art.  And Britain loves the Bloomsberries, to the extent that it can skew our critical and historical judgement sometimes.

But even when we get the artists out of the way, the book still chooses to comment on the prevailing list of designers, from Austin Cooper and McKnight Kauffer at the top, then moving down to the post-war brigade of Eckersley, Henrion, Schleger et al. (How and why this canon has developed is an interesting question and one I’ll come back to another day as this post is already quite long enough as it is.)

Hans Schleger vintage GPO poster design 1945
Hans Schleger, 1945

Partly this annoys me because I got my critical grounding in English Literature during the late 1980s, where any belief in the Canon of Dead White Males was to be stamped on as a sign of a backward and outmoded way of thinking.  I’m probably not so extreme about it now, but the ingrained urge to stamp hasn’t quite gone yet.

But again, I also think that it can get in the way of us seeing what is really there.

Pieter Huveneers vintage airmail poster 1954
Pieter Huveneers, 1954

Because one of the joys of the GPO Archive is that they commissioned a wide range of artists, some of whose work I’ve never seen anywhere else.  (The illustrations of the book do reflect this, by the way.)

For example, I was furtling around in there this morning for another reason altogether and came across this, which I have known and liked for ages.

Derrick Hass postcards crab vintage GPO poster
Derrick Hass, 1954

It’s by Derrick Hass, who also did this Christmas design, as seen on here before.

Derrick Hass shop early post early vintage GPO Poster holly

Now it turns out, after I got curious, that Derrick Hass went on to have an extraordinary career in advertising, working as an art director in most  of London’s top agencies for almost forty years, and winning prizes for his work into the 1990s.  His life and work is an important part of graphic design history, and one I’d like to know more about.

But if we only keeps looking at what we already know, histories like that will fall by the wayside.  So it’s fantastic that one book on GPO Design is at last available, but now we need a much bigger one too.  One which tells all the stories.

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