No alarms and no surprises

I keep prevaricating about whether to post about eBay or this week or not.  There is stuff out there, but very little of it makes me jump up and down with excitement.  But then I thought perhaps that’s not fair, one man’s meat etc.  So here it is.  But don’t blame me if you don’t like it.

Let’s start with this, as the precise encapsulation of the malaise.

Abram Games vintage Railway poster 1957 British Railways

Yes, it is an 1957 Abram Games poster, with an opening bid of just £50.  But, how shall I put this, it’s not the most inspiring Games poster I’ve ever seen.

The seller has a few more posters for sale too, including this one,

Heysham vintage British Railways poster from eBay

Which means that I can take an educated guess that he, like so many other sellers, got these from the third Morphets Sale.  It’ll be very quiet when all that dust has settled, won’t it.

But the other posters he’s offering are a bit more interesting.

Studio Seven vintage British Railways poster Paris Excursions

Ebay vintage railway poster excursions half printed

They look like the kind of half-printed stock excursion posters that were more commonly produced by the coach companies.  But he says these ones are 40″ x 25″ and so railway sized, and I can’t find any trace of them in the Morphets sale.  I’ve seen a few before, but they tend to be earlier, like this Eckersley.

Tom Eckersley Race Specials British Railways vintage stock poster

Of course there may be loads of them, and they either weren’t kept much, or else they are sold continually at railwayana auctions and I fail to notice them as they go buy.  I shall endeavour to be more vigilant in future.

Elsewhere, expensive things.

By Trolleybus to Kingston 1933 F Gregory Brown

Now I cannot deny that this is a very fine poster, mounted on linen and doubtless worth a small fortune were it to come up at Christies.  But is anyone going to pay $1,200 for it on eBay?  I think not.  Especially not if they refer to it as ‘whimsical’ in the item description.  Were I about to spend a lot of money on something, I’d rather have it referred to as a very serious investment, thank you, not ‘whimsical’.  Honestly.

Now there are some other posters out there on eBay that I would normally mention but haven’t.  And that’s because we’re selling them.  Now a good part of this is because of embarrassment  – much of what we’re selling is some rather tatty odds and ends that I’d rather pretend we’d never bought.  Along with one or two nice bits too.

But there’s also an editorial question of how to do this without turning the blog into a shop window.  Shall I just leave it out?  Or would you like me to mention stuff that I would, under other circumstances, point at but make it clear that they’re ours and bear the shame anyway?  I don’t have an answer to that, so if anyone does, I’d like to hear it.

Finally, auction description of the week.

A box of wooden items, including elephants and posters.

We’ve asked, so if I get hold of a picture of a wooden poster, I’ll share it, I promise.

Herbaceous Romantics

As it’s not only Valentines Day but sunny, some flowers.  With accompanying gardener, both by John Minton.

John Minton 1950 front cover illustration Old Herbaceous

I got this for the grand sum of £5 at the weekend.  An antique shop in our town has now started selling second-hand books; there is an open wood fire and a wing-back armchair to one side in which to consider.  It’s perfect.  And the books are underpriced too, so I really can’t fault it.

But there’s more to this book than a bargain.   It’s also a thought about the world after the war.

John Minton full cover illustration Old Herbaceous book

Over the last few months on the blog, I’ve been wondering out loud about the tensions between modernism and another current in British graphics and posters – an urge towards tradition, the rural, a sense of Britishness rather than pan-national design styles (here and here, for example if you want to go explore this in more detail).  Alexandra Harris calls it British Romanticism, and the proper expression of it is entirely her idea.

All of which begs the question, well what happened after the war?  Did this survive, or was it washed away by the urge to build a bright new world out of primary colours and light wood in the style of the Festival of Britain?  A modern world, cleared at last of clutter and romantic nostalgia?  I don’t know the answer to this question, and so for a while now I’ve been meaning to take a slice through a year, perhaps 1949 or 1950, and see what can be worked out from the works I turn up.

I’ll still do that one day but now instead, in the way of all coincidences, I have this book, published in 1950.  And there’s no brave new world here.  Rather, it’s hard to find an illustration which doesn’t speak of nostalgia for a time and a social order which has now passed.

John  Minton Old HErbaceous illustration 1950

John Minton Old Binegar illustration Old Herbaceous 1950

This mood is whole raison d’etre of the book itself, as it’s the (fictional) memories of an old gardener.  Nostalgia, class and the rural all bound up in one story.  John Minton carnations illustration Old Herbaceous 1950

It’s the natural successor to Recording Britain, because once the old world has been destroyed, it can only be recreated in fiction.  And illustration of course.

He could have illustrated the book in a more modern style but Minton has also chosen to make other references to the past, like these delightful chapter numbers, each one hand drawn, which look forward to the Regency references of the early 1950s.  Modern, it is not.

John Minton Old Herbaceous Cartouche chapter 6

Now this is one book, illustrated by one man, but this mood runs through a lot of Minton’s work.  His Thames for London Transport is, at best, timeless – and also clearly the heir of the romanticism of Sutherland and Piper, made slightly more friendly for a commuting audience.

John  Minton vintage London Transport poster the River Thames 1950

While perhaps his most famous illustrations – for Elizabeth David’s Mediterranean Food, published in 1950, the same year as Old Herbacecous, are also exercises in if not actually nostalgia then certainly escapism (excuse the state of it, this is my working copy and was clearly someone else’s before that).

Mediterranean Food Elizabeth David John Minton Front cover illustration 1950

Because this book isn’t a Jamie Oliver manual on how to cook better, it’s an exercise in conjouring up a world of sunshine and pleasure that was almost completely inaccessible in Britain in 1950.  Food was still dull and rationed, olive oil was medicinal and currency restrictions ensured that only the very richest of all could think about travelling to the Continent.  Mediterranean Food was written not as a set of instructions (as anyone who has tried to cook from it can testify: “Take a silver bowl” –  but where from, Elizabeth, where from?) rather as an act of rebellion.

Hardly knowing what I was doing […] I sat down and started to work out an agonised craving for the sun and furious revolt against that terrible, cheerless, heartless food by writing down descriptions of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cooking.  Even to write words like spices, olives and butter, rice and lemons, oil and almonds, produced assuagement.  Later I came to realise that in the England of 1947 these were dirty words that I was putting down.

Elizabeth David Mediterranean Food 1950 back cover illustration John Minton

It’s all to easy to believe that the post-war world sprang into life fully formed at the Festival of Britain, sprightly and cheerful on its spindly metal legs.  But to start with, that leaves out six whole years.  Six years which seemed to those living through them to be grim, colourless and dreary, a time of hardships without any of the frisson and purpose of the war.  As the country desperately tried to pay for the victory, there were no bright colours or new products in the shop, everything that could went for export.  In this world of suet, cabbages and perpetual rationing, it’s hardly surprising that escapism of one kind or another was popular.  A popular modernism had to wait until a bit later, when the bright new future at last seemed to be within reach.

This world of yearning does seem to have been Minton’s natural territory in his illustrations – here he is in 1950 again, producing the same vision for BEA, although this time for the few who could afford it.

John Minton BEA poster 1950 from Sotherans

It’s both a still life and a vision of an almost unattainably different place. (This poster is available from Sotherans at a surprisingly reasonable £295 if you are interested.  I almost am).

Two small asides.  This is halfway between a look at Minton and an essay, and probably not quite managing to be either properly.  Lest you think I’m reading too much into one man’s work, there’s also David Gentleman and Roger Nicholson, producing the same kind of nostalgia for a lost world of food at almost exactly the same time, in a style which, then, owes very little to International Modernism.

And if you’d like to know a bit more about Minton’s poster work, Martin Steenson at Books & Things has written an overview of exactly that.  To which I am able to add this GPO poster from 1957.

John Minton GPO poster Eilean Donan Castle 1957

And this film poster too.

John Minton Film poster Where NO Vultures Fly 1951 eye hurt

Bizarrely, this is for sale on Amazon (are there other posters out there? must find out) and for £850.  Which is too much anyway, but especially for something which would give me a headache within ten minutes of sharing a room with it.  Let’s end with something more restful, shall we.

JOhn Minton Old Herbaceous cover

After all, there’s always a place for escapism on Quad Royal.  Especially on Valentine’s Day.

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?

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.

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.

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.