Hastings will welcome your invasion

I have been enfeebled by gastric flu.  Normal service of some kind will be resumed tomorrow.  In the meantime, here is a very nice Tom Eckersley that I haven’t seen around very much (although I think Books and Things might have had a copy once upon the while).

Tom Eckersley Hastings poster no date

The title comes from this Bruce Angrave poster.

Bruce Angrave Hastings poster

Not quite such a good image, but a great line.

And now I am going to lie down again.

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Distinction

I have on my desk two books, a thick one and a thin one.  The thin one is Melanie Horton’s book on the Empire Marketing Board Posters at Manchester University. But, rather counter-intuitively for a Friday, I’m going to go for the doorstop sized one instead, which is Distinction by Pierre Bourdieu.

It has been, I discovered today, voted one of the most influential sociological books of the 20th Century.  Wikipedia can summarise it, as they do this rather well.

Bourdieu discussed how those in power define aesthetic concepts such as “taste”. Using research, he shows how social class tends to determine a person’s likes and interests, and how distinctions based on social class get reinforced in daily life.

JEan Carlu France Tourist poster 1958
Jean Carlu, 1958

He does this by micro-analysing the taste and cultural choices (whether that’s music or interior design) of a vast number of French families and people in the early 1960s, over 500 pages and with myriad tables, diagrams and interviews.

I was forced to read it as part of my Design History course.  But I’m actually rather glad I did.  Because although the book is undoubtedly ‘very French’ (as the translator’s foreword warns) his approach is also a very useful way of thinking about design.  It earns its keep simply by reminding us that there is no such thing as pure good design or taste, that everything we choose, or turn away from, is a determined by class and culture as well as our own personal preferences.

Bernard Villemot France tourist poster 1955
Bernard Villemot, 1955

That’s not the only reason why I’m writing about it here, though.  The book may also answer the question, why do I (why do we?) collect posters?  I will try to distill the argument from his rather dense and sociological prose to see if it stands up.

One of his key ideas is that the ruling classes don’t just have economic capital but also social and cultural capital.  While the first two can be acquired, cultural capital tends to be inherited.  And he argues that it is perhaps the most important means by which social classes differentiate themselves. (For example, if you have economic capital, but no cultural capital, you will tend to be pigeonholed as nouveau riche).

Paul Colin vintage poster 1945
Paul Colin, 1945

But what’s great about the book is that he microanalyses these ideas and how they work in real life.  So, he points out that while many people agree on the cultural capital of appreciating art, there is a big difference between the middle classes who go to see it in a museum, and the very small fraction of the upper classes who own it themselves.

The appropriation of symbolic objects with a material existence, such as paintings, raises the distinctive force of ownership to the second power and reduces purely symbolic appropriation to the inferior status of a symbolic substitute.

Roughly translated, too many people are able to ‘appreciate’ a Leonardo da Vinci painting for it to be exclusive enough.  But if I own a Leonardo, I can lord it over you and feel superior, because you may only go and see in in a museum.  In visiting a museum, you’re trying to reproduce the experience of owning it, but you know that this isn’t as good.  I think that’s probably as true of the English upper classes than the French.  After all, the English aristocracy let us into their stately homes, so that they can be certain we know that they have lots of nice paintings and we don’t.

Bernard Villemot vintage poster 1960
Bernard Villemot, 1960

He also argues that art objects are particularly key examples of the way the upper classes distinguish themselves, because while they take a long time to know about and appreciate properly, they are, in the end, pointless.

[I could type that bit out but it’s fairly headache-inducing, let me know if you want to see it, it’s on p281 of my edition.]

Nonethless, the upper classes don’t get it all their own way.  These views can be challenged or subverted.  And the people who are most likely to do it, are those with plenty of cultural capital but less material capital.  Plenty of good taste, but no money.   The problem – as Bourdieu sees it – is that these people like ‘good’ art but can’t buy it.

But in the absence of the conditions of material possession, the pursuit of exclusiveness has to be content with developing a unique mode of appropriation.

The trick is to find ways round this, either by liking things differently or – and can you see where this is going – liking different things.

Intellectuals and artists have a special prediliction for the most risky, but also most profitable strategies of distinction, those which consist in asserting the power, which is peculiarly theirs, to constitute insignificant objects as works of art.

So if I can’t afford a Picasso, I’m damn well going to go and define something else as a work of art.  And then own it.

Herbert Leupin 1956 from van Sabben Agfa poster
Herbert Leupin, 1956

Now, Bourdieu wrote the book in 1962, and I would argue that there are more people than just intellectuals and artists playing this game now.  More and more people have no choice.  Fine art prices have risen so much that only oligarchs can think of buying the real thing these days.  Yes you could go down the Walter Benjamin route and buy yourself a print – and plenty of people do.  But not everyone wants to do that, for whatever reasons.  (In my own case, Bourdieu would blame the accumulation of cultural capital caused by a spell at art college, with the distinct lack of economic capital caused by the kind of career which results.)

So if we (if you are with me on this) want to buy art, we have to designate something else as art.  So how about posters?  They are originals, they are limited, they have the patina of age.  We can collect them and display them in our homes, we don’t have to go to galleries to see them.  We can, in short, be as upper class and tasteful as we like without having to pay a million pounds for the privilege.

Herbert Leupin poster 1952 van sabben
Herbert Leupin, 1952

I think that there are a few peculiarly British twists to the story, though.  One is the way that the left-minded section of English upper-middle classes have always rather enjoyed defining themselves against the aristocracy, and so have repeatedly embraced modernism as deliberate snub to posh people’s gilding and decoration (the Herbivore tendency of the Festival of Britain is a classic example of this kind of person in operation).  The other is the simple fact that the British tend to have a very small aristocracy (compared to the French bourgeoisie) and a huge, squeezed middle class that can’t afford a grand house and a Van Dyck and there have always been a lot of people who to find another way round good taste.

Herbert Leupin poster 1947

If that’s fascinated you and you’d like to read the whole darn thing, well you can, here, thanks to the wonders of the internet.  Don’t all rush at once.

Next week, Empire Marketing board posters from the pleasingly thin book, and, so help me, even more posters for sale.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering about the images, not only are they all very French, but they’re also all for sale at the next Van Sabben poster auction on December 11th so you can buy them too.  If you’ve got the material capital to afford them.

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Posters are good for you

A brief update today on my wonderings about why some posters survive and others don’t.

I’ve heard back from the Guinness archive in Dublin.  And while Guinness never sold their posters, they were very much available to the general public.

Guinness first began advertising in 1929 and once the Company began advertising Guinness posters were produced in vast quantities and made available to both the general public and publicans. The Company very much encouraged members of the public to write into the company to obtain their copies of Guinness posters and as a result posters were produced in vast quantities throughout the decades.

Guinness christmas poster Gilroy 1958

They also sent over a useful factsheet about Guinness advertising.  I had no idea that Gilroy produced posters for them from 1934 (only five years after the company began advertising at all) until 1961.

John Gilroy Guinness resort poster 1961

This was his last poster for the company, in 1961.  The same year, they produced their first ever photographic poster.  These two facts may have something to do with each other.

So thanks to Deirdre and Eibhlin at the Guinness archive for the information, it’s very much appreciated.

Gilroy vintage Guinness poster 1952

In some ways, if they were giving the posters away for free, I’m surprised that there aren’t more of them kicking around now.

Although a quick trawl through the records made me realise, to my surprise, that Mr Crownfolio and I have owned ten Guinness posters at various points in time.  But we’ve ended up selling most of them.  I think this is mostly because they’re great posters but not quite our sort of thing, even this Lander from 1956.

Eric Lander Guinness poster 1956

And the ones that are, were just too big to put on the wall.

Abram Games 5 million Guinness poster

But we have kept a couple This is on the wall (in fact in the collection of animal posters that climb the stairs),

Guinness Seal Tom Eckersley poster 1956

because it’s one of my favourite posters ever, as well as being a reasonable size.  We also have this Raymond Tooby next to it,

Ramond Tooby Guinness toucan poster 1957

That wins mainly because the television aerial on the nest is such a brilliant 1957 detail.

But once again, all of these posters are here because the company involved distributed the posters to the public above and beyond the numbers they used for actual advertising.  It certainly seems that this is one of the key factors in numbers of posters surviving.

The exceptions to this may be World War Two and National Savings posters, which I left off the original post but which do survive in some numbers.  Perhaps people were aware, even at the time, of the historical significance of wartime posters and so kept them?  Although that isn’t much of an explanation for National Savings posters – were these perhaps distributed to savings groups as well as being displayed?  Or is there another reason that I am missing?  Any ideas?

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Enough already

Will everyone just stop it please.  Right now.  Because I can’t keep up.

Alma Faulkner vintage London Transport poster 1925 tennents auction

Yes, this kind of thing.  It’s a 1925 Underground poster by Alma Faulkner, and what it signifies is that yet more high quality London Transport posters are up for auction.  As if we hadn’t had enough already

These are at Tennants Auctioneers up in Yorkshire, and although there are only a few of them (in a huge general sale), they’re all rather splendid.

Particularly interesting are these two, both by Andre Marty and from 1931.

Andre Marty vintage london transport poster 1931 from tennants auction

Andre Marty vintage london transport poster 1931 from tennants auction

They’re intriguing not just because they’re good, which they are, but also because they form part of a quad poster series, all designed to be hung together.  Which I had never heard of until now

Andre Marty vintage london transport poster 1931 from LT museum

There are a few on the London Transport Museum site, including, to my surprise, this one.

Anthony Blunt did posters you know and here are four of them stuck together

Which is by Anthony Blunt.  Well knock me down.

But the most interesting lot of all has, of course, no images with it.

Six Small London Transport Advertising Posters, for both underground and bus, lithographed in colours, comprising Wimbledon Championships by Phylis Bray, Richmond Royal Horse Show, Derby Day, Aldershot Tatto by E A Marty, The Royal Tournament, Olympia by E A Marty and Ascot Summer by Walter E Spredbery, various sizes, in matching frames

Guide Price: £300-500

Bray Wombledon london transport posters 1938

marty Aldershot tattoo poster 1933

It’s not the work of too long to track them down – although it would still be nice to see the real thing.

So if you missed out at Christies, you know where to go.  And as all of the single posters above are estimated at £100-£200, you may also get more poster for your buck too.

Should you be interested, there’s also this rather good Bawden print too.

Edward Bawden print from Tennants

Along with another Bawden, and two John Pipers too.  Estimate £300-500 for that Bawden, a bit less for the others.

There’s more too, much more, but I’ve run out of time for today.  More auctions when I can face it, something different tomorrow.

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Didn’t they do well?

Thirty thousand pounds.

HErbert Bayer vintage 1930 exhibition poster from Christies sale

For what is, in the end, just a piece of printed paper.

I know I’m a fine person to be saying anything of the sort, but it does seem a bit absurd.  Mind you, I’m possibly think that £20,000 for this Dupas is even more absurd, because I do quite like the Bayer.

Jean Dupas Hyde Park vintage London Transport poster 1930 from Christies

That had an estimate of £7,000-9,000, which gives you a pretty good index of how Christies Friday poster sale went.  Most of the lots I was watching went for way over their estimate, including the idiosyncratic Polunin which I blogged about a few weeks ago.

Vladimir Polunin Electricity supercedes St Christopher Vintage London Transport poster 1934 from Christies

Writing about it made me look at it carefully, and I decided I rather wanted it.  Perhaps for the low end of its £700-900 estimate though; definitely not so much that I was prepared to pay over £2,000.

So are there any conclusions to take from this wild flurry of spending?  In some ways (and despite the fact that we could afford nothing at all as a result) I’m quite pleased to see posters going for high prices again.  In the last few sales I’ve watched, things have been pushed to even reach their estimates.  Whether this was a result of the recession, or a sign that the poster collectors market had reached its peak was hard  to judge. Whatever the reason though, it wasn’t a problem this time round.  Of course this may just be a blip – the bidding madness engendered by a really good collection can’t be disregarded – so we shall have to see where the next few sales take us.

Severin vintage London transport poster 1938 from Christies
Mark Severin, 1938, fetched £4,000

Mr Crownfolio – who watched the whole thing go by on his computer as he worked – thought that the sale also marked an interesting change in taste.  For once the countryside scenes didn’t seem to be the ones fetching the high prices; instead the metropolitan posters were doing better.  So this little Austin Cooper bunny only fetched £250, well below its estimate.   (Now I am really surprised about this, although given my prediliction for posters of slightly fey animals, I may not be the best person to judge.)

Austin Cooper vintage London Transport poster bunny rabbit 1928

While T.S. Eliot on an overstuffed armchair below fetched £4,000 – when it had been estimated to go for less than the Cooper.

Frederick Charles Herrick, Lap of Luxury vintage London Transport poster 1925 from Christies

Mr Crownfolio suggested that perhaps this means that there is a new set of collectors coming into the market, urban professionals who like modernism and cityscapes rather than those – whoever they were – who wanted restful rural scenes.  It’s an interesting thought, and we shall see if the trend holds.

In other news, size isn’t everything.  This, which is by Percy Drake Brookshaw in his less lurid phase, doesn’t even measure 12″ x 20″ but went for £1,250.

Percy Drake Brookshaw footbal London Transport vintage poster 1928

I’d say the football connection might be driving the price up, but then this similarly-sized Charles Paine went for £3,500 too.

Charles Paine vintage London Transport boat race poster 1925 from Christies

I rather like the disclaimer, presumably to stop Oxonians complaining that Cambridge were in the lead.

While we’re here, I also failed to notice this rather good Norman Weaver in the tail end of the lots.  It’s more stylised than most of his work and rather pleasing on the eye.

Norman Weaver BOAC poster 1950s

It went for £1,000 – over estimate once more.

Which leads me to my main conclusion for the day.  Lots of people have way more money than we do to spend on posters.  Any other thoughts, anyone?

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Commentary

Today, I’m turning the blog over to the floor, because there have been lots of interesting comments recently.  Some of them are thought-provoking enough to need whole blog posts in reply (like yesterday’s).  But there are also plenty more which deserve attention too.  So here goes.

Hans Unger vintage GPO TV licence poster 1954
Hans Unger, GPO, 1954

Firstly, the post on Hans Unger and his life attracted an evocative reminiscence from D.E., which I definitely didn’t want to leave languishing at the bottom of an old post from last month.

I lived in Hans’s house in Muswell Hill with my parents from shortly before his death until the late 70s. Hans rented us the upstairs of his semi-detatched, furnished the whole place for us all the way down to the linens, plates, and cutlery, and was very kind. My mum, herself a Jewish escapee from Nazi Europe, and an artist, marveled at him and his work. It wasn’t long after we moved in, sadly, that we became concerned at not seeing him for a few days, and… well… led to his discovery with a bottle of sleeping pills by his bedside, with a goodbye note. Needless to say, shocking for a 14 year old. Still, we stayed in the house for about 4 more years, and had Hans’s giant outdoor mosaic to look at in the back yard, the stained glass over the front door, and several of his LT posters scattered throughout the house.

Hans’s spirit was complemented well by the woman who moved into the lower part of the house afterwards. I believe that she knew Hans, and herself was a Jewish South African illustationist – Lixi Darvall. She filled the house with art and laughter, but sadly, she too died while we lived there, in her case from cancer.

I remember the house well, full of art and artists, and of the odd collection of Jewish survivors, and am fond of all those creations by these wonderful people.

It’s wonderful to hear him remembered as a person as well as a designer.

Hans Unger vintage London Transport poster Christopher Wren 1957
Hans Unger, London Transport (half of pair poster), 1957

But comments can also be corrections, and I was put right after complaining that a whole host of London Transport posters on eBay didn’t look linen mounted to me.  I now know that I was wrong, as Martin Steenson told me that old-fashioned linen mountings were often trimmed to the size of the poster.  Mike Ashworth gave an explanation of just why these particular posters might have been mounted this way, too.

I suspect many of the posters such as these currently on sale at Ebay have, over time, been released from the spares held by the old LT Publicity stocks by the LT Museum. I recall that many of these ‘information’ posters (rather then pictorial posters) were linen backed so that they could be trimmed and then used on a more semi-permanent basis at offices, stops, etc. A good example would be the LT ‘you are here’ posters (the area maps for tube stations) that were printed in 10s or 20s (as spares/replacements) and that were seldom replaced. The ‘spares’ were released to dealers etc by LTM some years ago and now show face on Ebay and at dealers – they’re often linen backed, either trimmed or not.

We have this one, also linen mounted, and now I know why it is the way it is, so thank you.

Vintage London Transport poster

Finally, more of an addendum.  When I wrote about Denis Constanduros last week, I couldn’t work out whether the artist of the Shell posters was the same man who went on to adapt Jane Austen for the television in the 1960s.  It turns out – perhaps not surprisingly given his rather less than common name – that it was.

Denis Constanduros long man of wilmington better pic shell poster

I found out thanks to the wonder that is our local library system, which lets me order books online from about six different counties around.  So, from the depths of the Somerset Reserve Stacks, I called up My Grandfather by Denis Constanduros on the offchance that it might reveal something.  I can’t tell you anything about the merits of the book itself yet, but it did contain this biography of Denis himself.

Born in 1910, Denis Constanduros escaped a formal education and had, instead, a succession of private tutors.  He was only 15 when he sold his first cartoon caricatures of Wimbledon players and characters to the press.  Later, he went to Chelsea Art School and produced Shell posters at the same time as Graham Sutherland and McKnight Kauffer.

At the age of 27, he had his first radio play produced, although he had already collaborated with his aunt, Mabel Constanduros, on some of the Buggins Family sketches.

The mother of Denis Constanduros was a daughter of Richard Tilling of the successful Tillings Transport group.  The two daughters married two sons of the Constanduros family.  Denis’ father was an unqualified architect and a compulsive gambler, and his mother and father parted company after the First World War.

In 1938, Denis Constanduros married Barbara Neill and moved to Wiltshire.  Classified unfit, although he had at one time been mixed doubles champion of Portugal, he spent much of the Second World War working in the office of a munitions factory.  in 1948, he had his first television play accepted and My Grandfather was published.

The West Country radio serial Denis Constanduros created and wrote, At the Luscombes ran for 16 years. He adapted many classic novels for television during the 1960s and 1970s, including works by H.G. Wells, Henry James and Jane Austen, and died in 1978.

Denis Constanduros Farmers Prefer Shell poster

So now we know.  The Shell Art Collection at Beaulieu tells me that he did six artworks for Shell, but I haven’t been able to find images of any of the others.  Still, these two are so lovely that I, for one, am very happy to see them again.

Finally, a dilemma, posed by “mm” last week.

I’ve got mixed feelings about all this pre-auction promotion…Of course, if you alert me to something I’ve missed it’s great. But if you alert everyone else to something I’ve spotted and I’m hoping has slipped under everyone elses radar it’s not so good! I’m not sure what the answer is…Only discuss items post auction?

Now I have to admit that I have the advantage here, because if I spot a potential bargain coming up, I do only mention it once the auction has been and gone – as with the Constanduros above.  Which means that I can’t really judge this one fairly.  Although my personal suspicion is that no one takes the blindest notice of what I write on here, and one of these days I’m going to go back over all of the things I’ve highlighted on eBay to prove this, as I will happily bet that loads of them don’t even get a bid.

But what do you think?  Would you rather hear about auctions coming up and take the risk that I might reveal one of your carefully-spotted bargains?  Or would you rather I shut up until it’s been and gone?  And have you ever gone for something because I mentioned it?  Answers in the box below, if you don’t mind.

While I write this, incidentally, the Christies Auction is rattling away in the corner of Mr Crownfolio’s screen and it is officially Going Bonkers, with everything way over estimate.  More next week.

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