Going Underground

So, the Christies auction.  Which is coming up on 5th November.

I do have to admit that I was a bit hard on it last week when I said that it didn’t containg anything I was interested in.  This is not true, it just doesn’t have anything I can afford.

Austin Cooper 1933 London Transport Poster
Austin Cooper, 1933, est £800-1,200*

I think my cynicism might have been caused by Christies’ brand new ‘cool wall’ technology, which does let you browse through whole swathes of an auction at once (screenshot below).  It moves and tilts and does all sorts of other fancy things too that I can’t show on here.

Christies poster wall screen shot

All of which has the side-effect of reducing the posters to small coloured blobs which are quite easy to dismiss.  But I now have a PDF of the catalogue, which means that I like it a great deal more.

Picadilly express McKnight Kauffer London Transport poster 1932
McKnight Kauffer, 1932, est £600-800

What I like most is the first hundred lots or so.  These are a stunning collection of pre-war London Transport posters, which all come, apparently, from one collection.

Vintage London Transport poster Betty Swanwick 1936
Betty Swanwick, 1936, est £600-800*

Lucky them, because it’s an incredible selection.  I can hardly pick out my favourites.  But I rather like the type on the Pears boats below.

Charles Pears London Transport poster 1935
Charles Pears, 1935, est £600-800

While this is just fantastic in every which way: subject, image, title and general un-Britishness.

Vladmir Polunin 1934 London Transport poster
Vladmir Polunin, 1934, est £700-900*

What’s interesting (if you’re me, at least) is that I had several of these posters on my wall when I was a student – only as postcards mind you.

Alan Rodgers London Transport poster 1930
Alan Rogers, 1930, est £600-800*

Frederick Manner 1929 London Transport poster
Frederick Manner, 1929, est £800-£1,200

Annie Fletcher, London Transport poster 1926
Annie Fletcher, 1926, est £1,500-2,000

But I don’t think there has ever been a time when I could have afforded them (or indeed anything else nice from the period) so I ended up collecting, and interested in, post-war design.  It goes to show how much taste is formed by necessity as much as pure aesthetic appreciation.

I shall also, have to mourn, once more, that I never bought one of this pair when it was for sale for considerably less than that at Rennies.

Edward Wadsworth London Transport pair poster 1936
Edward Wadsworth, 1936, est £1,00o-£1,500

It is also my duty to point out that there are not one but two rather good Edward Bawdens up for sale too, should you have a couple of thousand pound burning a hole in your pocket.

Edward Bawden London Transport poster 1936
Edward Bawden, 1936, est £800-1,200

Edward Bawden London Transport poster 1936
Edward Bawden, 1936, est £600-800

Other than the swathes of London Transport joy, there are some railway posters, which are generally the usual suspects, apart from this Tom Purvis, from a series that I have always rather liked.

Tom Purvis 193o LNER poster
Tom Purvis, 1930, est £600-800

And this train-nerdy one which looks like a vision of the future rather than anything to do with British Railways.  Does anyone know if it ever actually ran? And can I go on it?

marc Severin, 1947 British Railways poster

Then there is the usual miscellany of Mucha, foreign travel and other odds and ends, of which these two Herbert Bayers are probably the most interesting.

Herbert Bayer 1930 Exhibition poster
Herbert Bayer, 1930, est £1,000-£1,500

Herbert Bayer Olivetti 1953 poster
Herbert Bayer, 1953, est £1,000-£1,500

Despite all of these wonderful things, I am nonetheless still going to complain. And, as usual, my complaint is about Christies’ minimum lot price.  It’s supposed to be £800, although given the number of posters estimated at £600-800, they’ve clearly softened their line a bit these day.

It has two rather unfortunate effects.  One is that there is very little post-war design about at all – and what there is ain’t British.  Apart from the Herbert Bayer above, there are a few kitschy railway posters and then these two rather fabulous American posters by Stan Galli from 1955 and 1960.

stan Galli california poster 1955

Stan Galli Los Angeles poster 1960

But that’s your lot, and I, for one, am disappointed.

The other, and perhaps more serious one, is that there are far too many multiple lots.  For example, the Alan Power Speed poster above, also comes with “two posters by T. Eckersley and E. Lombers”.  Eh?  Surely these are things of value in their own right? And that’s not the only one – Electricity Supercedes St Christopher comes with six, count them, six other London Transport posters. While this fabulous Herry Perry comes with four.

Herry Perry, London Transport poster 1930
Herry Perry, 1930 est £700-900

I’ve asterisked all the ones which are parts of multiple lots, just so you can see precisely how many there are.

Now, why does this annoy me?  One reason is that there are tons of posters in this catalogue that I just can’t look at.  Being based in the sticks, I can’t just wander down to South Kensington and take a look at the other parts of the lots.  Yes, I could interrogate someone at Christies and ask for pictures of all of them (I have their name, and I may just do that), but it rather takes the point out of there being a catalogue.  Furthermore, it seems rather a retrograde step.  One of the great things about the internet is that auctions not only all over Britain but internationally too have become available to everyone.  You no longer need to be there to see what is on offer, and to bid.  But the Christies catalogue takes some of that away from me, and I think it’s a shame.

Perhaps even more problematic, though, is that multiple lots make it harder to value individual posters.  When the Alan Power is sold, will its value be for itself alone, or for the two Eckersley/Lombers which come with it?  How shall we tell what share of the worth comes to them – or perhaps they will be bought by an Eckersley collector who will sell the Power on elsewhere.  Then who can tell what the value of anything is?  Not me, that’s for certain.

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Get Away

Chalet in Lucerne, anyone?

Polytechnic touring association brochure

I know, it’s not a poster and it’s quite early for Quad Royal.  But it’s here for a very good reason.

Anna McNally sent it over, and it’s from the University of Westminster archives. That’s the University of Westminster which used to be the Polytechnic of Central London and before that the Royal Polytechnic Institution.  And which used, rather brilliantly, have its own travel firm, the Polytechnic Touring Association.  Who issued brochures like the lovely one above for their own chalets in Lucerne.  They were big business back then.

But why am I telling you all of this?  Because in the 1950s, the PTA  merged with another large travel firm, and they formed one of the iconic names of the British High Street – Lunn Poly.  So the Poly in Lunn Poly was really a polytechnic.  I think that’s rather wonderful, don’t you?

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You Can Be Sure of Shell

The relationship between archives and the internet is not always a one way street.  What gets most discussion is how, and whether, archives are putting their catalogues and content on line.  But in the meantime, the internet itself is also becoming the archive.

Here’s a fascinating example.  It’s something I’ve touched on before, but it’s such an extraordinary (and well-hidden) resource that it deserves its own post.

Way, way down in the bowels of the Sothebys website, their catalogues now go backfor more than 10 years.  And so they include the 2002 sale of many of the original paintings commissioned by Shell for its post-war educational posters.

Now, this isn’t your typical poster sale.  To start with, Shell didn’t really commission the usual run of poster artists for their educational posters, the people concerned are mostly illustrators.  Some of the finest illustrators working in the 1950s and 60s, to be precise, like David Gentleman, S R Badmin, Tristram Hillier and Rowland Hilder.

Perhaps the best-known illustrations for sale were the images of individual counties, which were covers for the Shell Guides as well as centre-pieces for the associated posters.

S R Badmin original illustration for shell county guide
S R Badmin, Derbyshire

Rowland Hilder Kent illustration for Shell County Guide
Rowland Hilder, Kent

Ian Henderson, Worcester illustration Shell County Guide
Ian Henderson, Worcestershire

Richard Eurich, Cornwall illustration Shell County Guides
Richard Eurich, Cornwall

I don’t think I’ve ever come across the Worcestershire one before (and I would have noticed it if I had, not only is it a great piece of design, but Worcester is where the Crownfolio family came from, back in the day).  The Eurich, meanwhile, was the most expensive of the county illustrations, going for a quite spectacular £12,925.

But detailed illustration did seem to be what the buyers wanted most.  The highest-prices went to the S R Badmin images of trees through the year.  Here’s February (£14,100) and September (£10,340).

S R Badmin trees and shrubs February original shell poster illustration

S R Badmin shell poster illustration trees and shrubs september

Although Tristram Hillier’s Fossils also went for £14,100, but that’s because it’s genius.

Tristram Hillier Fossils shell educational poster illustration

While David Gentleman’s Roads series (which I love almost the best) went for hardly anything.

David Gentleman Ridgeway shell poster llustration

David Gentleman Ermine Street Shell poster illustration

And why Ermine Street fetched £3,290 while the Ridgeway fetched only £999, I will never understand.  Why pay more for tarmac?

But to some degree, the prices aren’t the most interesting thing about the auction.  What I like most about the archive is that it is there at all.  Here, for the last time, all of Shell’s illustrations are gathered together, from the famous ones,

Rowland Hilder Sussex shell County guide poster illustration
Rowland Hilder, Sussex

to some that I never knew existed.

David Conner Rousham Court shell illustration
David Conner, Rousham Court

It should have been a book.  But at least it is still out there on the web.

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How to get there

It’s auction time again.  Or, as an email I received this week would have it, Reminder Poster Auctioneer.

“We are pleased to offer these posters at call prices far below their value.” they go on to say.  ” Don’t hesitate, come and discover for yourself – we are convinced that everybody will find what they are looking for.”

Sadly, we probably won’t though, because they are trying to entice us to bid at a Swiss auction, Swiss not only in the sense of being held in Zurich, but also in that it is almost entirely comprised of Swiss posters.  Hundreds of them.

Hotz Emil	Der Zürcher Oberländer 1961

1955 vintage travel poster	Hausamann Wolfgang Arosa

There are some nice things, like the Emil Hotz and Wolfgang Hausaman above, but nothing really to detain us.  Except of course, being British, a poster that says Pschitt.

Jean Carlu vintage Perrier poster 1952

It shouldn’t be funny, really, but it is.

More locally, though, Cameo Auctions are having a travel, advertising, railway and everything but the kitchen sink auction next week.  And in amongst a soup of Olympics and Austrian travel posters are a couple of real gems.  This Zero from 1947 is my favourite.

Zero Hans Schleger vintage London Transport poster Central Line Western Extention

But for a real modernist design classic, you couldn’t do much better than this – McKnight Kauffer at the peak of his powers in 1922.

McKnight Kauffer winter sales vintage London Transport poster 1922

It has an estimate of £3-5000 though, so I probably won’t be bidding on it.

If that’s a bit too painful for your purse there are also a range of London Transport oddities for a more reasonable price (mostly under £100).  This 1962 poster by J E Kashdan is probably my favourite.

London Transport poster country bus routes surrey 1962 Kashdan

But there are also these three ‘How to Get There posters’ from the same period.

Victoria Davidson vintage London Transport poster 1961

Victoria Davidson vintage London Transport poster 1961

vintage London Transport poster Hans Unger

The first two are by Victoria Davidson, the last by Hans Unger.

Plus this rather over-informative British Railways poster on the subject of freight, by Blake.

Blake 1956 vintage British railways poster freight

But what really grabbed my attention was the close-up of the background.  They really should release that as wall-paper.

Freight poster detail of train pattern

As if that wasn’t enough, Christies have also released the catalogue for their November poster auction.  At first glance, it looks as though the new higher minimum lot price has excluded almost anything that I might be interested in. But I’ll take a proper look at it over the weekend and report back next week.

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1962 and all that

Our subject today is this, which arrived in the post the other day.

International Poster Annual 1962 - cover

It’s a book which does what it says on the cover. Posters, lots of them.  And most of them from 1960 or 1961.  Can’t argue with that.

Unfortunately, the vast majority are reproduced in black and white.  The only artists to earn some colour coverage for Britain are Ronald Searle and Hans Unger.

Ronald Searle rum advertisement from IPA 1962

Unger coach poster IPA 1962

(The Unger is a poster for coach travel, but you’d be hard pressed to guess that as there is no text in the reproduction at all.)

Sadly, most of the rest of the pictures are not only monochrome, but also small; I’ve found better images where I can but, as you will see, this hasn’t always been possible..

Now I do like these kind of annuals, and not simply because they’re a lovely wallow in a golden past of poster design.  It can also be thought-provoking to see a cross-section through time like this.  For a start,  you get a good overview of where design was.

And 1962 turns out to have been quite an interesting time; the whimsy of the mid to late 1950s hadn’t quite departed yet, but the tide of sans-serif modernism was definitely on the rise.  Which means that the Ronald Searle illustration above was paired with these three Alan Fletcher designs on the opposite page.

Alan Fletcher designs in IPA 1962

And London Transport could win commendations for this,

Bartelt vintage london transport poster 1960

as well as this – which was, incidentally, produced by an agency, S.H. Benson Ltd, rather than a designer.

Vintage LT poster S W Benson agency, IPA 1962

The times they are indeed a-changin’.

But there’s another way in which this selection is worth our attention; the posters included are not simply an archaeological sample of posters past, they’re also a picture of what 1962 thought was important then.  Which isn’t always what you might expect now.

There are some things on which past and present do agree.  London Transport posters are good – these two are by Dorrit Dekk and G.B. Karo.

Dorrit Dekk london transport poster from ipa 1962

G B Karo vintage London Transport poster from IPA 1962

In total, over a fifth of the posters shown were designed for London Transport, which is an impressive proportion.  But just to prove that posterity (or archival survival) doesn’t always get it right, there are even more coach posters than there are LT exhibits (by one), including these two Royston Coopers.

Royston Cooper go shopping by bus

Royston Cooper Express coaches to London

The same is true of the designers: Abram Games, Hans Unger, FHK Henrion and Tom Eckersley are also all, unsurprisingly, feted.

Abram Games conducted coach tours London Transport poster 1962

Abram Games for London Transport

Please Pack Parcels Carefully Unger GPO poster

Hans Unger for GPO

But then there are a few designers included that might not be the first to spring into your mind today.  1962 really liked four of these coach posters by Christopher Hill.

Coach poster Christopher Hill from International Poster Annual 1962

Coach poster Christopher Hill from International Poster Annual 1962

His stuff doesn’t seem to come up much these days(apart from at Morphets, of course, what didn’t) but these two are both available at Fears and Kahn for the right kind of money.

I’ve never heard of Donald Smith before at all, but he has five posters in the book in all, including these three very delightful posters for the Post Office Savings Bank below.  (Where is the Post Office Savings Bank archive, does anyone know?)

Donald Smith Posters in IPA 1962

Donald Smith posters in ipa 1962

But most mysterious of all was Barrie Bates.  He had four posters included, and they’re all very striking.

Barrie Bates posters in ipa 1962

Barrie Bates from IPA 1962

So why had he not turned up elsewhere?  It transpires that there was a very good reason for this.  Because in 1962, he became someone else altogether.

Billy Apple artwork

When he came to the end of his graphics course at the Royal College of Art, Barrie Bates bleached his hair and eyebrows in order to become Billy Apple, conceptual and pop artist extraordinaire.

American Supermarket exhibition 1964

This is American Supermarket, the 1964 New York show, a landmark Pop Art exhibition.  With exhibits by, amongst others, Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, Tom Wesselmann, Jasper Johns and one Billy Apple.

Apple/Evans was working for Madison Avenue advertising agents at the same time, which rather pleases me, as he was eliding the difference between product and art even more than the exhibition might have suggested.  And it’s also good to know, given how good his 1962 work was, that he hadn’t given up on graphics altogether.

P.S.  You’ll be pleased to know that Billy Apple is still working as an artist in Auckland, New Zealand, and there is plenty more information about him and his work out there if you’re interested.

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Open wide please

I don’t have time to write complicated posts at the moment, and now I can’t even manage to write the easy post I was going to do because that’s turned all complicated too.  So instead, have these.

1950s dental poster on eBay by Montague Reed

There’s three of them, they’re on eBay (currently and inexplicably with no bids at all) and I think they’re rather lovely.  They’re by Montague Reed, about whom I know nothing at all (and, because he shares his name with a firm of accountants in Bagshot, is almost impossible to Google sensibly).  Has anyone else come across him?

1950s dental poster on eBay by Montague Reed

But Mr Crownfolio says, quite rightly, that we’d never put them up and so why would we buy them?

1950s dental poster on eBay by Montague Reed

He’s right, of course.  Although that still doesn’t explain the other three hundred posters that aren’t on the wall either.

But you could have a go.  As the listing says, why buy a reproduction bit of 50s kitch, when you could have the real thing?

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