That’s Shell, that was

I really wish I hadn’t started this post now.  It was meant to be a simple one about stuff on eBay, and now it’s gone and turned into a mystery.

The beginning was this poster, which ended two days ago.  Along with a confession.

Shell Poster Long Man of Wilmington Denis Constanduros

Which is that I didn’t actually mention it while it was on sale, on the off-chance that it went un-noticed and we could pick it up for a pittance.  Some chance – six bidders and twenty bids pushed it up to £412.  I almost wish that we’d gone that high.

So, piqued, I started investigating Denis Constanduros.  It turns out that he also did this rather lovely rendering of Llanthony Abbey (one of my favourite places anyway) for Shell.

Denis Constanduros Llanthony Abbey Shell poster

As well as this Farmers Prefer Shell poster too.  Which, although very pretty, I find a bit odd because looks as though someone’s just being eaten by the machinery.

Denis Constanduros Farmers Prefer Shell poster

But that’s about it.   His only artistic remains seem to be those three Shell posters, all probably pre-war.  So what’s the problem, you say?

Well there’s also a Denis Constanduros who wrote a 1940s radio serial called ‘At the Luscombes’ about West Country village life (by coincidence, set no more than ten or so miles from here, in a place I drive through quite regularly).  Who then – unless there’s a third Denis Constanduros which I have to say seems pretty unlikely – worked throughout the 1960s and 70s on adapting classic books for television, particularly Jane Austen.  That Denis Constanduros died in 1978.  But is it all the same one?  Did he just do a few posters and then go off into writing, in the style of an earlier Patrick Tilley?  I do not have the foggiest idea, the internet is just confusing me and the Shell Poster Book says nothing at all.  Can anyone else shed any light?

I’m bothered not just because it’s not making sense and so needs sorting out, but also because these three posters are all really rather good.  They’re very much of their late-1930s period, but in a good way, with echoes of Ravilious in the style and colours.  And also in the subject matter of course; Ravilious wasn’t just a painter of chalk hills, but also drew the Long Man himself too.

Eric Ravilious the Long Man of Wilmington

So it seems a pity that Constanduros never painted much more than his Shell posters.  But then, if it was him who went on to write ‘At the Luscombes” and adapt classic novels for television, his journey was very much that of his times.  Before the war, the poster was king.  But afterwards, the new, shiny, exciting broadcast media took all the glory; if you had the talent for it, who wouldn’t have made the switch.  Posters were no longer the place for a smart young man to be any more, there were new and more exciting furrows to plough.

One final note, and that’s the price.  Its not remarkable for itself – it’s a fine poster and well worth the money.  But it is remarkable for having been achieved where it was – I can’t remember having seen a poster match the price it would have reached at a specialist poster auction on eBay before.   Not that many of that quality turn up, but still, it’s an interesting precedent.  (I can’t be bothered to do the maths, but I wonder how the eBay selling fees compare to  Christies charges.  Not that well, I should have thought…)

And, having said that these things don’t turn up very often, there in fact a couple more classics out there right now.  This Henrion,

HEnrion 1950s London Transport poster as seen on our walls

And this John Bainbridge too.

John Bainbridge 1950s London Transport poster

They’re both from the same seller, and it will be interesting to see how they go.

The Bainbridge, meanwhile, is also being offered by Sotherans at the moment.  for £895.  If eBay can scale those heights, that really would be a turn up for the books.

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Keep the noise down

We’re all about selling this week on Quad Royal.  Partly because time for contemplation is a bit thin on the ground, but also because there’s a lot of stuff about demanding our attention.

Firstly, Fougasse.

Fougasse YWCA World War two poster

Quite a number of his posters are currently being sold by a dealer called Neil Jennings.  Now I wouldn’t usually bother you with this kind of thing, but these are quite an impressive set.

Fougasse NSPCC poster world war two

To start with, they’re not the most reproduced examples of his work (there are some that I haven’t seen before; but then Mr Crownfolio says he’s come across them all, so I clearly haven’t been paying proper attention).

Fougasse Wartime blackout poster

They’re also interesting because of their provenance, which is from the family.  Hence the pristine condition.

Clatter does matter Fougasse post war hospital poster

Finally, I do rather like the series that he did about noise for hospitals, not just because they’re less common and I hate extraneous noise, but also because the one below is curiously modern.

Clatter does matter fougasse hospital poster

And I’ve definitely never seen it before.

I’m not sure why I’m being nice to Neil Jennings, though.  He waved this in front of me.

Barbara Jones Black Eyes 1951 exhibition poster

Now I’ve raved about this before.  It’s Barbara Jones’ poster for the exhibition she curated as part of the Festival of Britain, and it’s one of the very small list of posters that Mr Crownfolio and I would buy at almost any price.  I didn’t think I’d ever see it turn up, to be honest.  But Neil Jennings has only gone and sold it already.  Humph.

Elsewhere in the world of dealerism, something which is definitely not for me but I will tell you about as it is slightly out of the normal run of things.  The Travelling Art Gallery, who mostly deal in carriage prints, are selling seven Norman Wilkinson original art works.

Norman Wilkinson Cairngorms LMS original painting for poster

This is his painting for the 1930 LMS poster of the Cairngorms below.

Norman Wilkinson Cairngorm mountains LMS Poster 1930

These come with a good story, too.  All seven were apparently found down the back of a wardrobe in North London.  A wardrobe which did once belong to an LMS official, so that’s a fair kind of provenance.

They have been priced quite highly though.  The Cairngorms artwork has a reserve of £2,500, whereas the poster itself went for just £400 at Morphets earlier this year, so we’ll have to see whether or not Wilkinson’s reputation means that his artwork commands that high a premium over the poster when most don’t.  Although the way that the auction is being conducted – bids to be sent in before the 31st October – means that we might in fact never find out.  I imagine poster collectors and Wilkinson fans will find that a bit of a shame.

I have to say that I prefer the slightly enhanced contrast and colour of the poster to the original artwork itself.  But I may be in a minority there.

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Put it there

What do these four posters have in common?

John Burningham for London Transport vintage poster autumn
John Burningham, London Transport, 1961

Andre Amstutz Camping Coaches poster British Railways
Andre Amstutz, British Railways, 1956

Royal Blue Daphne Padden Coach Poster c1957
Daphne Padden, Royal Blue Coaches, c. 1957

McKnight Kauffer for Shell 1934
Edward McKnight Kauffer, Shell, 1934

Well, three out of the four of them are on the walls here, but you’re not really expected to know that.  Perhaps more to the point is that they represent four out of the five areas of ‘collectable’ posters: railways, London Underground, Shell and coach* posters (the fifth for me would be World War Two posters, for what it’s worth).

*This may be wishful thinking on my part, but we do seem to have quite a lot of them now (thanks to Malcolm Guest, mainly) and so they are at very least collectable by us.  Anyone else?

But those four areas also share something more than just being collectable.  In each case the companies they are advertising owned the hoardings that the posters went on.

South Kensington Station January 1938

That’s reasonably obvious for the bus, tube and train stations – but Shell posters were also designed to be displayed on the vans which delivered petrol to the garages.

Shell van displaying poster on side 1925

Now set down like that it doesn’t seem like so much of a blinding revelation.  But it isn’t, as far as I know, something which has been much commented on.  And yet it had a big impact on their posters.

The most obvious example is that all of these companies had a much greater incentive to produce posters than anyone else.  Not only was this in effect a subsidised form of advertising for them, but they also needed to churn them out in order to fill up spaces when they hadn’t sold enough commercial advertising.

Enfield West station with advertising visible

Here’s Enfield West Station in 1934, with a McKnight Kauffer poster for Eno’s Salts clearly visible on the hoardings.

They also continued to produce posters in great numbers later on, when the poster had ceased to be the main medium for advertising, because the spaces were still there and still needed filling.

In addition, there may have been more reason for the companies  to produce ‘artistic’ and possibly also more subtle posters, because this will have a very direct effect on the station environment.  Although this probably worried Frank Pick more than it did the owners of Victoria Coach Station.

Victoria Coach Station 1962

I’ve also read an interesting suggestion that in the early days, London Underground commissioned lots of posters of wide open spaces to counteract the perceived claustrophobia of the tube, but I don’t think there’s any proof of that.

Burnham Beeches walter spradbury 1912
Burnham Beeches, Walter Spradbury 1912

Now originally this was going to be my only point, that all of these people owned their hoardings and so had to invest more in posters and poster design than other companies, which in turn may be one reason why their posters are collectable.  And that this hadn’t really been noted until now.

But then I found a really interesting article by David Watts (insert Jam or Kinks record into your head here as you wish) about pre-war depictions of Yorkshire in railway posters.  It’s an exemplary look at how posters worked and were consumed, rather than just what they looked like, and backed up by a ton of research.  The world of posters could do with a lot more of this kind of rigorousness (not that I’m volunteering to read 200 volumes of railway company internal correspondence, you understand).

One of his points is that the context of railway posters is all-important.  They didn’t need to have pictures of trains on, because they were posted up in stations.  The fact that they were advertising railway travel rather than just the location pictured could be asssumed.

Woodhall Spa vintage railway poster
Andrew Johnson, no date

The same is true of London Transport posters.  They can just say Go to Uxbridge.

Uxbridge London Transport poster Charles Paine, 1921
Charles Paine, 1921

That you’d use the underground to do so is implicit in the fact that the poster is displayed at a tube station.

But, as Watts points out, this contextualisation of the posters has other implications.

…omitting any visual reference to rail travel allowed posters to be detached easily from their ‘mundane commercial purpose’.

So the companies, as I’ve mentioned before, could promote their posters as examples of good design for the masses, and even as fine art, in part because they didn’t need to say Go By Train in large letters at the bottom.

Now Watts argues that this made railway posters at least a rather poor form of advertising.  And he does put forward some evidence that the train companies themselves thought this way by the early to mid 1930s too.  Images of trains, or at least the idea of train travel did become more prominent after then – as in the Tom Purvis that is coming up at Christies next month.

Tom Purvis 193o LNER poster

But he also says – and I think that this is entirely right – that the fact that the posters were semi-detached from their commercial purposes is one of the factors that has made them so collectable.  They exist in a limbo between fine art and outright commercialism, and are so more appealing than an advertisement for Eno’s Fruit Salts or Gilette Razors.

Although it is worth remembering that it’s only because the companies were promoting them as ‘art’ that these posters are available to collect at all.  Shell, Underground and railway posters were all available for sale to the public when they were first produced, so they do survive in attics and collections, while the most commercial billboard posters weren’t and so aren’t.  (I’ve mentioned this in passing before, but really ought to pull together all the sources on this one day, because it’s not said often enough.  Even here.)

But I think there’s also another way in which the context affected railway posters in particular (although the same is probably also true of London Transport and coach posters to some degree as well).  Watts points out how much the railway posters are selling an image of ‘deep’ England, by which he means an archaic, un-modernised and highly rural vision of the countryside.  Now whenever this vision is called up at this time, it is almost always intended as a direct contrast to the modernity, ribbon development and speed of the 1920s and 30s.

Edwin Byatt Vintage railway poster 1940
Edwin Byatt, 1940

But in the railway station, that contrast is always there anyway.  Most of these poster would have been displayed in an urban setting, and even where they were put up at local stations, there was the machinery and bustle of the railway itself.  So the posters are also using their context to suggest that there is an alternative, an escape.  And that’s something else that they don’t need to spell out in words at the bottom.

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By the book

As things stand this morning, this is a bit of a bargain.

Tom Eckersley Poster Design book from eBay

And that’s even with £10 or so of shipping from the U.S, but then it does tend to go for £50 or so on Abebooks or eBay over here.  When you can find it at all.

Although I’ve posted a few of my favourite images from the book before now, I’ve never really gone into much detail about it.

But the seller has photographed it well, and it shows one of my favourite things about Poster Design.

Inside of Eckersley poster design book from eBay

In it, Eckersley isn’t just writing about his own work, he’s generous in his praise of many of the other designers who were working at the same time (on this page Bernard Cheese, Pat Keely, Lewitt-Him and Cassandre as well as Eckersley himself).

And the book is like this throughout.  Here’s another page of his generosity.

inside page from Tom Eckersley poster design

I like to think that this is a reflection of his personality as a whole; people who knew Eckersley say that he was both modest and kind.  It’s good to know that we can still see that for ourselves.

GPO poster Tom Eckersley Cable Canada 1957

While also remembering that he was also rather good at designing too.

[Addendum.  Mr Crownfolio has pointed out that the Herbert Bayer looked rather familiar for something that was just in his portfolio.  So he went and found it.

Chemical Brothers album cover

The artist is Kate Gibb, who doesn’t seem to have been too vocal about her appropriation of Herbert Bayer.  But it has been noticed elsewhere.]

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With this post, I am coming dangerously close to heckling myself.  Worse, I am heckling myself about railways and railwayana.  So I shall keep it brief; those of you with a sensitive disposition should look away now.

Last week I mentioned this poster, which is coming up for sale at Christies next month.  I wondered what this train was, and whether I could ride on it.

marc Severin, 1947 British Railways poster for Devon Belle

I had thought I might be deluged with very detailed answers from People Who Know about Railways, but I wasn’t, so I had to find out for myself.

First and most important fact is that this is the back of the train not the front – an observation car rather than an engine.  So it is a bit less like something from the 1947 World’s Fair than I had thought.

Pretty much everything else you might want to know about the Devon Belle can be found on Wikipedia and elsewhere, right down to what the observation cars were before they were made for the train (one was originally an ambulance car from the First World War, which is a pretty creative piece of recycling).  It was meant to be a glamourous and luxurious train, but back in the austerity days of 1947, the travelling public weren’t very keen to pay a supplement for all of that flummery, so it only lasted until 1954.

But before that, British Transport Films made a film about the Devon Belle, and you can see some stills from that at the Science and Society Picture Library if you want.  I’ve tried looking for the film itself on YouTube, but have only found a rather considerable amount of footage of people giving their Hornby Devon Belle’s a turn around the model track.  Which isn’t quite the same.

But that doesn’t matter though, much more important is that the answer to my second question is yes.  Both the Devon Belle’s observation cars are still preserved and so yes I can ride on them.  They’re not too far away from me either, at Swanage and Dartmouth.

Devon Belle observation car running at Dartmouth

Although looking at this picture of it running close to the edge in Dartmouth I may opt for genteel Swanage instead.  I don’t have a good head for heights.

Now, on the one hand this is just a brief digression on the subject of rolling stock.  But it’s also a reminder as to why posters can be so interesting.  They’re not just artworks, but they’re also a window into pieces of the past which might otherwise get overlooked.  Not just the histories of a pair of carriages, but the tensions at play in the late 1940s, when the British people desperately wanted a sleek, modern post-war world which looked like the World’s Fair, but were faced with the realisation that they couldn’t really afford it.  All of which sounds just very slightly familiar.

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Right to copy?

We’re all about questions today on Quad Royal.  Or rather, one question in particular: just how much of what is sold in the poster department of eBay is in fact legal?

The reason I’m asking is that, I was playing with the eBay app on the iPad, and so stumbled back into their bottomless pit of poster reproductions.  Normally there’s a whole set of clever filters and searches (operated and maintained by Mr Crownfolio) which means that I don’t even notice that these items exist.  But on the iPad, none of this is set up, and so an idle search for ‘vintage poster’ reminded me of the sheer volume of prints, giclee prints and A3 photocopies that are out there should you want them.

They range from reasonable quality,

Paignton GWR reproduction of vintage poster from eBay

to ones where even the seller isn’t convinced about the reproduction.

Clevedon reproduction of vintage railway poster from eBay

These posters are meant to be affordable reproductions of vintage posters that are rare and hard to acquire elsewhere. There are more expensive and higher quality prints out there. Our posters look great on the wall but may not stand up to a thorough examination. I fully admit the small print may be blurred and slight pixelation may occur on certain prints. These are fun items, not works of art.

Despite that write-up, he is still selling them.  By the hundreds every month, judging from his feedback.

But I’m not asking philosophical questions about the relative values of reproductions versus originals this time.  I’m just wondering how legal these are?

Jack Merriott 1959 British Railways poster reproduced on eBay

The basics of copyright are quite simple, that if an artist died after 1945, their work is protected for 70 years after their death.  Which means that if a seller is selling a print of a 1950s railway poster (for £4.99, printed on a photocopier or bubblejet printer), there is a reasonable chance that they are infringing copyright somewhere along the way.  The example above, incidentally, is by Jack Merriott, who died in 1968).

But what happens after that?  Do you need to be the legal owner of a piece to have the right to reproduce it? Let’s take this 1923 poster by Grainger Johnson as an example.

Grainger Johnson Fort William poster from eBay

No one seems to know much about him and his biography, so we will be generous and assume it is out of copyright.  Does that then make it fair game for the eBay copyists?  Or do they need to own a copy of the poster in order to have the right to reproduce it?  I don’t know, and I would like to.

The next question is whether the nature of a commercial contract changes copyright too?  (This link seems to suggest it does).  So if a poster is commissioned by Shell, or London Transport or British Railways, do they still own the rights over the image?  And for how long – for the same 70 years as the artist or until the company ceases to exist?

Vintage London Transport Poster Charles Burton Trooping the Colour 1930 copy from eBay

In other words, can these reproduce this 1930 Charles Burton as much as they like on their bubblejet printer, or should London Transport be consulting a lawyer?

Finally, is this also true of Crown Copyright, in particular where this applies to the huge number of World War Two posters which are being reproduced?

Vintage WW2 poster copied on eBay

Questions, questions.  But can anyone out there help me answer them?

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