Designer O’ Nine Lives

Not for the first time, or indeed the last, we’re exploring the cross-over between children’s illustrations and graphic design of genius, this time in the company of Tom Eckersley.

It seems to be fairly well known that he did the illustrations for a couple of children’s books, but it’s rather harder to actually catch sight of them.

Tom Eckersley illustration for Cat O' Nine Lives

So today, here are some of the illustrations he did for Cat O’Nine Lives back in 1946.

Tom Eckersley illustration for Cat O' Nine Lives frontispiece

Quite apart from the design, the book has an autobiographical interest too.  It was written by his first wife Daisy, and is dedicated “To our sons: Anthony and Richard”.

Tom Eckersley illustration for Cat O' Nine Lives

I haven’t counted all the illustrations, but there are two kinds.  Some are full-page, inserted into the chapters on and with the whole page overprinted so that it is a different colour, like the owl and the artist below.

Tom Eckersley illustration for Cat O' Nine Lives

Tom Eckersley illustration for Cat O' Nine Lives

Then there are smaller illustrations at the start of each chapter.

Tom Eckersley illustration for Cat O' Nine Lives

Some are entirely black and white, a few have a single additional colour.

Tom Eckersley illustration for Cat O' Nine Lives

The paper quality isn’t the greatest, and the book itself is quite small (about 4.75″ x 7″), but given that it was printed just after the war this probably isn’t surprising.

Tom Eckersley illustration for Cat O' Nine Lives

What I find really interesting is how simple his illustrations are at this point in his career.  It’s as though he started out with an almost minimalist style, then became much more complicated and ornamental throughout the 1950s, and then, gradually, he unpicks this to become more and more simple once again.

Tom Eckersley illustration for Cat O' Nine Lives

You will notice that I say nothing about the story.  I quite like cats, but still find it fairly fey going.  But should you ever trip over it in a second hand book shop, don’t let that put you off.  As you can see, it’s worth it for the illustrations alone.

Tom Eckersley illustration for Cat O' Nine Lives

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Auction thoughts

Once the dust had settled, I had hoped to come up with some conclusions about the Morphets bus and train extravaganza of last week.  But the more I look at the results, the more my brain becomes addled.  This isn’t just the result of the scale of it all, although that hasn’t got any better, it’s also because I’m not entirely sure there are that many conclusions to be drawn.

So let’s start with some simple thoughts.  Expensive posters sold for lots of money.

Southport Matania Vintage LMS railway poster

This went for £2400, which is pretty much what I’ve seen it go for every time.

People still like to buy pictures of trains.  It seems that they also like to buy pictures of motorbikes too.

Isle of Man TT racing vintage railway poster

Any other reason for that fetching £300 rather escapes me.

People like pictures which look like real things in general.  So this Riley fetched £500,

Riley Camping coaches vintage railway poster

while the Amstutz of the same subject only went for £240.  (Apparently it is possible to go and stay on restored camping coaches even today.  I must investigate further.)

Amstutz Camping Coaches vintage railway poster

Most of all though, what people like to buy most of all are nice pictures of landscapes which look a bit like proper art.  So posters like these,

River Findhorn vintage railway poster

Scilly Isles Vintage railway poster

are highly desirable and go for £600 and £750 respectively.

This rule seems to work for bus posters too – this Lander reached a very respectable £340.

R M Lander Riches of Britain coach poster

Although even I can see the appeal of that one.

But as I mentioned before, things which looked less like fields and more like design didn’t do so well.  The Paddens, Coopers and their like didn’t reach anything like the prices I expected.  There were a few exceptions to this which are worth taking a look at.

Firstly, kitschy 50s graphics seemed to be selling well – this Bromfield fetched £440.

Bromfield Golden Arrow vintage railway poster

While at a lower level, this rather nice Studio Seven pair fetched £70, more than most coach posters were managing to do.

Studio Seven two hire a coach vintage poster

Even more odd was that, in a complete reversal of the normal situation, artworks fetched more than the original posters.  Royston Cooper’s airport artwork went for £320,

Royston Cooper original artwork for airport coach poster

when you could have picked up the poster, as one of a pair, for £38.

Daphne Padden original artwork for coach poster

While this Daphne Padden ark-work sold for £240, more than any of her individual posters made.  Go figure.

But there was one big exception to the rule that good design didn’t sell – although perhaps not quite so much of an exception considering that it is a picture of a field as well.

Tom Eckersley Lincolnshire vintage railway poster

Tom Eckersley’s Lincolnshire reached £550.  Two readers of this blog battled with us over it – we lost but it’s going to a good home over in Norfolk so I don’t mind.  Not too much anyway.

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Bits, bobs, and Bawden

Although I’ve been mildly obsessed with what’s been happening in Harrogate, life has in fact been going on elsewhere.

This rather wonderful Abram Games poster went past on eBay on Monday, for a what seems like a fair £231.

Abram Games coach poster on eBay

I’ve never seen one out in the wild before, and I approve of it.

Meanwhile, if you do have any money left, a few other posters are also coming up in the next week or so should you fancy them.

Probably  the most interesting is this London Electricity Board poster.  The seller actually has three, but this one by Geoffrey Clarke is my favourite.

LEB/RCA poster from eBay

The listing says that they’re from the late 1940s, and they seem to be from a collaboration between the LEB and the Royal College of Art.  They’re another example of how our history of posters is mostly determined by what survived; these are really interesting attempts to produce posters of cultural worth, just as the GPO or Shell did, but I’ve never come across them before or seen them mentioned.  If anyone can shed any more light on them, I’d be really grateful.

Elsewhere, this slightly odd Geraldine Knight poster is from 1972, with an inital asking price of £30.

Geraldine Knight vintage London Transport poster 1972

The original artwork is pictured on the London Transport Museum site, and it’s a great lump of bronze.  Which may quite possibly make this poster unique.  And I imagine plays havoc with their archiving systems.

Then, in competition for worst eBay picture of the week, there is this Badmin coach design.

SR Badmin ebay coach poster

The seller is hoping for £99, which isn’t entirely unreasonable given the prices that this kind of thing was fetching at Morphets (I wonder if that’s what flushed it out onto eBay or whether it’s a simple coincidence).  But it’s a very high start price, and probably needs a few more photos to do well.  As ever, watch this space.

And then there’s this, which isn’t a poster at all but is so delightful that I can’t resist, and has the added bonus of almost certainly not going for £99.

Greetings Telegram from ebay

It’s from 1962 by James Mawtus-Judd, about whom I can discover precisely nothing at all.  But it’s still lovely

Finally, I’ve been meaning to mention Martin Steenson’s blog for a while.  He has the admirable aim of providing a proper overview of the work of well known artists and designers (as opposed to the scattered thoughts and biased opinions on offer over here).

bawden beet pulp poster

His latest piece is on Edward Bawden, so please do go and take a look.

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The Volkswagen Problem

For some time I’ve been meaning to post a link to the Empire Marketing Board Archive at Manchester Art Gallery.

It’s an exemplary online resource for a really interesting collection.  The Empire Marketing Board was what Stephen Tallents did before he came to the GPO, and in many ways is one of the first attempts at the kind of ‘soft’ advertising and propaganda that we now take for granted.

Empire Marketing Board poster Christmas produce bear
Austin Cooper, 1927

In his time at the Empire Marketing Board between 1926 and 1933, Tallents (working with Frank Pick and William Crawford of Crawfords advertising agency) commissioned some of the very best designers and artists working in Britain at the time.  These included those such as Austin Cooper, Frank Newbould and Fred Taylor who were best known for their work for the railway companies,

Good Shopper Empire Marketing Board Poster Frank Newbould
Frank Newbould

as well as fine artists like Paul Nash.

Paul Nash Empire Marketing Board poster

But I’ve been holding off writing about it for months.  Why?  Because these posters constitute an ideological problem of the first order, and it’s not one I have an easy answer to.

The issue at stake is, of course, Empire.  The Manchester Art Gallery website describes the collection as ‘challenging and fascinating’.

Created during the 1920s and ’30s to promote trade and understanding between empire countries, the posters present a view of the British Empire that, from today’s perspective, is often uncomfortable.  Although visually stunning, the posters contain images that would today be considered offensive. As a product of their time, they raise difficult questions about the legacy of empire.

I’m not proposing to get into a discussion about the legacy of Empire and the historic wrongs involved.  What I’m interested in is how much ideology can adhere to images, in particular to these posters.

There is no denying that there are some posters in the collection which can only be interpreted as racism of the highest degree.  This vision of the white man bringing civilisation is by Adrian Allinson.

Allinson Empire Marketing Board poster African Transport

It gets worse, too – the implicit comparison is with the companion poster.

Allinson Empire Marketing Board African transport

But these posters are by no means in the majority in the archive.  To start with, a good portion of the posters are images of either produce,

Bacon Factory Empire Marketing Board poster

or pictures of Britain that wouldn’t look out of place on a railway poster.

Home Agricultural Show Empire Marketing Board poser
Gregory Brown

Or quite possibly both.

Frank Newbould Empire Marketing Board poster
Frank Newbould

So my questi0n is, can a poster like this Fred Taylor of Market Day be interpreted as loaded, racist even?

Fred Taylor Market Day Empire Marketing Board Poster

I’ve had quite an interesting email conversation about this with Melanie Horton, the researcher who’s been working on the archive.  She would argue that it is, that all the posters have to be seen as whole and cannot be separated from the politics of how they came to be produced.

I’m not going to tackle her arguments now as she has a booklet about the collection coming out soon (Empire Marketing Board Posters: Manchester Art Gallery ) and it only seems fair to read them in detail first.  But I do have a few broader thoughts to raise before then.

Because what we are debating here isn’t in any way a new question.  T.S. Eliot was undoubtedly a small-minded anti-semite, but does that devalue The Four Quartets, in which there is nothing of the sort?  Or if you want a more modern version of the same problem, try yesterday’s Guardian, where Brett Easton Ellis is freely admitting to misogyny, sexism and generally being a rather unappealing bit of work.  But what does that do to our opinion of his novels?  As it happens, I love The Four Quartets but loathe American Psycho, so my answer is different in each case.

But this problem also came up when I studied Design History, in perhaps its most taxing presentation.  Here it was known as the Volkswagen problem.  And it is quite a problem.

The Volkswagen Beetle is a great piece of design which produced one of the most popular small cars of the twentieth century, and was also technologically very innovative.  However it was also, and there is no too ways about this, a product of Nazi ideology.  As if the name Volkswagen itself wasn’t enough of a clue, the Beetle was originally known as the KdFwagen – the Strength Through Joy car. Adolf Hitler commissioned it, approved it and set it into production.   And yet we are not only prepared to forgive the Beetle, but clasp it to our hearts as one of the best-loved cars there has ever been.

Channel Island Pea Harvest poster Empire Marketing Board
Keith Henderson

So where does that leave images like these?

Oat Harvest Empire Marketing Board Poster
George Houston

Can we separate them out from how and when they were produced, and only see the oats and the peas and the pears?

Empire Marketing Board Poster

Or is it only the Volkswagen that can ever achieve that kind of forgiveness?

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Poster Mathematics

I can’t resist a few instant observations about Morphets.  The full set of opinions will have to wait until I’ve got the complete results in front of me and some more time, but for the moment, we’ll deal with what I know.

Firstly, it’s clear that not many people like Daphne Padden and Royston Cooper as much as we do.

2 x Royston Cooper vintage coach posters from Morphets

This is both a good thing and a bad thing.  It does mean that we can pick up some lovely posters for rather less than we thought we’d have to pay – the lot above went for just £85.  How anyone can not like that right hand poster in particular is beyond me.  I particularly love it because the woman looks like all of my aunts in old photographs, but that’s incidental, it’s wonderful anyway.

2 x Royston Cooper coach posters from Morphets

But it also means that their work still isn’t getting the acclaim and recognition that they both deserve; particularly when kitschy 1950s seaside posters were going for way more.  Perhaps it will just take a bit longer for the 1960s to come into fashion properly.

Eckersley Royston Cooper vintage railway posters

A possible third explanation (which would account for more than just these prices) is that the kind of people who buy 1960s posters don’t tend to hang around at railway and coach sales in Harrogate.  Which is their loss.  The left hand one above, incidentally, is an Eckersley which I have never seen before.  Has anyone else spotted it elsewhere?

Although more likely is that there just isn’t a developed enough market in coach posters for people to be competing over them.  Because 1960s London Underground posters did do well, with most of them hitting £80 – £100+, like this delectable John Burningham.

JOhn Burningham Autumn London Underground poster

All of which adds up to the fact that I don’t really have a definite answer on Padden and Cooper values; if you have any thoughts, I’d love to hear them.

My other main observation is that auctions and their prices operate outside the world of logic, and I shall illustrate this with a small amount of mathematics.

This pair of posters went for £80.

Daphne Padden Royal Blue coach poster Morphets

If we say that the poster on the left is worth no more than £20, that values our sailor at £60.  So far so good.

This pair then went for £260.

2 x Daphne Padden Royal Blue vintage coach posters

Which makes our friends with the cat worth £200-ish.

Except that, just a few lots later, this went for just £65.

more vintage coach  posters from morphets

Despite the fact that this version is in better condition.  Unless the very subtle differences in the typography matter to people, this makes no sense at all.  But I can’t think about it any more because it’s making my head ache.

More thoughts on Morphets later on this week, something completely different tomorrow.

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The thick of it

It’s impossible to get a sense of the Morphet’s sale while it’s still yelling away in the corner of my screen, but two brief observations from yesterday.

Firstly, what kind of a mad world is it where this costs £160

Tom Eckersley Paignton vintage railway poster from Morphets

while this

Minehead Studio Seven vintage railway poster

costs hundreds more.  I don’t understand, I really don’t.

I also noticed this go past yesterday.

Jack Merriott vintage railway posters which are cheating

Same picture, four different towns.  That’s cheating.  But does anyone know where it is really?

But much more exciting is that we won this wonderful Amstutz.

Amstutz Camping Coaches poster

It’s been on this blog’s ‘About Us’ page since the very start.  And now it’s going to be on our walls.  Hurrah for that.

More on the sale next week, once I’ve sold all my household goods, cats and anything else that might meet the bill.  And built a few more walls to hang everything on.

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