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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Further Coaching

It’s the last stage of the giant Daphne Padden archive-fest on Quad Royal.  Most of the posters I’m putting up today are for coach companies and so have at least been seen before.  In fact well over half of these are on sale at Morphets tomorrow, so if you take a fancy to any of them, you can probably have one, although I can’t promise at what price.

Daphne Padden coach party travel star signs

I know I should stop making fun of these poor northerners and their low prices, but this one is estimated at £50-100.   The rabbits below get the same estimate, and you get another spring poster to boot.  If only.

Coach tour rabbits Daphne padden coach poster

But I haven’t just come here to mutter about Morphets once more, there are a couple of things worth saying about these posters.

Daphne Padden Owl Party travel poster

One is just what a difference an archive makes.  Daphne Padden’s posters are beginning, over the last few years, to surface into the general design consciousness.  But I do wonder whether she would have been better known if she’d worked for British Railways or London Transport as well.

Daphne Padden luggage poster coaches

Royston Cooper has had a similar, if less dramatic problem.  Both he and Padden designed a whole series of really great posters for the coach companies.  But because the coach companies both had a more chequered history, and were never really considered as a national asset in the same way anything which ran on rails, the nuts, bolts and printed matter of their past didn’t end up being preserved.

Lovely Royal Blue Daphne Padden coach poster

A very brief summary of what happened in the world of coaches is that the many small companies like Royal Blue which served the different parts of the UK, were gradually bought up and amalgamated into larger groups.  In 1947 – after a war in which few coaches ran – the whole industry was nationalised, eventually becoming National Express.  This was then split up and de-nationalised between 1983 and 1987.  And somewhere in all of that, we stopped caring about coaches and, most likely, a whole pile of history was thrown out into a skip.

Spring coach poster Daphne Padden

With the result that we now don’t really know anything about coach posters at all, never mind having an archive or even dates for them.  Well, except for a few like the one below.

Daphne Padden Christmas Coach Travel 1964 poster

Which is an enormous shame as there are some wonderful posters made for the coach companies which have almost disappeared into oblivion.  And is why I keep banging on about them here, trying to give them some kind of visibility on the web.

Daphne Padden Southend coach poster

My other thought is a bit more positive though, which is that her particular style of design is now becoming interesting (possibly even fashionable) for a wider audience of designers and, possibly, collectors.  Take a look at the Fears and Kahn website, which I’ve been meaning to mention for a while.  They’ve put together, for selling, a rather distinctive set of posters, some from  coach companies, but very much in this particular idiom.  I’m hoping that this will be the start of more recognition for designers like Padden and Royston Cooper.

Daphne Padden Coach information poster

And finally, a few odd notes on some individual items.  I am guessing that this is some kind of early artist’s proof for her famous Royal Blue poster.

Daphne Padden Royal Blue artists proof

What’s odd, is that it’s not a print with just one colour missing – the text in the final poster is in the same dark blue as his hat and the lighthouse.

Finished Royal Blue Daphne Padden poster

Even odder, is that his smile is missing in the proof too.  I’m glad he cheered up.

And finally, I just like these.  I think they should be on t-shirts or something.

Daphne Padden Summer coach tour poster tree

Daphne Padden spring coach tours poster tree

Do we have any takers for Quad Royal branded goods?

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Coming in to land

Another thing that Morphets has made me think about is the work of Lander, Reginald Montague Lander to be precise.  (I used to think he was called Eric, perhaps as the result of a misattribution somewhere, but he isn’t.  So there.)

Now, I am a huge fan of his work, mainly as a result of this poster.

British Railways RM Lander English lakes poster

It’s a poster I have a sentimental spot for, because it’s the first one I ever bought at auction.  But I also think it’s brilliant; it’s a modernist re-imagining of the great tradition of railway Quad Royal landscape posters in a way that really works.  I can’t think of another poster quite like it.  (Apologies for the flash reflection, by the way, it’s an unfortunate side-effect of framing things).

So, considering that he can produce posters as great as this, why doesn’t he get more recognition for his work?  There are a couple of reasons I think.

One is that, reinforcing Paul Rennie’s point of the other day, his stuff rather falls between two stools.  The vast majority of his posters were produced for British Railways.  But they’re not (with the odd exception above) the kind of nostalgic landscapes that railway collectors really fall for.  So the railway buffs don’t much care for his stuff, and the mid-century modernists don’t notice him that much because, well, it’s railway posters.  (Almost all the images here come from the National Railway Museum via the NMSI search engine, as you can see.  No one else seems to have any quantities of his work at all).

He did produce a few images which are instantly recognisable, and do sell, in particular these two for Paignton, both from 1956-ish.

Lander Paignton Poster British Railways

Lander Paignton British Railways poster

At its best, his work can hold its own with any of the designers of the time, as the images above, and this 1960 poster  show.

Lander Car Ferry British Railways poster

But part of the problem is that he can’t be pinned down to a recognisable Lander style.  He did cheerful cartoons in the style of Amstutz and  Bruce Angrave, or even early Tom Eckersley.

Lander original painting for get out by train british railways poster

Lander Plymouth British Railways poster

(Original painting from 1960, poster from 1961).

He could do more traditional railway posters too; these are from 1957, and the second one reminds me a great deal of Percy Drake Brookeshaw, although with slightly less migraine-inducing colours.

Lander British railways north east coast poster 1957

Lander British railways folkstone poster 1957

He could do you whimsical neoclassical or modern text if you wanted, too.

Lander Brighton and Hove british railways poster

Lander Hastings by train British Railways poster

He was also very good at drawing complicated buildings.

Lander Leamington Spa poster British Railways

But this great long list also hints at the other problem with his work.  He was so prodigously productive, that not every poster of his is great, or even good.  How could they be when he seemed to be churning out a poster every other day?

But that’s not a reason to under-estimate his great designs.  He still deserves to be seen by more than just railway poster fanatics.

Lander Porthcawl British railways poster

It’s also worth noting that his extraordinary energy meant that he carried on as a poster designer for far longer than almost anyone else.  We’ve got a selection of BR posters of his from 1978.  And the NMSI collection includes a set of designs from 1980, including this.

Lander Surrey Towns British Railway poster 1980

I had no idea that anything of the sort was being commissioned by then.

Finally, should I have persuaded you about Mr Lander’s work, Hastings and the Plymouth poster above are both for sale at Morphets tomorrow and Thursday, estimated at £75-125 and £1oo-150 respectively, along with fifty or more others.

Lander mixed lot from Morphets

Hurry now, it’s almost time to get your bids in.

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