When I wrote about poster hoardings and their rather surprising effects last week, the comments section ended up as a bit of a debate on how posters survive.  Were the few that remain only saved because the designers and a few other far-sighted people connected with their production and display collected them (the Malcolm Guest model)?  Or were there more which were sold on to the public of the time as well?

I promised to go away and try and find out as much as I could and report back.  There’s lots more research that can be done, so this is very much a work in progress.  But by asking the questions here, I’m hoping that I might get some answers from you as well.  So please do pile in if you can help.

John Minton London's river vintage london transport poster
John Minton, London’s River, 1951

What strikes me is that some kinds of posters survive in disproportionate quantities.  Any auction, or even a look at eBay will show you a lot of London Transport posters or railway posters, with lesser amounts of Shell and Guinness items too.  But very little British commercial advertising survives at all – you can go through swathes of auction catalogues without seeing any for months or even years.

The same is true of GPO posters – which are examples of great design but nonetheless come up very rarely. (To give you an idea of how rarely, Christies catalogue archive can turn up only 10 or so GPO posters which have come up for sale.  Put in “shell poster” and you get hundreds of results.  I daren’t even type in railway poster.)

Lewitt Him 1951 vintage GPO poster
Lewitt Him, 1951

So my suggestion would be that the kinds of posters which survive in numbers were also sold on to the public one way or another.

There is no dispute that this is what London Transport did (as mentioned on here before).  Here’s Oliver Green of the London Transport Museum on the sales pattern in the 1920s:

A typical print run in the 1920s was 1,000, of which 850 were required for posting on the system where they were displayed for one month.  The remaining 150 copies were available for purchase at the company’s head office for between about two and five shillings, depending on the printing cost.  Posters in demand with the public were invariably those which followed the more traditional artistic designs, such as Gregory Brown’s St Albans, Fred Taylor’s Kew and Dorothy Burroughes’ For the Zoo.  These three were all in the top ten of a bestsellers’ list which was announced by the Underground in 1923.

Dorothy Burroughes Zoo vintage london transport poster 1922
Dorothy Burroughes, 1922

By 1931 the best sellers were selling over 300 posters each, and London Transport were selling a total of 10,000 posters in a year.  But even the modern art posters did sell to some.

Edward Bawden has also recalled that he and Eric Ravilious, when students together at the Royal College of Art in the 1920s. looked forward eagerly to the appearance of a new Kauffer Underground poster which was then, literally, one of the cheapest forms of good modern art available.

McKnight Kauffer vintage London Transport poster 1934
McKnight Kauffer, 1934

In 1933 the London Transport poster shop opened in their headquarters at 55, Broadway, and designs were, it seemed, commissioned specifically with shop sales in mind.

London Transport poster shop exterior
London Transport shop,c.1935.

Furthermore, some posters were also created so that they could be easily cut down for framing and display in the home.

Laura Knight September Freshnes 1937
Laura Knight, September Freshness, 1937

Poster sales continued on and off, with a break for the war, sometimes only to schools and other educational establishments, sometimes to the public.  Claire Dobbin writes about it in some detail in her essay in London Transport Posters if you want to know more.

She also mentions is that London Transport held poster exhibitions too, at Burlington House in 1928 and the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1949.

LT exhibition Burlington House 1928
London Transport poster exhibition at Burlington House, 1928

For London Transport, these were infrequent special events, but in the case of  the railway companies, exhibitions were a regular feature of their promotions. David Watts catalogues them in the essay I was referring to the other day.

Annual poster exhibitions were held at the LNER’s King’s Cross station in London between 1923 and 1927. Between 1928 and 1933, with the possible exception of 1931, they were held in either the New Burlington or Grieve’s galleries in the West End. In 1936 a private exhibition was held in Marylebone, presumably at the LNER station. In 1937 the exhibition reverted to the West End. LNER poster exhibitions were held annually in Edinburgh between 1924 and 1938. Their exact location is not stated, except for 1935, 1937 and 1938, when it was Waverley station. Numerous other localities hosted occasional LNER poster exhibitions, including: Aberdeen (1929–30, 1934), Barnard Castle (1934–36), Bournemouth (1934), Bradford (1934–35), Brighton (1936), Cleethorpes (1935), Dundee (1934), Gateshead (1936), Glasgow (1929–30), Grimsby (1934), Ipswich (1935), Kingston upon Hull (1932–36), Leeds (1934), Lincoln (1934, 1936), Manchester (1935–36), Newcastle upon Tyne (1930, 1934–36), Norwich (1933), Shef?eld (1933, 1936–37), Yarmouth (1934) and York (1932–36). […] It is likely that other localities also hosted exhibitions of LNER posters and that those listed above held them in more years than shown here. Exhibitions seem not to have been systematically recorded.

That’s quite a lot of exhibitions.

Now, I can’t lay my hands on any proof that posters were sold at these events.  But posters were definitely sold by railway companies.  Pre-war artists had contracts which paid them for every copy sold to the public, for a start.

And the LMS marketed posters to the public – possibly by the same system of writing in as London Transport used.  When the company produced a series of posters designed by Royal Academicians in 1924, they “sold well”, and Maurice Greiffenhagan’s image of Carlisle was top of the pops, selling to the public “in large numbers”.

Maurice Greiffenhagen Carlisle vintage Railway poster LMS

In 1931, the LMS even published a list of its six best-selling posters.  Like the railways, traditional art was what the public wanted to buy, with Paul Henry’s views of Ireland taking the top two places.

Paul Henry Connemara 1926 vintage railway poster

So railway posters were definitely for sale.  Which just leaves Shell and Guinness posters to account for.

W Steggles Tattingstone wonder shell poster
W Steggles

Shell held exhibitions of its advertising too.  The first was at New Burlington Gardens in 1931 and then later they were held at Shell-Mex House and around the country. These were reviewed in the press and attracted thousands of visitors.  And, yes, the posters were for sale.  Michael Heller has reseached Shell’s inter-war corporate branding.

Its posters rapidly became collectors items, available by subscription from Shell or through its popular published catalogue collections.

Which just leaves Guinness posters, about which I can find out nothing right now.  But  I think I might be prepared to make a guess that they also were sold given that they survive in the numbers they do.

Bromfield Foreign letter GPO poster 1951
Bromfield, 1951

By way of a contrast, let’s go back to the GPO posters.  We’ve got a fair number (in fact a rather embarrassing quantity), but what’s interesting is that I know the direct provenance of most of them.  A few came from the Malcom Guest collection, a few more (all by her) from Daphne Padden’s estate.  But the greatest number came from eBay, sold by a man whose uncle went to his local post office in the early 1950s and asked if he could have their posters when they’d finished with them.    They’re not just floating about like the railway and London Transport posters, only thanks to rare and chance collections are they kept.

Tom Eckersley vintage GPO poster 1955
Tom Eckersley, 1955

Which makes me think that we’re very lucky that Shell, London Transport and the Railway Companies wanted to improve the nations taste by selling posters.  Otherwise practically nothing would survive.


I haven’t given references in this, mainly because footnotes and blogs don’t mix well.  But most of the information came from these books:

London Transport Posters: A Century of Art and Design

Underground Art: London Transport Posters, 1908 to the Present

Art for All: British Posters for Transport (Yale Center for British Art)

Railway Posters 1923-1947

as well as from Michael Heller’s paper, Corporate Brand Building at Shell-Mex Ltd in the Interwar Period.  Do ask if you want any more detail and I will do my best.

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For Your Entertainment

I am trying to write about how posters were made available like I promised to.  But there’s lots to get through and my brain hurts, so it isn’t going to be finished until tomorrow.

Fortunately, these arrived just about an hour ago to save my bacon.  (By the skin of their teeth, as the postman tried to wedge a very large carboard envelope through our slightly smaller letterbox.  Naughty postman.  Mr Crownfolio had to give him a stern talking to).

Dorrit Dekk P&O Menu 1971 front
P&O Entertainment Brochure for the Canberra, 1971

Luckily they have survived unscathed.  They’re all by Dorrit Dekk and they are all lovely.

Canberra P&O menu reverse
Canberra Entertainment Brochure 1971 reverse

As ever, they are a window into a totally different world, and one I’d quite like to live in.  Naples, Barcelona, Tilbury, anyone?

Dorrit Dekk Entertainment Programme 1965 Himalaya P&O
P&O Entertainment Programme for the Himalaya, 1965

I so don’t even know where to begin with the delights on offer.  Perhaps P&O themselves can explain.

menu of entertainments 1965

I shall never play deck tennis, nor see Ron and Millie Stubbs dance.  Nor shall I eat Coupe Jacques at the Fancy Dress Dinner either.

Menu for Fancy Dress Dinner on the Himalaya 1967
Fancy Dress Dinner Menu for the Himalaya, 1967.

Instead I can only admire the design, while wondering just how they did lower the level in the swimming pool.

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Poster pot

As if last week didn’t give you enough posters to fritter your monies away on, there are still more.  Really quite a lot more too.

First, Swann Galleries, whose auction is on 15th November.  Usually the appearance of a whole swathe of high quality London Underground posters on the other side of the Atlantic would be worth making a fuss over.  This time though, unfortunately for them, they’re in competition with the stellar collection on sale at Christies this month.  With the result that theirs don’t look quite as enticing.

Alma Faulkner vintage London Transport poster 1928
Alma Faulkner, 1928, est. $1,000-1,500

This may just be because I am jaded.  But I also think that there’s a different feel to this collection – a bit more pastel and bucolic, possibly even a bit more fey, which means that they don’t appeal to me as much.

Austin Cooper vintage London Transport poster out of doors 1923
Austin Cooper, 1923, est. $1,500-2,000

There are a few exceptions to this, though.  One is this wonderful piece of modernism by Andrew Power (which, the catalogue tells me, was a pseudonym used by Sybil Andrews, something I didn’t know).

Andrew Power wimbledon vintage london transport poster 1933
Andrew Power, 1933, est. $4,000-6,000

There is also this fabulous vision of modern transport.

Harold McCready vintage London transport tram poster 1930
Harold McCready, 1930, est. $1,200-1,800

Although it does make me very unsure about taking a tram, for fear of the large explosion when they all reach the centre.

Even further away in San Francisco, Poster Connection have only a handful British posters at all in their auction on 6th November.  Your starter for ten are two Frank Newboulds for the Ideal Home exhibition.

Frank Newbould 1928 vintage Ideal Home poster
Frank Newbould, 1928, est. $600.

My favourites are these two Lewitt-Hims for BOAC.

Lewitt Him vintage BOAC poster 1948
Lewitt Him, 1948, est. $400.

Vintage Lewitt Him BOAC poster 1948
Lewitt Him, 1948, est. $500

And there’s also a Games.

Abram Games BOAC poster 1949
Abram Games, 1949, est. $500

Plus a couple of interesting McKnight Kauffers too.

mcKnight Kauffre vintage American Airlines poster
McKnight Kauffer, 1948, est. $700.

Vintage McKnight Kauffer American Airlines poster
McKnight Kauffer, 1948, est. $800

The whole catalogue is worth looking at though, as they have put together a selection of the European greats, including Herbert Leupin, Donald Brun and Raymond Savignac.

Donald Brun 1949 Vintage poster
Donald Brun, 1949, est. $300

And I’ve rather taken a shine to these two by Max Bill, mainly because no one in Britain ever really did type like this and so I pine for it.

Max Bill vintage poster 1933
Max Bill, 1933, est. $1,700

Max Bill vintage poster 1933
Max Bill, 1933, est. $1,000

That’s not all, either.  G.W. Railwayana have an auction on 13 November (with no estimates in the catalogue, in case you wonder why I haven’t attached them).  For those of us who aren’t after Pictures of Trains, there are only a few curiosities, like this rather nice bit of early 1960s Ladybird book styling.

British Railways vintage poster barry 1961
Anonymous, 1961

Although this is rather nice – it’s half of a pair poster of London’s Street Markets, from 1949 and would be a lovely thing to look at every day.

London Street Markets vintage poster 1949 AR Thomson
A R Thomson, 1949.

I’m pointing out these GPO Schools posters, simply because they’ve come up for discussion here last week.

Keeping in Touch, the post office in town vintage poster 1960s

These (there’s another one too) are quite late, 1960s, and not very appealing if you ask me (we had some, no idea why, and sold them).

But, if you’re interested in piecing together the archaeology of poster display, this little lot is quite interesting, even though it isn’t a poster.

Poster Paste pots

They’re poster paste pots, designed, I suppose, to be non-spill and to get just the right amount of paste on your Tom Purvis.  What’s particularly interesting is that one, unsurprisingly has  GWR on it.  But the other says Waterlows – who were of course one of the great printers of posters.  So is this a very early promotional gift?  I need to know.

And finally, who wouldn’t want to be Babycham Coal Queen of 1980?

I am speechless

Yours with Scotland For Me (7 assorted); Visit Moscow; Manchester plus others.  A bargain in the making.

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Edge wear

And still they keep c0ming.  Today – cue drum roll – it’s eBay Watch.  Along with a bit of complaining from me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got no problem with what’s out there.  Because there’s loads of it.

Let’s start with this Aer Lingus poster, which is very stylish.

John Bainbridge Aer Lingus poster c1950s

Although it’s in German it was printed in Ireland and is by Bainbridge.  This is almost certainly the John Bainbridge whose London Transport poster I mentioned the other day (and about which more later).

Then there’s this lot.

Beath Winter Number vintage London Transport poster on eBay

Beath vintage London Transport poster Green Line Coach Guide eBay

Beath vintage London Transport Poster March timetable eBay

They’re all by Beath, all from 1936 and they will cost you £49.50 a poster at the moment.  I also think  that they’re all rather good bits of modern typography.

But what pains me is that the descriptions say that they have all three been mounted on canvas.  Now it may just be that they’ve been stored badly (that’ Mr Crownfolio’s theory) but even if that’s so, they’re in pretty poor condition for a mounted poster.  I also can’t see any of the mount around the edges, which is a bit odd.

Now if these were the only examples, I wouldn’t be so bothered.  But it’s happening elsewhere.  The Henrion and Bainbridge posters that I mentioned yesterday also claim to be linen backed.  But the Bainbridge in particular is in even worse condition – take a look at the edges.

HEnrion 1950s London Transport poster as seen on our walls

John Bainbridge 1950s London Transport poster

And again, no edges of linen to be seen.

So what’s going on?  Is there just an outbreak of fibbing on eBay?  Or, more kindly, of sellers who haven’t seen a mounted poster before.  Or is there someone doing cut-price poster mounting and not doing it very well?  Or have I just got the wrong end of the stick altogether?

And finally, this.

Percy Drake Brookshaw

My beef here is with the description:

On offer here is a beautiful original Percy Drake Brookshaw travel poster dating to the mid 20th century circa 1950’s.

Yes, it’s by Percy Drake Brookshaw, yes it’s original.  But no, it is definitely not beautiful.  Just look at it.

They (an eBay based antiques dealer in Chippenham) also want £200 for it, which is a bit steep considering that I distinctly remember it going for about £40-60 at auction earlier this year.

There ought to be large signs all over the relevant bits of eBay, warning people that just because a poster is old, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s valuable.  The same applies to the Beaths above.  £49.95 isn’t as much, but it’s still a lot when you think that we bought a similar (and in fact better because nicely mounted on linen and therefore flat) Beath Winter Number for just £7.99 only last year.

Right, enough complaining.  On the positive side, you could have this smiley chap by Daphne Padden for a mere £4 or so at the moment.

Daphne Padden menu design from eBay

As well as a ton of WW2 posters from this seller.   They’re not the most visually appealing – this is probably the best of the bunch.

nurse WW2 poster from eBay

Once more, they’re not cheap,with opening prices from £50 for this, to £200 for a fairly tatty Norman Wilkinson.  Perhaps I’ll come back to this post next week and see how they all fared.

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A lot

Really, there is more being sold at the moment than I can properly keep tabs on. Hence a rather scrabbled post to tell you that these are up for sale in Nantwich tomorrow.

Henrion lot for sale in Nantwich - wide

The lot is a heap of Henrion posters.  A big heap.

Henrion posters for sale in Nantwich - second wide

Sadly, they’re not entirely what they seem.  On the plus side, some of them are signed by Henrion himself. The downside is that they are all reprints, done for Staffordshire Polytechnic in 1989 – I think for an exhibition.  But interesting nonetheless, if only because they reproduce posters that don’t tend to turn up elsewhere.

Henrion signature and printing detail from Nantwich lot

If this tickles your fancy, they are being sold by Peter Wilson Auctioneers tomorrow, and come with an estimate of £30-50.

More auctions tomorrow, whether you like it or not.

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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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