Why Miss Jones

Another rave from the grave for the last of the holiday season.  This is revived mainly because it is not possible to have too much Barbara Jones on this blog, but also because I have been reading about her work for the Festival of Britain and will be posting about it in due course (due course being when I get my act together after the holidays, something which doesn’t seem to have happened yet).  

This was the first post I ever wrote about Barbara Jones; since then I have posted several more posts about her, but this is worth having for the bull alone.

I promised you Barbara Jones, and Barbara Jones you shall have.  I’ve always liked her work, which began when we picked up this book in a second-hand shop quite a few years ago now.

Barbara Jones cover of English Fairs and Markets

Not only is it a very fetching cow, but it also reminds me of County Shows, which are some of my favourite things in the world.  I’m off to the Bath and West later this week, and will be looking out for bemused-looking animals with rosettes in her honour.  Here is the sheep from the back cover.

Barbara Jones English Fairs and Markets reverse

And one of the more delicate line drawings from the inside – this is Leadenhall Market decorated for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

Leadenhall decorated for coronation Barbara Jones illustration

But the more that I find out about her, the more I am discovering that the (very many) book covers and illustrations are just one part of what she did.  Every biography I have found of her (on Wikipedia, or this rather good illustrated catalogue by Ash Rare Books) makes the point that the vast majority of her work was ephemeral and has disappeared.  She studied mural design at the Royal College of Art, and her work appeared on liners – here is a sketch for a very ‘popular arts’ trompe l’oeil mural for the Tavern Bar of the S.S. Orsova.

Barbara Jones sketch for mural for tavern bar of SS Orsova

as well as working for the 1947 Britain Can Make It exhibition.

Barbara Jones muriel for Britain Can Make it Children's Section

A striking tableaux in the toys section illustrating the famous Birthday Nursery Rhyme, from monday’s child ‘fair of face’ sitting before a dressing-table, through the days of the week to Sunday’s child ‘blithe and bonny and good and gay’ rightly put in a glass case out of reach of an every-day little boy who resents such perfection. Murals by Barbara Jones, figures by Hugh Skillen.

She also designed murals for the Festival of Britain.  None survive, but here are her illustrations of the Festival being built in 1950.

Flair magazine barbara jones festival of britain 1950

And, apparently, she also designed sets for The Woodentops.  How much more influential can you be?

But even despite that, I think perhaps her most important legacy was in ways of seeing.  The Festival of Britain poster which I posted a couple of weeks ago, was for an exhibition that she curated as well as designed.

Festival of Britain Black Eyes and Lemonade poster Barbara Jones 1951

And after I’d posted it, Mr Crownfolio came and plonked this on my desk (which had apparently been on the shelves all this time, unbeknownst to me).

Barbara Jones cover for Design for Death

She collected, wrote and illustrated the book in a rather wonderfully understated Gothic fashion.

Barbara Jones Illustration from design for death

While the book itself wanders over everything from Aboriginal mourning rituals to modern graves for pets, passing through poetry, floral tribute, anthropology and etiquette on the way.  The result is a very modern kind of book, where the pictures are working alongside the words rather than just illustrating them – I can’t recommend it too highly.

Barbara Jones illustration from design for death

But in terms of what she achieved with her work, the fly-leaf gives as good a description as any.

Before it was generally fashionable to enjoy the decorative and amusing objects produced by popular art, Barbara Jones was already studying them and collecting them, and she did much for them when she put on the exhibition called ‘Black Eyes and Lemonade’ during the Festival of Britain.  Miss Jones’ house in Hampstead, full of curious and delightful things, is a vivid illustration of her impatience with the chastity of conventional ‘good taste’ and her feeling for invention, fantasy and vitality wherever it may be found.

I wonder what became of her house?  They should have preserved it for the nation.

Barbara Jones picture

Do you think that’s it behind her?

Should you feel the need to campaign for something to be preserved though, the last remaining one of her murals has just been put forward for a listing order.  It’s a mural of Adam and Eve done for a (Basil Spence -designed) secondary school in Sheffield.  The school is being demolished, but the Twentieth Century Society are campaigning for the mural to be reused in the new school.  I hope they succeed – more details here.

And if you want to know even more, there’s a book – A Snapper Up of Unconsidered Trifles: A Tribute to Barbara Jones which I haven’t read., but if it has more than three pictures in it will definitely be worth the price of admission.

Barbara Jones BBC Schools leaflet

 I have since bought the book and it is fabulous.  Her archive is apparently in Brighton, I might have to go and visit it one of these days.

Buy, Buy, Sell, Buy

There are a lot of posters about at the moment; it’s only Monday morning and I’m exhausted just thinking about it.  Not only have there just been the  Christies and Onslows sales, but there’s also quite a bit coming up on eBay too.  I’d like to sum it up in some kind of executive summary of the market at the moment, but however hard I try, this eludes me.  So I’m afraid you’ll just have to bear with me as we sift through the evidence.

One feeling I have is that prices, and more importantly expected prices, are going up.  Take these eBay items, for example.  There’s a signed, recent, Tom Eckersley poster for £295, which has to be more than even a gallery would charge for it.

Tom Eckersley signed 1986 exhibition poster for sale on eBay

In an interesting take on eBay selling strategies, this was previously on offer for a £175 Buy It Now, but when it failed to sell, they relisted it and upped the price.

Even more excitable is the seller of this 1935 GPO Schools poster by John Armstrong, for sale for a rather steep $2,950 Buy It Now.

Vintage GPO poster John Armstrong 1935

He is also accepting Best Offers, as he explains in rather breathless red text on his listing.

The highest offer of the 3 that I have received is $ 2,155 I will let it go to the next offer of $ 2,200.

While I know that this is a classic poster reproduced in all sorts of texts, I don’t actually like it very much and so I am able to resist this offer, or indeed pretty much any kind of offer which didn’t involve giving it to me for free.

These Shell posters, even though they are a full set of the highly-desirable Trees, by the highly-desirable SR Badmin, are surely up at the top end of the value range too at £350.

S R Badmin vintage shell educational poster May Trees

And I say this with some confidence, given that we have just got four of the Roads of Britain in this series for the grand sum of £15, including (I have said this before, and I will say it again) my favourite Shell educational poster ever, the Ridgeway by David Gentleman.

This coach poster, too, is probably also overpriced at £75 – although it’s very fashionably retro and so probably would go for much more than its £75 asking price in the right gallery.

1960s coach tours poster

Expensive doesn’t just apply to posters, either.  This lovely little booklet with illustrations by Barbara Jones has a starting price of £90.

This or that illustrations Barbara Jones on eBay

I begrudge this price a bit less though; it’s a rare book, published in just after the war and on that very contemporary subject of good design in the home.  Having said all that, you can also find it online for just £60, so maybe it is a bit over-priced too.

The Christies auction didn’t come cheap either.  These two posters were the stars of the show, both dramatically exceeding their estimates.

Alexeieff NIght Scotsman poster christies

The Alexeieff above went for £34,850 (est. £15-20,000) while the McKnight Kauffer Underground poster sold for £27,500 (est. £8-12,000).

McKnight Kauffer power poster again

The Kauffer poster is particularly interesting, because a copy also turned up in the Swann Galleries auction a few weeks before, where it went for £20,580, so the price wasn’t just a flash in the pan (or even a flash from the fist).

As for the Christies’ auction as a whole, my initial reaction was that the prices seemed steep; but when I took a closer look, most sales were within the range of the estimates.  What this means, I don’t know (and would love to have anyone else’s thoughts on the matter).  My guess would be that some posters are getting more expensive, and that Christies are now, with their minimum lot policies, concentrating on these.  There may also be psychology involved, though, too; if there’s nothing priced at £150 or even £250 in an auction, does it make the high prices seem more reasonable?  To some people at least, if not me.

But fear not bargain hunters, because there are still cheap posters on eBay, even cheap underground posters.  These ducks, for example, are starting at just £29.99, and are linen backed to boot.

Richard Kelly vintage LT pair poster 1948

They’re by Richard Barrett Talbot Kelly and date from 1948, while this 1923 MacDonald Gill London Transport map of Barrie’s Kensington Gardens is even cheaper at £25, although it hasn’t reached its reserve at that price, so may not be as cheap as it first appears.

1923 Vintage London transport poster macdonald gill map Kensington Gardens

Elsewhere – in the U.S. to be precise – this 1947 London Transport Central Line extension poster by Hans Schleger/Zero is perhaps better described as reasonable at £148 rather than cheap.  But it is wonderful enough to justify the price.

Hans Schleger vintage London Transport poster Central Line extension

Although if you do want a cheap Zero poster, that’s on offer as well; this British Railways museum poster from the early 1960s is a bit more crumpled, but then it is on with a starting price of only £2.99.

Zero British Railways transport museum poster

If that doesn’t tickle your fancy, perhaps you might like this Daphne Padden Post Office Savings Bank poster – one of my favourites – currently still at its starting price of £10.

daphne Padden vintage post office savings bank poster owl rabbit loveliness

Once again, eBay also offers me the opportunity of pointing out how badly designed most National Savings posters are.  This is also a savings poster, and it has an owl on too, but that’s all it has in common with the one above.

National Savings owl poster which isn't very good

It, however is priced at £49.99.  I have nothing more to say on the matter.

All that remains is the Onslows sale, which seemed to be neither cheap nor expensive, so I’d be interested in hearing anyone else’s thoughts, or indeed about any bargains you may have bought.  But it is worth remembering that they do take offers on unsold lots (until 18th June) so a second look at  the online catalogue might prove worth your while.

Radiowl Times

You may have noticed by now that not only do I like Barbara Jones, but I perhaps like her owls best of all.  Which means that I have been wanting a copy of this, the apotheosis of all her owlery, for quite some time.

Barbara Jones Twit and Howlet front cover

It’s a late children’s book from 1970, and given that the only time I’d ever seen it on offer was for £650 on Abebooks, I didn’t think we’d ever own one.  But, finally, eBay came up with a copy.  And at a price which meant that we didn’t have to mortgage the cats to buy it, either.

Now, as a set of illustrations of owls by Barbara Jones, it can’t be bettered. Here are the family having their nightly row about the correct colour balance of the television set.

Barbara Jones Twit and Howlet argument about TV

And here are Twit and Howlet themselves.

Barbara Jones Twit and Howlet the twins

This is their house.

Barbara Jones Twit and Howlet Owlery

And here is a passing cat (owls and cats are, of course, deadly enemies).

Barbara Jones Twit and Howlet cat

But it’s not just the drawing which make the book delightful, some of the page layouts are a total joy as well.

Barbara Jones Twit and Howlet title pages

Barbara Jones Twit and Howlet double spread

This is perhaps my favourite.

Barbara Jones Twit and Howlet double spread 2

Barbara Jones Twit and Howlet sand

Barbara Jones Twit and Howlet umbrella

The details are also brilliant, like the sand in the illustrations above.

Barbara Jones Twit and Howlet sand detail

Along with the provisions the two owls buy for their trip.

Barbara Jones Twit and Howlet provisions

Barbara Jones Twit and Howlet corned vole

But having said all that, I can see why there aren’t many copies available, because it doesn’t really work as a children’s book.

The plot is quite simple – Twit and Howlett build a hot air balloon and accidentally fly across the Channel and win a French balloon race with it. Organised by French owls, obviously.

Barbara Jones Twit and Howlet French balloon race

But most of the book isn’t concerned with what happens, it’s all about building the balloon.  And it’s done with a sense of humour (and a few long words) that is probably beyond the average picture book reader.

Barbara Jones Twit and Howlet Critical Path analysis

Thinking about what there was left to do, Howlet got depressed. ‘Critical Path Analysis,’ he said.  Twit looked startled. ‘That means start the longest problem first and our longest problem is the gunge for the envelope.’
‘What’s gunge?’ Twit asked.
‘Oil, rubber or mastic,’ replied Howlet, importantly.
‘What’s mastic?’
‘Gummy stuff, I think.’
Twit gave Howlet a withering look. ‘Same as gunge, in fact; what a one you are for complicating things.’

Meanwhile the owl family are still arguing over the television set.

Barbara Jones Twit and Howlet owl tv argument again

Next morning Howlet went back to the library and then on to the Chemist’s. He came back at last with a tin of something that the books and the Librarian and the Chemist all said would be suitable.

Barbara Jones Twit and Howlet gunge

They started to treat the envelope, first with elation, then with stickiness, and at last with a creeping immobility that had to be felt to be believed; but it was all done at last and hung up to dry.

Barbara Jones Twit and Howlet gunging

The Chemist had prudently given Howlet a bottle of gunge-solvent, so they had a long gruesome preen before dinner.

I love it, but I don’t think that’s quite the point.

I also think that she lost interest once the balloon had been built – the later illustrations do rather tail off in quality and detail. But you will be relieved to hear that the owls do get home safely in the end, and they get to see themselves with the cup on television.

Barbara Jones Twit and Howlet best colour row ever

It was the best colour-row ever.

Barbara Jones Twit and Howlet back at home in bed

Barbara Jones Twit and Howlet  back cover

And quite possibly the best owls ever too.


Woof Woof

So, why, you may be wondering, am I bothering you with 1950s children’s ephemera today?  Evocative and delightful, to be sure, but what’s the reason for its being here?

Woodentops pop up book cover illustrated Barbara Jones

Here’s a clue.

Woodentops pop up book Twins Birthday fairground pop up

The roundabout and its flying fairground horses have turned up before on here.  And in each case they are the work of Barbara Jones.

In amongst all of her ephemeral works like murals and exhibition designs, the fact that she also designed The Woodentops tends to be forgotten.  But surely the series must have reached more people than anything else she did.

Barbara Jones Woodentops twins birthday final pop up

Apart from a few rare survivals, the series has pretty much disappeared, which means it’s hard to see what she created.  But there were also three spin-off books of which this pop-up design is one.

The fairground scene is the clearest hint that she was still using her own interests and style even while designing for children.  But Spotty Dog, who definitely has a bit of Staffordshire china in his breeding, is a reminder of her interest in folk art.

Barbara Jones close up spotty dog woodentops pop up book

While some of the twins’ birthday present toys must have looked a bit old-fashioned, even in 1955.

Woodentops pop up book illustration toys Barbara Jones

So although the drawings were a bit more sharp-edged than her usual work, the sensibility and eye are still very recognisably the same.  Which I love, because there is no reason at all why children shouldn’t have art and illustration of the highest quality.

Woodentops Barbara JOnes illustration of twins

Now at this point, I’d usually be complaining that no one would ever commission someone as left-field as Barbara Jones to design a book or series these days.  But for a change that isn’t true.  Of course there is plenty of sub-standard stuff out there (I’m looking at you, Peppa Pig spin-off books), but, as I’ve been discovering over the last four years, there is also a wealth of fantastic children’s illustration and animation too.

Barbara Jones Woodentops pop up book first page

What we’re really missing these days is someone as idiosyncratic as Barbara Jones designing and illustrating books for grown ups instead.  But that’s a whole other story.

Back cover of Barbara Jones Woodentops pop up book

Going, gone

So it’s back to work after the birthday festivities, which today means a brief round-up of eBay and auction news.  Such as there is.

Thebasement101 seems to have an almost inexhaustible stock of slightly obscure London Transport posters backed on linen.  He has put another three up for sale this week, of which my favourite is this Victor Galbraith owl from 1960.

Victor Galbraith vintage London Transport poster owls 1960

Although I do not like it with £99 worth of like.  I must research Victor Galbraith properly one day, because the few bits of his work I’ve seen I always enjoy.  But I’m not even going to look today, as who knows where it will end up and I have other things which have to be done.  But if anyone out there knows something, please do get in touch.

Mr Basement also has the two posters below, by Stella Marsden and Maurice Wilson respectively.

Vintage London Transport poster Stella Marsden 1955 brass rubbings

Vintage London Transport christmas poster 1951 Maurice Wilson

If you prefer railway posters and steam trains (is this the Quad Royal demographic?  I’m not sure) then there is also this Studio Seven piece, which is quite good if you do want a piece of 1960s text about steam trains.  And a lot cheaper than £99.

Studio Seven last steam train vintage railway poster 1960 Swindon

Elsewhere on eBay, two conundrums.  Exhibit A is undoubtedly an interesting and very rare survival of some World War Two propaganda that is also commercial advertising.  But it’s the picture that’s the problem.

Vintage World War Two hitler winsor and newton poster

Because at first glance it could easily be mistaken for a pro-Nazi poster.  Which is an interesting reminder that context is all; I am sure that no one in an art shop in 1942 would have thought that way.  But which makes me feel that it belongs in the context of a museum.  Or am I being too sensitive here?

Exhibit B is only really a conundrum in the sense that I am forced to wonder who on earth thinks it is worth that money?  Yes it is a McKnight Kauffer poster, but it is a 1973 reprint for the V&A with, frankly, not very nice lettering added.

McKnight Kauffer 1973 V&A Exhibition poster

If that is worth £159, I am a stick.  It’s not even ‘Must-have’ as the seller suggests in the title.  Really.

The rest of this post is a slightly sorrowful litany of Things We Have Missed.  Starting with this Barbara Jones book.  Now the seller didn’t do themselves any favours -here’s their photo.

Barbara Jones book on eBay

And here’s the cover scanned rather than photographed in infra red.

Barbara Jones cover for fairs and markets book

But even so, I would have expected it to go for a bit more than just £7 when it goes on Abebooks for between £40 and £50.  (To my chagrin we put a stupidly low bid on it because we’ve already got one, and now I feel foolish).

And finally, this.

A collection of posters, Keep Britain Tidy, Henry Moore Exhibition, Heath Robinson posters etc

That’s all the lot description said, and it caused a mad panic here at Crownfolio Towers, because the email alert arrived on the day of the auction.  I do know that it had one of these in.

Royston Cooper lion keep britain tidy

And also, possibly, a 10 x 15 version of one of these.

Royston Cooper pelican vintage poster keep britain tidy

Along with a couple more Keep Britain Tidy posters that I can’t trace.  But more than that I will never know, because it went for £10 over our top bid.  I can, just about, live with that, because we hadn’t seen the condition or anything.  But I would still love to know what the posters were, so if any of you lot bought them, can you send the photos over?  I promise I won’t be too bitter.

Now we are one

To my surprise, Quad Royal is a year old this week.  So happy birthday to us.  Now I am not going to write a long and self-congratulatory post, but we will be waving a few flags, as there are a couple of things which do need to be said.

Guinness coronation poster vintage John Gilroy animals toucan

First and foremost is a thank you to everyone for coming over and not only reading but commenting and linking and generally adding to Quad Royal.  It’s been a great pleasure meeting people and conversing with them, not only on the blog, but also by email and on Twitter.  (Pleasingly, we’ve just reached 200 followers on Twitter in time for this birthday, but if anyone else would like to follow Quad Royal on Twitter, it would be lovely to see you too).  I’ve learnt a lot from some very knowledgeable people, and it wouldn’t have been one tenth as much fun without everyone.  So thank you.

But getting to one has also made me think a bit about what the purpose of the blog is, other than a form of occupational therapy for me.  It’s something I’ve been forced to consider anyway, as last week’s post about the Kinneir and Calvert Railway Alphabet (except it may not be that, go and look at the comments if you want to follow the story in all its typographical detail) has attracted more attention than anything else ever posted on here.  Not only have the modernist type-nerds of the world tweeted it and linked to it, but it has turned out that the two posters (one illustrated below) are not only rare but of some historical importance.

black rail type Kinneir calvert again

Which is, to say the least. surprising.  If  you rewind to the beginning of it all, Mr Crownfolio and I bought a huge lot of misc posters from the tail end of the Malcolm Guest sale for the grand sum of £10.  These then sat about in the corner of a room for six months in a tube marked ‘selling’.  After I finally remembered that this was there, with the thought of putting them on eBay, I had a proper look at them for the first time.  And when I did that, along with a bit of research, they turned out to be more interesting than I thought.  Then, when they were up on the blog and other people had a good look at them they turned out to be really quite rare indeed.

All of which has made me realise that one of the important things about this blog is looking at graphics and posters closely.  Because quite often they can turn out to be much more interesting than a cursory glance would lead one to suspect.  The alphabet posters are perhaps the most extreme example of this, but it’s true of so many of the things featured on Quad Royal over the last year.  Posters can tell us stories about how people lived, and what they thought about how they would like to live; they are designed by interesting people whose lives are intertwined with some of the important ideas of the last century, and in amongst all that they are a great pleasure to look at.

Of course, Barbara Jones got there long before I did.

Barbara Jones BBC Schools booklet 1954

barbara jones school booklet 1954 looking at things reverse

Her BBC Schools series is all about the pleasures of seeing in detail.  So here’s to another year of looking at things.

Incidentally, in case you think this is all a bit self-important and puffery, here’s a further cautionary tale.  In writing this, I looked up the original Morphets lot which had the type posters in, to find out what we paid for them.  Only it said ‘4 typographic posters’.  Sure enough, down the back the shelves where miscellaneous things live were two more historically important documents.  I really would have made a very bad museum indeed.