Four posters in search of a story

I’ve always been interested in the afterlife of objects – how things survive long enough to become collectibles or heirlooms or even national treasures.  It’s generally a story of chance and – quite often – being so lost and overlooked that no one bothers to throw you away. It’s also a story that isn’t often told as part of design history; once an object has been created and made, that’s normally the end of it.  But often what happens next is at least as interesting, and can also be very revealing about how we appreciate, or disregard, the objects around us.

So, following on from yesterday’s post about just how little survives, here are a few of our posters with the tales of how they made it through to the twenty-first century.

Tom Eckersley Post Early GPO poster
Tom Eckersley, Post Early for GPO, 1955, Crown Folio 15″ x 10″
Saved by a man who went into his local post office and asked them to keep for him all of the posters and publicity material that they had finished with.  (I will write more about this one of these days as it’s worth a whole post in its own right.)

Henrion London Underground Vintage poster Changing Guard
F H K Henrion, Changing of the Guard for London Transport, 1956, Double Royal 40″ x 25″
Kept by a tutor in graphic design who used it in his teaching.

Mount Evans no smoking poster
Mount/Evans, Anti-Smoking poster for COI, 1965-ish, Double Crown 30″ x 20″
Bought at auction but I believe it came from the designers’ own archive.

McKnight Kauffer ARP vintage poster
ARP Poster, Edward McKnight Kauffer, 1938, Crown Folio 15″ x 10″
Found in the roof of a scout hut.  The air rifle pellet holes had to be restored…

Patrick Bogue from Onslows also mentioned in passing that he once found original railway poster artwork being used as insulation in a loft space.  Can anyone better that?

Keep Ebay Tidy

Seeing as I was talking about Mount/Evans yesterday, here are a couple of Keep Britain Tidy posters which I believe are their work, or at least that of Reginald Mount.  He definitely designed this one, anyway.

Mount Evans Keep Britain Tidy vintage poster

And this one is clearly a relation.

Mount Evans Keep Britain Tidy vintage poster

They’ve both just gone on eBay, for £34 and £38 respectively, very reasonable for a nice pair of 30″ x 20″ Double Crowns.

I’ll post properly about Mount/Evans another day.  Although I don’t know a great deal about them (they worked for the Ministry of Information together in the war and then set up their own studio afterwards is about the long and the short of it), I can lay my hands on quite a lot of examples of the good stuff they did.  And if anyone can tell me any more about their careers in the meantime, that would be great.

And of course the Quad Royal Twitter logo is a Mount/Evans design.

Mount/Evans don't brag about job vintage poster

This particular poster was designed for government offices in 1960, but is another image that has gone viral across the web because it was included in the Cold War Modern exhibition at the V&A in 2008-9.  But still, a useful motto for modern life, I think.

Dekk hands

This great little GPO poster (a Crown Folio, naturally) was recently on eBay

Dorrit Dekk vintage GPO poster wireless licence

as a Buy It Now (for £20, it didn’t last long).

From 1949, it’s by Dorrit Dekk, who, despite designing some iconic COI posters like this one

Dorrit Dekk vintage post war poster

and some very smart later stuff too, such as this P&O menu design

dorrit dekk P&O menu from flickr

isn’t as well known as she rightly ought to be.

But more than just posting some lovely images of her work (there are plenty more of her later designs on a nice Flickr set here), I also wanted to point you at an interesting, if slightly strange set of interviews with her.

They come from  Your Archives, which is an attempt by the National Archives to create some Wiki-style content.  The Dekk interview is part of a World War Two artists section, although it’s about the only bit of original content that I’ve managed to find in there.  Most of the articles are just standard bios with link to relevant artworks in the archives.  Which would be alright if the National Archives had any thumbnail images in there, but they don’t.

There’s a perfectly servicable biography of Dorrit Dekk included, so I won’t repeat what they can perfectly well tell you themselves, but her career included an apprenticeship in the COI under Reginald Mount and Eileen Evans, as well as designing for the Festival of Britain.

Amongst other things, she explains how Reginald Mount gave her the pen-name Dekk:

Now one day, when the printer came back to collect the art work for the first poster I did and I was still finishing it off. He said “Well, you haven’t signed it” and so I said “I hadn’t thought about signing it.” And then I had a problem. I said “My married name was Klatzow” – which was a Russian name – and in those days a foreign name would have been difficult and unpronounceable. K-L-A-T-Z-O-W: that would be fashionable now! I didn’t like my maiden name, Fuhrmann. So then, Reggie said “So what are your initials?” and I said “DKK” and so he said “There you are: DKK. We put in the E” and Dekk was a good thing because was easy to understand on the telephone. It was not like having to spell Klatzow or Fuhrmann and, written down, it was good for signing. And it looked foreign which was an advantage – I didn’t pretend to be English – but at least it sounded possible.

And how designing for the Festival of Britain was the fast-track to a career after the war,

…the fantastic thing about the Festival was that you met all the great designers because you always had meetings together: Misha Black and Jimmy Holland – of course I knew him by then – Henrion, Abram Games, everybody! Abram I must have met at one of those meetings. And without the Festival I wouldn’t have been successful – it was like a badge of honour. If you had been a designer for the Festival you had arrived. And I was quite young after all and I had no experience – just those two years at the COI. I mean I was green. And then after the festival, all the jobs came in. It was so easy to get commissions after that because I had met everybody and, if I approached people with my portfolio asking “Can I design anything for you?” I got new commissions.

But large swathes of the interview are dull, if not frankly borderline surreal.  Instead of asking her more about what working in the C.O.I was like, or about her later work, the questions are about gouache, Tippex and paper quality instead.

A bit of digging around reveals that the purpose of the whole project (and hence the interview) is for conservators at the National Archives to

identify the paint and drawing materials (media) used by artists for propaganda artwork and illustrations during the Second World War.

Which I am sure is terribly useful for them, but a gigantic missed opportunity for the rest of us.  Although I suppose that the lesson is that I shouldn’t rely on the journalistic nous of archivists and conservators if I want to find out about designers and their work.

Dorrit Dekk is still alive and working, incidentally.  And if you want to buy one of her recent collages, they are available on eBay right now.

Vintage design for modern times

Tom Eckersley is all over the web at the moment.  Yesterday he was here on Grain Edit (and hence tweeted and reposted hither and thither).  And over the last few months, he’s also been herehereherehere and even all the way over here in Italy.  (There are loads more, I just lost the will to look at them all).  The two images below are currently spreading across the web like a virus.

Tom Eckersley Keep Britain Tidy vintage poster

This is in part – a big part – because the Eckersley Archive is both so big and so available.  But it must also be because there is something about Eckersley which is particularly appealing to today’s designers and students.

What’s noticeable about the posters which have, mostly, been chosen from the archive is that they tend to be Eckersley’s much more simple and graphic work, from the 60s and later.

Tom Eckersley Pakistan Airways vintage poster

What’s missing from the tides of Eckersley’s work ebbing and flowing across the web are the earlier, more whimsical posters.  Posters like this one:

tom eckersley seal guinness vintage poster

Or even this:

tom eckersley mablethorpe vintage poster

(This just went for £110 at Talisman Railway auctions, which is a bit of a bargain, even if it is a bit battered).

There is one exception to this, which are his Please Pack Parcels Very Carefully series, which the BPMA have been using quite a bit recently.  If I am truthful, I’m a bit cross about this.

Tom eckersley china dog vintage poster

It’s not that it’s not a lovely poster, it is, and of course everyone should get a chance to see it, if only to prove that Tom Eckersley did a bit more than just sparse modernism.  But it’s mine.  This was the first poster I ever bought (more on that some other time) and it’s sitting watching me as I write right now.  So hands off everyone.  Go and find another poster to tweet about please.

Here’s one to start with, another lovely piece of sparse modernism.

Mr Crownfolio and I are off to turn this into a twitter button.  We may be gone some time.  In the meantime, you can follow me on Twitter here.

These classic posters, they’re all rubbish you know

This link to Design magazine online has been on the bookmarks for a while, but I’ve never quite got round to exploring it.  But, a bit of random surfing while bored and tired the other evening came up with this:

Design magazine archive posters 1969

It’s an article about how most modern public information posters are rubbish.

“…the standard of the majority of most of these posters is very low indeed… The copy is often unconvincing or repelling, the artwork amateur, the design dull or muddled. Sadly staring out from tatty municipal notice boards, or lost among the sports and theatre fixtures on office notice boards, these staid, sometimes pompus lectures are rarely in themselves convincing.”

Which is all well and good, but the ascerbic thrust of his article is rather undermined by the illustrations, which are of some truly classic posters of the period.  To be fair, he’s not actually saying that these are bad, but it’s still hard to get worked up when faced with images like these from Mount/Evans, which are light years ahead of any informational poster produced today.

mount/evans vintage COI posters

Here’s the last one in glorious technicolour for your proper enjoyment.

vintage mount evans COI poster every girl should know

And as if that wasn’t enough, there’s also a lovely spread of GPO ‘Properly Packed Parcels Please’ posters (yes, again), by Malcolm Fowler, Thomas Bund and Andre Amstutz.

vintage GPO properly packed parcels posters Design

Again, here’s the Amstutz in its full glory (if not great size) thanks to the Postal Heritage archive.

vintage GPO properly packed parcels please poster Andre Amstutz

In part, I know, these posters do look good partly just because they’re old.  But I also genuinely think that you’d be hard-pressed to find any public information poster that is half as well designed these days – and if anyone can prove me wrong, I’d love to see the evidence.  So, Design Magazine, you may have found the wealth of posters unconvincing and repelling, but with forty years worth of hindsight, you didn’t know how lucky you were.