New Term

It’s September, school has started (in the case of small Crownfolio, for the very first time) and the auction season is getting back into gear too.  First in the queue are International Poster Auctions in New York, whose Auction of Rare Posters is on Sept 8th.

Most of what’s on offer consists of things that Americans like and I don’t (Barnum and Bailey Circus posters, Art Nouveau, that kind of thing) but there are a few British gems on offer.

Quite a few of these are pre-war London Transport posters like this Dora Batty, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

Dora Batty vintage London Transport poster 1933 up for auction
Dora Batty, 1933, est. $1,000-1,200

This Roy Meldrum is less often reproduced but also rather fine.  It seems to have an odd familiarity to me, but I don’t know whether this is because it looks like a mixture of so many other images from that period, or simply that I used to own a postcard of it once upon a time.

Roy Meldrum vintage London Transport poster 1933 Something Different
Roy Meldrum, 1933, est. $1,700-2,000

There are also a couple of McKnight Kauffer classics up for grabs.

McKnight Kauffer The Flea vintage London Transport poster 1926
E. McKnight Kauffer, 1926, est. $1,700-2,000

McKNight Kauffer Stonehenge vintage shell poster 1931
E. McKnight Kauffer, 1931, est. $3,000-4,000

But my favourite is much later than any of these, as it dates from 1973 and is by David Gentleman.
David Gentleman vintage London Transport poster Victorian London 1973
David Gentleman, 1973, est. $700-1,000

Clearly prices rise as posters cross the Atlantic: this poster went for just £130 on eBay last month, much to the disappointment of at least one reader of this blog.

Elsewhere on eBay, it’s still a bit quiet.  This Tom Purvis is out of focus, a bit battered and in the U.S., although that doesn’t seem to be deterring the bidders.

Tom Purvis British Industries Fair 1930s poster on eBay

It is also my bounded duty to point out that Cyclamon has yet another of these small but perfectly formed Eckersley GPO posters for sale on a Buy It Now for £35.

Tom Eckersley vintage GPO poster for sale on eBay

I don’t think he’s printing them.

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.

Christmas bay

For once, eBay has come up with something seasonal.  Even better, it’s a classic GPO post early poster.

Huveneers post early poster GPO 1957

This 1957 design by Huveneers has already come up on the Advent Calendar here, and now you can have your own if you like.  Bidding starts at a moderately steep £22 (well I think it’s steep given that it’s 22cm x 15cm, which isn’t a great deal of poster) but they don’t come up that often, so the seller may be right this time.

Elsewhere on the bay, the delightfully named i.m.weasel has some London Transport posters to sell.  Only a few, but some rather good ones.  Shall we start with this Henrion?

Henrion hampton court maze vintage London Transport poster from eBay

Then there’s this Sheila Robinson too.

Vintage Royal London Sheila Robinson London Transport poster

And a rather good William Johnstone that I haven’t come across before (the colours remind me of James Fitton’s post-war posters, for what it’s worth).

William Johnstone Vintage London Transport poster from eBay

But the star of the show is this David Gentleman pair poster.

David Gentleman vintage London Transport pair poster from eBay

Now, I do have a few caveats about these auctions.  One is that – in the case of the Johnstone and the Henrion – he  illustrated them with the London Transport Museum catalogue image as his main pictures.  Which is a bit cheeky.

The other is that all of these items have a reserve on.  And I’d suspect that these are fairly steep ones too, given that the David Gentleman poster has a Buy It Now price of £1,000 attached.  Which is, yes, what it has fetched at Christies earlier this year.  But firstly that was with two Sheila Robinson posters (proof once again that these multiple lots make it almost impossible to value anything properly). Secondly, if you want a good price for a poster, putting it in an auction which ends on December 22nd probably isn’t the way to get it.  And finally, I think  that there is a more general point, which is that if you want a Christies price, you probably do still have to sell at Christies, and pay their premiums.  But I shall watch and see what happens with interest. Although probably without bidding.

It’s also worth noting that this John Bainbridge is still floating about for sale on a Buy It Now too.

John Bainbridge vintage London Transport poster eBay

Currently on for £90, which is down from its original starting bid of £120, but still a bit tatty round the edges.

While, in the endless re-settling and rearrangement of the posters from the last Morphets sale, these two are also available on Buy It Nows.

Bigg vintage coach poster bridge from Morphets eBay

Atkins vintage coach poster from Morphets via eBay

Curiously, the Bigg (above) is at £100, while the Atkins, which I infinitely prefer (always the sucker for a chalk horse though) is only £75.  But in both cases that’s significantly more than their auction price.

Tomorrow, more GPO admonishments but this time seen on their natural habitat of a wall.

You Can Be Sure of Shell

The relationship between archives and the internet is not always a one way street.  What gets most discussion is how, and whether, archives are putting their catalogues and content on line.  But in the meantime, the internet itself is also becoming the archive.

Here’s a fascinating example.  It’s something I’ve touched on before, but it’s such an extraordinary (and well-hidden) resource that it deserves its own post.

Way, way down in the bowels of the Sothebys website, their catalogues now go backfor more than 10 years.  And so they include the 2002 sale of many of the original paintings commissioned by Shell for its post-war educational posters.

Now, this isn’t your typical poster sale.  To start with, Shell didn’t really commission the usual run of poster artists for their educational posters, the people concerned are mostly illustrators.  Some of the finest illustrators working in the 1950s and 60s, to be precise, like David Gentleman, S R Badmin, Tristram Hillier and Rowland Hilder.

Perhaps the best-known illustrations for sale were the images of individual counties, which were covers for the Shell Guides as well as centre-pieces for the associated posters.

S R Badmin original illustration for shell county guide
S R Badmin, Derbyshire

Rowland Hilder Kent illustration for Shell County Guide
Rowland Hilder, Kent

Ian Henderson, Worcester illustration Shell County Guide
Ian Henderson, Worcestershire

Richard Eurich, Cornwall illustration Shell County Guides
Richard Eurich, Cornwall

I don’t think I’ve ever come across the Worcestershire one before (and I would have noticed it if I had, not only is it a great piece of design, but Worcester is where the Crownfolio family came from, back in the day).  The Eurich, meanwhile, was the most expensive of the county illustrations, going for a quite spectacular £12,925.

But detailed illustration did seem to be what the buyers wanted most.  The highest-prices went to the S R Badmin images of trees through the year.  Here’s February (£14,100) and September (£10,340).

S R Badmin trees and shrubs February original shell poster illustration

S R Badmin shell poster illustration trees and shrubs september

Although Tristram Hillier’s Fossils also went for £14,100, but that’s because it’s genius.

Tristram Hillier Fossils shell educational poster illustration

While David Gentleman’s Roads series (which I love almost the best) went for hardly anything.

David Gentleman Ridgeway shell poster llustration

David Gentleman Ermine Street Shell poster illustration

And why Ermine Street fetched £3,290 while the Ridgeway fetched only £999, I will never understand.  Why pay more for tarmac?

But to some degree, the prices aren’t the most interesting thing about the auction.  What I like most about the archive is that it is there at all.  Here, for the last time, all of Shell’s illustrations are gathered together, from the famous ones,

Rowland Hilder Sussex shell County guide poster illustration
Rowland Hilder, Sussex

to some that I never knew existed.

David Conner Rousham Court shell illustration
David Conner, Rousham Court

It should have been a book.  But at least it is still out there on the web.

Last of the summer wine

I was thinking about elderberry cordial, and so dug this out of a drawer.  Then I was so struck by what a beautiful image it is that I forgot all about recipes and went off on the trail of its design instead.

WI wine book front cover

The book is the Womens Institute Book of Home Made Wines Syrups and Cordials.  Curiously, it has an introduction by our old friend Sir Stephen Tallents of GPO and Empire Marketing Board fame (who says that country wine is a good thing and so is the W.I.), but it’s the illustrations that are the real star here.

They’re by Roger Nicholson, who did what I think is an even more lovely job of the back cover.

WI wine book back cover

As well as a series of very attractive line drawings for the inside too.

WI wine book illustration equipment

This is for Equipment, while below is Herb Wines.

Herb wine illustration

The first edition was 1954, which I’m guessing must be when the drawings date from, but it was published in exactly the same form until at least 1967.  I should know, for some reason I have three copies.

3 copies of the same book

Still, it is very useful.

Something about the style reminds me of this book, the wonderful Plats du Jour, illustrated by David Gentleman, which happened to be on the shelves above.

Plats du Jour front cover David Gentleman

And which also has a similarly appealing back cover.

Plats du jour back cover

This too has lovely black and white illustrations heading each chapter.

The Store Cupboard from Plats du jour

I could quite happily scan each and every one of them, except that I’m afraid I would break the spine.

vin ordinaires from plats du jour

Plats du Jour was published in 1957, so together these books are a reminder that there was a lot more going on in post-war Britain than just modernism.  I’m thinking about this a lot at the moment, partly because of Paul Rennie’s book, and will write some more on it in a week or two.  But for now, I wanted to celebrate Roger Nicholson.

He turns out to be the sort of person who ought to be better known.  He painted and did graphic design as well as these illustrations, but his main work was in fabrics and the like – he was Professor of Textile Design at the Royal College of Art in the late 50s and 60s and produced some very well-known wallpaper designs as well.

But I can’t turn up a lot of his stuff.  Here’s a poster he designed for the Festival of Britain (thanks to the Museum of London archive that I’ve mentioned before).

Nicholson Festival of Britain poster Living Traditions

And here is one of his textile designs from 1951.

Roger Nicholson textile design

But that, I am afraid, is it.  It’s a real shame, I would have loved to see more and to know more.

I did managed to find one short biography as well, which offered an intriguing quote about his work.

It was Roger Nicholson’s gift and curse as an artist that he was incapable of making an ugly mark on a piece of paper.

There are far worse ways to be remembered, but I think he deserves a bit more than just this.

A shilling life

I was going to write at length about Barbara Jones this week, but I have a sore throat and no childcare, so it will have to wait.

Instead, either as compensation or to whet your appetite, have this.

Shell shilling Guide Berkshire - Barbara Jones

The Shell Shilling Guide to Berkshire, cover design by Barbara Jones.

It’s easy to think of the various Shell County artworks as having been produced entirely for the purposes of posters (particularly should you happen to write a blog about posters).  But the illustrations and text were also advertisements and, of course, these rather lovely glove-box sized guides.  Here’s the whole thing across the front and back (although the artworks are cropped top and bottom to fit them onto the guides).

Shell shilling guide to berkshire cover Barbara jones

I am particularly liking the pig.

According to the guides themselves, the advertisements came first.  But in some ways these little guides, sold in petrol stations and designed to be used rather than just collected on a bookshelf, are the most satisfying.  Each Shilling Guide manages to cram in a short essay, a map, a list of stately homes and other sites open to the public, a gazetteer of some of the county’s chief places and a bibliography into just twenty pages, along with some evocative photographs.

I’ve never thought of Berkshire as bleak before, but I may have to change my view.

And that’s what I love most about these guides.  They’re not written by a committee; they’re not interested in received opinion.  Instead they point out modern factories, rare flowers, folklore and literary references with equal abandon, not just describing places but making them seem more interesting.  They don’t insult your intelligence (imagine gettting a Further Reading list today), and they are fascinated by local distinctiveness, whether that’s in geology, buildings, traditions, or just the kind of people who live in a county.

Of course, they do owe a lot to the larger Shell Guides, but I think their eccentricity is even more radical for being available for just a shilling over the counter in villages and towns all over Britain.

Here are a few more, by Keith Grant, John Nash and David Gentleman respectively.  Imagine if modern guidebooks came with covers as good as this.

Shell Shilling Guide to Wiltshire Keith Grant

Shell Shilling Guide Dorset John Nash

Shell Shilling Guide Notts David Gentleman

If you want to know more, there is a short overview of the Shilling Guides here and an interesting essay on the motivations behind Shell Guides generally here.

But perhaps the best news of all is that these are really affordable collectables, going for between £1-4 on eBay, a bit more at a second-hand bookshop.  Why on earth don’t I have all 48?