The forgotten man

I’ve said it before, and I will no doubt get around to saying it again, but Harry Stevens is a very underestimated poster artist.  That thought is mostly provoked by this 1954 poster, which we bought a copy of recently, (although one which I have to admit is slightly more battered than this picture).

harry Stevens address mail clearly vintage GPO poster 1954

It’s good, isn’t it?  And so’s this.

harry Stevens vintage southport coach poster 1950s

And indeed this.

Harry Stevens vintage east anglia coach poster 1950s

Mr Crownfolio wonders every so often whether that poster is Harry Stevens gently taking the mickey out of Daphne Padden’s sailor types.

2 x Daphne Padden Royal Blue vintage coach posters

Or perhaps fishermen were just picturesque visitor attractions all over the 1950s.  Who can say.

But back to Mr Stevens.  There are two things to say about him really.  One is that he is so thoroughly overlooked that there is very little out there on the web about him at all.  In fact pretty much the only biography I can find is that on the London Transport Museum website, and even that is pretty short.

The other is that he wasn’t overlooked at the time.  He regularly turns up in annuals of good taste like ‘Designers in Britain’ and, as the LTM biography says, won the Council of Industrial Design Poster Award in 1963.  So why is he so little known now?

It can’t be because his work has disappeared, beacause he has to be one of the most prolific poster artists of his generation, working right through into the 1970s.  This somewhat perplexing poster dates from 1971 for example.

Harry stevens male staff quite perplexing vintage ish gpo poster

He did quite a bit of this cartoon-style work for the GPO.  Some of it is as good as anything he ever did, like this owl from 1960.

Harry Stevens vintage GPO poster owl 1960

By the end of the decade, it goes get a bit repetitive and less appealing, probably just because he produced so many of the things.

Harry Stevens correct addressing cartoon poster GPO 1969

But don’t let that put you off his work, because he did do some really good posters too.  Perhaps some of his most adventurous designs were for London Transport.  Here are two he did in 1961 and 1963 respectively.

harry Stevens vintage London Transport poster 1961 Winter

Harry Stevens vintage London Transport poster Country walks 1963

But he could also do a much more graphic treatment for them too – I keep mistaking this particular poster for an Eckersley, although it does in fact date from 1976..

Harry Stevens vintage London Transport poster 1976

In terms of sale prices, even his later work is now starting to fetch higher prices and be sold by posh dealers, as I’ve mentioned before.

HArry Stevens litter vintage 1974 London Transport poster

But he’s still not really a name, and I do think this is an unfair omission.  Possibly he is just a bit too jovial for modern tastes. Then Tom Eckersley can tend that way too, particularly in the 1950s.

Stevens’ work definitely deserves better.  He was capable of producing a good poster right into the 197os.

harry Stevens vintage LT coach tour poster 1970

But for me, the posters he did in the 1950s and early 1960s are still some of my favourite things.  Interestingly, he seems to have done relatively few for British Railways – this Porthcawl is one of the very few  I can find.

Harry Stevens porthcawl poster vintage British Railways

Along with this artwork of yet another salty sea dog.

harry stevens vintage British Railways poster artwork 1955

In contrast, the coach companies kept him very busy indeed.

harry Stevens 1957 coach poster

Harry Stevens vintage coach poster

On the basis of those alone, he deserves to be better appreciated.

A final addendum, the London Transport Museum lists him as a designer and fine artist, but the only trace I have been able to find of the latter is this, ‘Spirit of Southern’.

Harry Stevens BR painting

The painting was commissioned by BR Southern Region in 1969 (not something that would ever happen now) but wasn’t very popular apparently and rarely got displayed.  But if anyone knows of any more artworks of his around and about, please do let me know as I would love to see them.

Posters past

A while ago I posted, as did many other people, about the ghost posters of Notting Hill Gate, thanks to the wonderful photos taken by Mike Ashworth.

wide of disused passageway Notting Hill Gate tube station

In the late 1950s, this tunnel, which ran between different lines at Notting Hill Gate tube station, was replaced by escalators and sealed up.  What remained there for more than 60 years was a fantastic set of posters, a glimpse into what was really being advertised at the time.

Old posters in disused passageway at Notting Hill Gate tube station, 2010

What’s particularly fascinating is that they’re not all good.  Of course there are some classics like Daphne Padden’s poster for Royal Blue coaches, but some of them are frankly quite average.  Dial FLE 5000 for the Evening News.

The reason I’m reminding you about this is that a similar set of posters – only this time not stuck to any walls – have just been sold on eBay.  There are seven of them, and it really does look like the contents of a pile given to the poster hangers at the start of the day.

Harry Stevens Boulogne vintage travel poster 1959

British Railways book holiday travel poster 1959

Once again, there are some lovely pieces of design – my favourite is probably this Victor Galbraith image.

Victor Galbraith vintage 1959 sport travel poster

The LT Museum dates that to 1959, and my guess is that they are all from about the same period.

So far, all so wonderful, but there are also some decidedly average ones.

Mechanical Handling Exhibition Earls Court May

Some which can only be described as looking  like newspaper ads magnified.

Atlas van vintage advertising poster 1959

Along with a couple which aren’t even that interesting.

London TRansport vintage evening news advertising poster

I have no idea where the set  have come from, but I’m going to ask, so if I find out more I will let you know.

But they’re not just interesting as a cross-section, they also tell me, at least, something new.

Lt Copes advertising poster

All of these posters are 20″ x 30″, so Double Crown size, which was the standard advertising format of the period (if you want a full explanation of imperial poster sizes, Tom Eckersley will be your guide)  Which is what you’d probably expect, given that, just like today, all kinds of companies advertised on the Tube network.

But two of the posters are for institutions – British Railways and London Transport – who usually used the 40″ x 25″ Double Royal poster for their advertising.  That’s the size that posters on railway stations and on the outside of Tube stations always were, and that’s the size that most railway and London Transport posters are when they survive – take a look at any auction if you don’t believe me.

Except here we have two posters, one for the railways and one for London Transport itself, which don’t fit that format and instead have been designed to sit amongst all the other commercial advertising.  Which surprised me, as I’d never really thought that they ever produced posters in this format.

Of course it makes complete sense when you do think about it, especially for London Transport who must have printed at least some Double Crown posters just to fill in any gaps which appeared in their commercial advertising spaces.  Victor Galbraith’s elephant is probably doing that job on the tunnel walls above.

Victor Galbraith Party Travel London Transport poster 1958

And even a cursory search on his name in the London Transport Museum archives produces other designs in a Double Crown size too, so while they might have been uncommon, they weren’t entirely unusual.  Here’s another one from 1959.

Victor Galbraith rush hour poster vintage London Transport 1959

But that BR and London Transport produced these posters  is also not surprising because this point, the late 1950s, is the final heyday of the poster.  This was an advertising medium of such importance that even British Railways, with its own poster sites in its own poster sizes, couldn’t afford not to be part of it.  This wouldn’t last though, within a few years commercial television would have ended the dominance of the poster forever.

My Victor Galbraith search also brings up this wonderful bird, who is a Double Royal this time.

Galbraith vintage London Transport poste r1958

I wonder how the decisions were made as to which posters were chosen for which sizes.  That, like so many other things, is something to find out more about one of these days. Unless there’s someone out there who knows already.

In touch with the everyday life of the nation

As promised last week, another look at Sotherans and their new-found love of posters which I had hitherto never thought of as valuable, never mind the preserve of a Mayfair dealer,  But I am always willing to learn.

What’s most interesting about the latest crop of posters that they’ve put up on their website is that there are a whole slew of GPO posters in there.  This, by Donald Smith has to be my absolute favourite.

Donald Smith Vintage GPO poster Post Office Savings Bank

So much so that I almost thought about paying the £125 that they want for it.  But didn’t, you’ll be relieved to hear.

I’ve mentioned my utter lack of knowledge about Donald Smith before (when a few of his posters, including the one above, turned up in the 1962 Poster Annual. Unfortunately nothing has turned up to change that since then, so I still can’t tell you the first thing about him except that he made very good posters indeed.

In the same sort of vein are a Stan Krol and Harry Stevens.

Stan Krol vintage gpo poster post office savings bank

Harry Stevens Vintage GPO POster Post office savings bank knight

There’s a weird lack of consistency in the dimensions of these posters which is a bit puzzling, as they must have been made for a whole range of different displays.

Just to add further variety, there are also a couple of what I think are GPO schools posters, although I’ve never seen them before, both proudly promoting the Post Office’s role as a promotor of national unity, ‘in touch with the everyday life of the nation’.  Which is probably something which should have been thought about a bit more before so many of them were closed down.

Walter Hoyle Harlow New Town GPO schools poster

Norman Jacques vintage GPO poster schools

The sheer joyous optimism about new town life in Harlow in the Walter Hoyle poster at the top is rather wonderful, while the Norman Jacques below more falls under alright if you like that sort of thing.  Neither of them, though, are ever going to be worth £145 in my book.  Nor is this other Hoyle going to persuade me to part with £225 either.

Walter Hoyle GPO savings poster 4 nations

But the griping about the prices is really a bit incidental.  What’s odd (and if I’m honest a bit unnerving) is that this kind of poster has suddenly found its way into the mainstream.  I am bemused, I really am.

Further bemusement is also caused by finding this anonymous CoI poster in there too.

CoI vintage civil defence poster post war

I’m guessing it’s early 1950s, but is there really a market for Cold War memorabilia?  This Beverley Pick is at least a bit less of a surprise.

Beverley Pick ATS vintage world war two propaganda poster

But what still confounds me most about all of this is how the usual fare of Cuneos and railway landscapes have almost completely vanished from the Sotherans roster.  To be sure, there are one or two in there, but not in the swarms there once were.  Instead, they’ve been replaced by, well, this kind of thing.  Posters I like and am interested in to be precise.  And I’m not sure I like that, I don’t think I’m ready for my tastes to become mainstream.  Quite apart from anything else, I’ll never be able to afford another poster again.

The New Wave

I thought I’d said pretty much everything I could say about Sotherans by now, in particular about the unlikelihood of being able to sell posters at such prices in a world where, thanks to the internet, everyone should agree on what a poster is worth.   But it seems that modern technology  has made precisely no difference at all to their business model, because this year they have once again produced a new catalogue, and the prices are just as jaw-dropping as they have ever been.

Anglesey Norman Wilkinson LMS Poster 1930
Norman Wilkinson, 1930, £1,995 – sold

So far, so not news.  But this set of posters is worth taking a look at, because it marks an interesting change in the focus of the company, and so perhaps also a movement in the market more generally.

It is true that they still begin with the traditional railway landscape/Terence Cuneo favourites that we have come to know, like this Somerset poster by Jack Merriott.

Jack Merriott Somerset British Railways vintage poster 1960
Jack Merriott, 1960, £1,500

I do also have to note that this Somerset British Railways Map is apparently £760, unbacked, mostly because we bought one for £16.99 on eBay a while back.

JP Sayers British Railways Somerset Map
J P Sayers, 1937, £765

And then sold it for £56 a few years later.  I thought we’d done well, but clearly not.

But there aren’t as many of these as you’d expect.  Very soon the catalogue shifts into an entirely different gear, one which might be called cheerful British kitsch.

Bexhill on Sea vintage british railways poster 1961
Anonymous,1961, £800

In fact a few pages in the catalogue look more like a romp through Quad Royal than an up-market poster sale.

Page from sotherans catalogue

There are some good posters in here – I did actually type great and then deleted it, because mostly they’re not.  They’re bright, they’re very 1950s, but what they are not is classic graphic design (although I might just have to make an exception for a this stick of rock).

Eastbourne vintage travel poster 1950 Bromfield British Railways
Bromfield, 1950, £685 – sold

What’s really interesting though is that almost all of them have sold, and for prices that they just wouldn’t reach anywhere else.

Southport, vintage British Railways travel poster 1965
Anonymous, 1965 (??), £485

The interest in this style is not entirely a new thing.  When I first started going to poster auctions in about 2002, Christies had just started selling these kinds of poster, and they were doing very well in the their auctions too.  But when Christies introduced their new £800 minimum lot price, this rather ruled them out.  Clearly though, as this catalogue shows, the demand for them hasn’t gone away.

R M Lander come to hastings by train vintage british railways poster 1962
Lander, 1962, £685 – sold

Sotherans could be accused of pushing it to the limit, mind you.  As I’ve mentioned before, these two Harry Stevens posters are not exactly rare.

Harry Stevens vintage London Transport poster Travel Enquiries
Harry Stevens, 1974, £85 – sold

HArry Stevens litter vintage 1974 London Transport poster
Harry Stevens, 1974, £85 – sold

In fact they have been swilling all over eBay for some time.  Right now you can buy a framed copy of the top poster for £21 should you wish, and a portrait version of the lower one for £23.  Which does make me wonder whether Sotheran’s buyers are too foppish and tweedy to have come across the internet at all.

But it goes further.  There are a slew of posters on there without much in the way of merit.

Birthday Savings vintage post office savings bank poster Rex Moreton 1960
Rex Moreton, 1960, £195 – sold

Happy and Carefree vintage Post office savings bank poster GPO 1960
Anonymous, c.1960, £125

They’ve sold too, when you’d struggle to get a tenner for them on eBay.  Really, who are these people? And how can I sell them some posters?

To be fair, there are also one or two nice GPO posters in there too, like this Eric Fraser.

Eric Fraser, vintage GPO poster, Neutron generator c1930-40
Eric Fraser, c.1930-40, £225

Along with one or two good LT ones too.

Peter Roberson London Museums vintage London Transport poster 1956
Peter Roberson, 1956, £500

Enid Marx vintage London Transport poster 1965 The Science Museum
Enid Marx, 1965, £500

Although this William Fenton has to be in the ‘stretching it to get a tenner on eBay’ category.

William Fenton dull bus vintage London Transport poster of dull buses
William Fenton, 1969, £250

While you’d have to pay me to take this one away.

Bus Stop Poster 1970
Anonymous, 1970, £55

Worth noting too is this Mount Evans, which has to be one of the better pieces of post war design in the whole catalogue.

Mount Evans Britain CoI poster 1967
Mount/Evans, 1967, £350

The style is modern rather than kitsch, but it still represents the same movement away from landscapey railway posters and towards something more interesting (at least if you’re me).

So what does it all mean?  My first guess would have been that the world is running out of railway posters and so dealers like Sotherans have been forced to diversify.  But in fact, it’s the more modern posters which have been selling for them, leaving more traditional fare like the Somerset posters still for sale.  So this must be what people, even the rareified breed who go to Sotherans want these days.  Which is probably worth noting, not least because it gives the rest of us a good chance to do some upselling from eBay.

Now, I would send you off to the Sotherans catalogue to take a look at what’s sold for yourself.  But literally while I was typing this post, they took that page down, although you can still see an online version of the print catalogue.  So I think that more of the posters than I have listed are sold, but I’m not able to check that any more.  They have, however, replaced it with a new set of posters for sale, including a very interesting set of GPO Savings posters. I’ll take a proper look at them (and their prices) soon, but if you want to take a peek before then, you can find them here.

A Gay Old Time

I haven’t posted about eBay for a bit, mostly because there hasn’t been anything of note for a while. At last, though, there is something worth a look.  Even if it’s not, in rather too many cases, worth the amount of money they’re asking for it.

First out of the blocks is this, which is both wonderful and cheap (as least for now).

Gay Copenhagen vintage 1950s travel poster

I don’t really need to say any more than that, do I?

I mentioned this very David Klein just the other day, because it’s coming up in the next Christies auction.

David Klein vintage miami TWA travel poster

Christies are expecting between £700 and £900 for it, which means that this eBay version is currently stupidly cheap at only £140.  I do not, however, believe that this is going to last.

Also a bit of a bargain (no, quite a lot of a bargain as they are currently just at 99p) are these two 1950s London Transport posters by Lobban.

Lobban vintage 1950s travel poster

While they may not be my favourite posters ever, they are for sale and for a mere 99p starting price, which can only be applauded these days.

Rather less of a steal is another London Transport poster from the 1950s, in this case by Denys Nichols and from 1954.

Denys Nichols vintage 1954 London Transport poster

It’s a wonderful, wonderful poster that I would seriously consider buying it in a normal auction.  But £499 is more than I think it would fetch at any kind of auction, never mind on eBay.  Am I right though?  We will have to wait and see.

If that annoys you, all is not lost as there is also the chance to buy your London Transport posters in bulk.  Fourteen of the little fellows for just £100.

ebay Harry Stevens lot

Now we have one of each of these Harry Stevens designs and so probably don’t need any more (for some reason these two particular posters have kept appearing everywhere over the last year).  But if you fancy going into poster dealing, Sotherans had copies of each of those in their most recent catalogue, at £85 a piece, so there is some scope for a mark-up.  (Sotherans never sent me an email when their new catalogue came out, probably because they knew I was going to mock the prices.  Now that I have found it, I will duly do this in a post next week.)

In further bulk buying opportunities, this seller has a comprehensive selection of greetings telegrams for sale, of which this 1939 design by Alan Sorrell is my favourite.

1939 Greetings telegram

I like the design, which is probably even nicer in focus, but am even more pleased by the fact that someone thought fit to commission and produce a telegram of this kind of landcape.  If you do want any of them, though, you’ll need to be quick, as the auctions all end this evening.

Finally, a warning.  The most unnecessary piece of poster memorabilia ever is back, back, back on eBay.


But this time they want not £50 for it, but £150.  When it looks like a slug.  Consider me speechless.

On the buses (and bus stops too)

One of the real joys of writing this blog is getting a response on a subject from People Who Really Know.  So after my post about long thin posters, it was very good to hear from Michael Wickham who gave me a lot more information about where these kind of posters were displayed.  Along with illustrations, and permission to share it with everyone here.  I don’t really need to say much more, do I?

Posters were/still are produced for the timetable panels on bus stops. These are very close to A4 size (or double that or treble that, vertically) and have been produced since the late 1920s. Until quite recently, they were produced with two punch holes in the top cormers and hung on screws inside the frame. Nowadays, they are laminated. The 1974 Harry Stevens you mentioned on 9/3 is one of these, as you suggested.

Of course, the vast majority of these posters were timetables, in tabular form without any artistic element whatsoever. However, LT filled unused spaces in the frames with other material, eg exhortations not to drop litter, to avoid rush hours, queue properly etc and, occasionally to advertise attractions which could be reached by bus. For some of these, an established artist would be employed.  Here area couple from my collection, both by Clifford Wilkinson – London’s Country Houses  from 1953 (triple A4 vertical)

Clifford Wilkinson vintage bus stop poster London's Country Houses 1953

and Windsor Castle from 1951 (double A4 vertical).

Clifford Wilkins vintage bus stop poster Windsor Castle 1953

The timetables have survived in reasonable numbers because bus enthusiasts have collected them but the “artistic” posters are quite rare survivors.

Other posters have been produced for interior use inside buses (above the seats). There are two standard sizes of these: 25″ x 8″ used from the 1930s until the present and a larger size (25″ x 11″) used on more modern types of buses. Below are a 1944 issue of the first type, by Midge,

Midge vintage bus poster 1944 help the conductor

and a 1976 issue of the second, by Harry Stevens.

Harry Stevens 1976 bus poster travel information

In addition, there were sundry-size posters for the buses in the 1950s-70s for specific panels, eg on the front bulkhead, above the front windows on the upper deck and on the staircase panel. Some examples of these:

Vintage Galbraith bus poster 1960 Please Help The conductor

A 1960 Galbraith – “Please help the Conductor” – 20″ x 9″

Vintage London Transport poster Galbraith bus Avoid Rush Hour Travel

A 1959 Galbraith – “Avoid Rush Hour Travel”  – 24″ x 5″

Anna Zinkeisen 1934 Aldershot Tattoo vintage London transport poster

A 1934 Zinkeisen – “Aldershot Tattoo by private bus” – 12″ x 10″

The 12″ x 10″ size was also used on the Underground from the 1930s until the 1970s. The Underground ones had a non-see-through backing, usually dark grey, because these posters were affixed to the glass vestibules by the train doors.

There are two other common sizes on the Underground: the cards which go in the carriages above the windows and the portrait type used on the escalators. I don’t have any “artistic” ones of either of these as they are largely used for commercial advertising.

All of which is comprehensive, brilliant and very much appreciated.  What’s more, he’s also very happy to answer any questions if you have any.  So thank you very much, Michael Wickham.