Deja vu all over again

I seem to have come back from holiday only to wander into a fold in time, because at least some of the posters on offer out there seem strangely familiar.

Lets start with Dreweatts in Bristol, who are once again selling the work of Percy Drake Brookshaw.

Percy Drake Brookshaw Boat Race poster 1927 London Transport
Percy Drake Brookshaw, 1927, est. £150-200

This is not a new thing, in fact it’s something which has been going on almost since the very beginning of this blog.

Percy Drake Brookshaw Wimbledon tennis London Transport poster 1928
Percy Drake Brookshaw, 1928, est. £200-300

The only real change being that they have got slightly more realistic in their estimates.

Percy Drake Brookshaw shell poster cricket just out 1933
Percy Drake Brookshaw, 1933, est. £300-400

Although I can’t remember these posters ever coming up before.

Percy Drake Brookshaw Green Line posters 1936 London Transport
Percy Drake Brookshaw, 1936, est. £200-300

Once again, they are provenanced from the artist’s family by direct descent.  I can only imagine, with some envy, the stack of posters they must have had before they started selling.

Elsewhere in auctionworld, a curiosity in Bloomsbury’s British Art Sale.  Even they describe it as ‘a macabre vision’.

Betty Swanwick RA (1915-1989) Safety First!' a macabre vision for a Ministry of Transport poster
Betty Swanwick, est. £1,000-1,500

It’s a design for a poster, although not one I’ve ever seen.  Maybe even the ministry thought it was a step too far.  There are some examples of her painting up for sale too – I rather like this.

Betty Swanwick RA (1915-1989) The Gardeners
Betty Swanwick, est. £1,500-2,000

Although the price is once again a reminder why we collect posters rather than fine art.  I’m sure there are lots more wonderful things lurking in that auction too, but I don’t dare take a very close look in case I start spending money which is meant to be used for house renovation.

Meanwhile on eBay, there’s more on offer than I’d normally expect to find in the doldrums of August, and they’re proper posters too.  The kind that you might normally expect to find in auctions.  Let’s start with a handful of classic railway posters.  Well, post-war classics at least.

British Railways poster

That – by Ronald Lampitt and dating from 1952 – is my favourite, but there’s also this Lander, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen before.  Or at least not noticed.

Lander British railways poster 1952 Northern Ireland

But it’s this Kenneth Steele which seems to be the most popular with the bidders so far.

British Railways poster loch ness Kenneth Steele

The price as I write stands as £221, with more than four days to go.

Also doing well are a set of three Empire Marketing Board posters from the 1930s.

Chas Pears Empire Marketing board poster Gibraltar

The Gibraltar example above, by Chas Pears, has already reached £122, but you can still have his version of the Suez Canal for a bid over £5.59 if you like.

Chas Pears Empire Marketing board poster  Suez Canal 1930s

Finally, an oddity from our old friends PosterConnection.  I don’t suggest that you actually buy this, what with it costing $400 and all, but it’s worth a look.

London Transport poster Music in London, by Hans Unger and Eberhard Schulze, 1964

It’s by our old friends Hans Unger and Ebhard Schulze, but it’s not a plain mosaic, rather it’s a collage with a bit of mosaic in.

The poster is also missing the text beneath  – here is the LT Museum copy by way of comparison.

Music in London, by Hans Unger and Eberhard Schulze, 1964

Although whether that makes it worth more or less I have no idea. Any thoughts?

This is not a poster

Or is it?

Chris Ofili Olympic poster 2012 London for the unknown runner

It certainly claims to be a poster, as one of the set commissioned for the 2012 Olympics, in this case designed by Chris Ofili.

Rather against my will, I have to consider these on an almost daily basis, because a selection are on display in a shop window just a couple of hundred yards from our house.  Mr Crownfolio says that he’s quite enjoying them;  I’m less sure.  Here’s Michael Craig Martin’s offering, which I like a bit more but isn’t there.

Michael Craig Martin Olympic 2012 poster Go

The thing is, I’m wrestling with the idea of them being posters.  Here’s the 1948 Olumpic poster, designed by Walter Herz, which is a very different beast.

London Olympics poster 1948 Walter Herz

As is London Transport’s only Olympic offering from that year.

London Transport 1948 Olympics poster

They’ve been created by designers, not artists.  They’re big and informational and no one wanted you to frame them.  So what’s happened in between?

The way that the meaning of the word ‘poster’ has changed over the last sixty or so years was pointed out by the Catherine Flood book which I mentioned a few weeks ago.  It’s one of the most thought-provoking ideas in it.  A poster was once something that was displayed in public as a form of advertising or information, but somewhere in the 1960s it became a smaller-scale object that was bought in shops and displayed on domestic walls.

In some ways, this is a statement of the blindingly obvious.  Even though I knew the facts at some level, I’d never really thought about them properly. But it’s well worth the effort.

We begin in the 1950s, when the display poster is the most prestige form of advertising you can get.  There are specialist poster artists, annuals and competitions and posters are in every urban scene, out there, communicating.  This, then, is a poster.

Tom Eckersley gillette monkey poster

And another three, seen here in their natural habitat.

More Posters on Walls including Patrick Tilley and Donald Brun

At some point in the 1960s, however, things begin to change.  Catherine Flood devotes an entire chapter to this, so I will very much be paraphrasing her descriptions and arguments, but here’s her assessment of where it all begins.

The first flutterings of a consumer love affair with the poster were evident around 1965 in Tom Salter’s trendy Carnaby Street boutique Gear, which was selling comically quaint Victorian advertisements for medicines and corsets blown up to poster size.

The later 1960s are then a very interesting time, in which there is a constant exchange of ideas between these increasingly psychedelic screen prints and posters produced for home display, and the more traditional advertising poster.  Below is a great photograph from the Observer magazine in 1967, illustrating a George Melly article on Poster Power. I’m only sorry that I can’t find a bigger image.

Observer Magazine photograph Patrick Ward poster power 1967

Even so, take a squint at the top left corner.  In amongst the products of the counter-culture are a couple of images you might recognise.  GPO posters to be precise.

Properly Packed Parcels Please vintage GPO poster woman out of hat

That photograph is recording a transitional moment when the poster is just about to become an object for the home, but a few great display designs still exist.  So is this one of the last ‘proper’ posters ever?  It certainly feels that way to me.

The newer kind of designs were certainly seen as interesting cultural artefacts even at the time.  The Daily Telegraph ran its own article about posters in 1968 about how ‘posters are selling in a very pop way’.  They noted that they were

expendable art, the perfect child of the consumer age, that costs as little as five shillings to five pounds, can be thrown away if you are tired of it, framed if you want it forever.

It’s hard not to think about Walter Benjamin at this point.  I’ve expounded on his ideas about reproduction on here before, but the gist of it is (extreme summary of a dense text here) that the nature of art will change absolutely now that images are infinitely reproducible.

the technique of reproduction detaches the reproduced object from the domain of tradition. By making many reproductions it substitutes a plurality of copies for a unique existence. […]. These two processes lead to a tremendous shattering of tradition.

Benjamin had hoped that reproduction would, in the end, lead to revolution. In fact, what we ended up with was this instead.

Athena Tennis girl poster

The Athena poster of the 1970s is the apotheosis of his ideas, an infinitely reproducible and reproduced image that has no original.  They are a genuinely mass market art form,  a true popular culture.  I don’t think Benjamin would be particularly delighted. (It is intriguing that at the very height of Athena’s domination in the early 1970s, John Berger was popularising Benjamin’s ideas in Ways of Seeing on the BBC.  But it’s probably only coincidental.)

What’s notable is that this kind of design didn’t sustain.  Since the 1970s, the poster has increasingly crept back towards the domain of fine art.  If you imagine most of the contemporary posters you see displayed in other people’s houses today, they are most often for fine art exhibitions of one kind or another.  The aura of the work of art had, in the end, too strong a pull to resist; we would still prefer have an image which is associated, however indirectly, with that aura rather than one which just exists in its own right.  (Mr Bourdieu would have a lot to say about this too, but if I go down that line of thought we’ll be here all night and then a bit longer too.)

In a way, though, this is just us coming full circle.  Because the mass-produced piece of art already existed long before the word ‘poster’ shifted over to meet it.  Once upon a time – just before and after the second world war to be precise – they were called art prints, and the School Prints and Lyons Tea Shops series were prime examples of this.  These were not reproductions of old masters, but images designed for unlimited reproduction and to be displayed in public.  They just weren’t called posters, that’s all.

Michael Rothenstein School Print Essex Wood Cutters, 1946

The one above is by Michael Rothenstein and dates from 1948.

The journey from display poster and art print back to art print via the diversion of popular imagery is a fascinating set of shifts, and one which I’ve only skimmed the surface of here.  But to return to our original starting point, there are also a set of Olympic posters which show us the transition exactly as it is happening, and those are the posters for Munich 1972.

Two different sets of posters were produced for these games.  The first feel utterly familiar to us today, because they were designed by fine artists and are, in the end, art prints for collecting.  David Hockney, for example, depicted swimming

David Hockney Munich 1972 Olympics poster swimming

But there are a whole other set of posters too.  Designer Otl Aicher created an entire and rather wonderful graphic identity for the games which even included an infinitely reproducible mascot.

Otl Aicher dachsund mascot 1972 olympics

If you want to read more about Aicher and his designs there are good articles here and here as well as an entire website here.  But part of the graphic scheme was a set of posters.

Otl Aicher Munich 1972 Olympics poster hurdling

Otl Aicher Munich 1972 Olympic poster

Which are, I think, still posters. And that is the journey that takes us from the 1948 Olympic poster to Tracey Emin.

Tracey Emin paralympic poster London 2012

Or not if you don’t want to.

Odd and odder

This week, Ebay seems mostly to be selling oddities.  And the oddest of the odd has to be this, a redacted Daphne Padden poster for £9.99.

Daphne Padden post office savings bank poster which has been redacted

It would be rather nice if they hadn’t done that, wouldn’t it?

The listing does at least give a bit of provenance:

we understand that this advertisement was displayed in the Post Office Savings Bank Kew until it closed down , 1975 we believe.

My guess was that they rather liked this poster, and so when the Post Office Savings Bank changed its name, they just blacked it out and carried on.  There’s another example from the same place and seller as well.

Vintage GPO savings bank poster redacted

Neither, I’d suggest, are worth buying, but still an interesting object.

As is this.  Which isn’t a poster so I strongly suggest that you don’t spend the best part of £30 on it.

Youths in the post office vintage leaflet

I can’t tell you anything useful about the design either, other than that it is rather good and I would guess prewar.  Does anyone know any more? I may also return to addressing youths in that way too.

Meanwhile this poster is odd in every which way: it’s a rare survival of a commercial advertisement, it’s for an event I’ve never ever heard of and I had no idea such things went on at the Albert Hall.

Ford at the Albert Hall poster

It also doesn’t look very British, by which I think I mostly mean that I’ve never really seen anything like it.  It’s actually just finished as I was writing this piece, but sold for just £58, and I would think it’s worth a lot more than that to the right classic car owning buyer.

Is this Tom Purvis – well they say it is – World War Two poster odd or not?  I can’t decide.

Tom Purvis vintage world war two poster air raid information ebay

Perhaps the frame makes it look a bit strange, because it is after all a workaday poster which was just there to tell people what to do, not be a work of art.  Good to see it, though, because very few of these kinds of things do survive precisely because they aren’t as good to look at as an Abram Games or Lewitt Him from the same period.

There are one or two sensible things too, like this British Railways poster  for Right Labelling which the seller has down as 1960s but I might put a bit earlier.

Vintage British Railways poster right labelling 1950s

Along with this pair of classic railway posters for Inverness and Somerset respectively.

Vintage British Railways poster 1950s lance Cattermole Inverness

Vintage British Railways map poster somerset by bowyer

There are a couple of other map posters being sold by the same seller too, so if that’s your kind of thing, you know where to go.

But I do wonder whether he’s going to get any offers.  Recently I said that prices on eBay seem to be matching those at auction.  This was a hostage to fortune, and eBay has since then concentrated on proving me wrong.    Take this classic London Transport poster, for example.

Vintage London Transport poster theatreland 1921 Jan Poortenaar

It got plenty of bidding attention, but at £188 failed to reach its reserve.

Elsewhere, this British Railways poster failed to sell at just £48.

Frank Newbould vintage British Railways poster Stratford on avon 1950s

One of Frank Newbould’s more peculiar turns if you ask me.

What’s to blame for this?  Is it the new Greek market turmoil, or just the good weather keeping everyone away from their computers?  Answers in the comments below please.

Harrogate Return

It’s taken two years, but finally I can report on another Morphet’s sale.  Sadly this is not another great poster extravaganza, but still worth your time and attention.  Shall we take this for starters?

Abram Games vintage poster BOAC festival of Britain Morphets
Abram Games, 1951, est. £200-300

The poster – which by rights should go for quite a bit more than that estimate – is a bit of a clue as to what’s going on here.  Because although there are a few other posters in this sale, like the Gordon Nicol below, they’re not the main point of interest.

Gordon Nicol vintage poster British Railways 1958 windsor
Gordon Nicol, 1958, est. £150-200 

Although I will always have time for this London Transport poster, which I know I’ve mentioned on here at least once before

Vintage London Transport poster Street Markets Thomson 1949
A R Thomson, 1949, est. £ 200-300

The main bulk of the fun isn’t posters for a change, but Festival of Britain ephemera, because this auction contains it in industrial quantities, well over sixty lots which range from womens’ handkerchiefs to horse brasses via pretty much everything in between.

Festival of Britain womens hankerchiefs

Festival of Britain brassware from Morphets

Lager glasses anyone?

Festival of Britain lager glasses, yes really

Or just, well, stuff?

FEstival of Britain souvenirs

But amongst the amusements are also a few more sensible things, like this Festival pot.  Actually, it isn’t sensible at all but I still rather like it.

a festival of britain pot of some oddness

Then there is this Wedgwood mug, designed by Norman Makinson.

Morphets Festival of Britain mug Wedgwood

While we’re on the subject of Wedgwood, I should probably also mention this Ravilious Coronation mug as well.

Eric Ravilous coronation mug for Wedgwood

If you’re wondering how he designed a mug for an event in 1953 when he’d died in 1942, the design was originally created for the coronation of Edward VII in 1937, and then revised for the coronations of both George VI and then Elizabeth II.  So there. Estimate £120-150 if you’re desiring it.

Anyway, there is loads more to be found in the catalogues, so really it’s much better if you just go and have a look for yourselves.  As long as you then tell me if you buy anything.

That’s not the only reason to go and take a look, though, because in addition to all of the Festival memorabilia it’s also offering also a very interesting set of Lyons prints too.  The highlights are the Bawden and the Freedman if you ask me.

Edward Bawden Dolls at Home lyons print 1947
Edward Bawden, 1947, est. £200-300

Barnett Freedman Lyons print Window box 1955
Barnett Freedman, 1955, est. £250-300

I also have a soft spot for this Ardizzone too.

Edward Ardizzone lyons print shopping in Myosore 1955
Edward Ardizzone, 1955, est. £80-100

But I can’t afford any of them because we’ve just bought a house, so they’re all yours if you want them.  Off you go.

Cheap and Expensive

Bonus extra blog post today (although I can’t type very well at the moment because my fingers are freezing).  I was going to put the eBay news on the end of yesterday’s post, but then it turned out that there was quite a lot on offer.  So now they have a post of their own instead.

The posters up on eBay at the moment seem to fall into a few tidy categories.  Firstly are expensive posters which probably have a right to be expensive.  Top of this list is this Jack Merriott British Railways poster.

Jack Merriott Findhorn British Railways poster

With just a few hours to go it’s already at £415  – a price which will probably have risen even higher by the time I press ‘publish’ on this post.  It might well make almost as much as the version which went at Morphets two years ago, which sold for £600.  For the right poster, it’s starting to look as though eBay wins hands down over the auction houses, simply because the fees are so much lower.  That’s if you’re selling of course; for buyers, I’m not so sure.  I still slightly balk at spending that much money on something I haven’t seen in the flesh.

Another example of the righteously expensive is another British Railways poster, also going today and currently at £142.

Edward Wesson vintage British Railways poster 1950s Moulsham

Finally in this category is a lovely London Transport poster which has been mentioned in dispatches on here before.

Vintage London Transport poster How to make a party go D M Earnshaw

The Buy It Now price of £390 strikes me as a bit more of a dealer level than an eBay level.  But then it is framed, and given what the Findhorn poster is going for anything could be possible these days.

Category two is expensive things which are currently going cheap.  Like this Guinness poster which is currently at £10.50 but, if it is original, is going for a song.

Vintage guinnes poster gilroy Zookeeper and seal

Of course whether something is original or not is always the question looming over every eBay listing.  The dimensions look right on this one, although it is a bit clean.  Any thoughts anyone?

Also cheap is this very odd survival – although I have no idea what it should actually be worth, I suspect it is more than the current £20.  It’s a poster for the 1929 Royal Opera House Ball.  What larks.

Royal Opera House Ball 1929 poster

But it’s rather good, isn’t it.  No word of an artist though.

In the other corner is expensive things which probably should be cheap, and we’ve got just one contender here, this Tom Purvis, which I have difficulty imagining someone paying £149 for.

Tom Purvis Empire Buy British poster

Now don’t get me wrong, because it’s a perfectly good poster, but I just don’t think many people want to hang it on their walls. Or do they?  I shall watch and wait and see.

Then of course there are cheap things that probably should stay that way.  I have a sneaking affection for this British Railways poster – it’s probably the cat – but that still doesn’t make it worth very much.

Vintage British Railways poster Plymouth and Cornwall timetable

So £2.99 is probably about right.   While even £20 seems a bit steep for this National Savings poster, even with the Coronation interest.

National Savings vintage coronation poster

Why were National Savings posters so uniformly dreary, when so many of the posters around them were so good?  Truly I do not know.

Those were going to be your lot, but even as I’ve been writing, some more listings have been passed over to me, and they both come under the heading of things that do not fit into my neat categories at all because I have no idea what they are worth.

This man is selling a big set of Kodak shop display posters.  Given the spelling of color, they are probably American, but I won’t hold that against them too much.

1950s Kodak display card

1950s Kodak display card

The starting price for each is £19.99 but I have no idea if that is fair or not.

This, meanwhile, is not a poster despite appearances to the contrary.  It’s a showcard.

Tom Eckersley vintage Guinness poster showcard

But as it’s currently priced at 99p I can say with some confidence that it is a bargain.  And would look rather good on someone’s bookshelves, I think.

Posters Produce Results

No arguing with that, is there.

Posters Produce Results. 1932 CECILIA H. MURPHY British Advertising Association
Cecilia Murphy, 1932, est. $1,700-2,000

Although for today’s post, the results we are mostly bothered about come from auctions, as all at once there is a rush of new sales on the horizon and I can hardly keep up.

That poster above is included in  Poster Auction International’s May 6 sale in New York.  There isn’t a great deal else of British interest there, except to say that it’s always good to see something by Ashley Havinden.

Use BP. 1932 ASHLEY Havinden vintage poster
Ashley Havinden, 1932, est $2,000-2,500

I’m also going to make one of my periodic exemptions for things foreign, mainly because this exhibition poster by Max Bill is just an extraordinary piece of design for 1945.

USA Baut. 1945 MAX BILL (1908-1994) vintage exhibition poster
Max Bill, 1945, est. $800-1,000

It still looks modern now, so back then it must have seemed like a visitation from the future.

Other than that, there is what looks like a chance to buy the complete works of Alphonse Mucha, but if you’ve got enough money to do that – estimates go as high as $90,000 –  you’re probably not reading this blog for advice on posters.

There’s a bit more to detain the rest of us at the forthcoming Van Sabben auction on April 21st, although most of it comes from the well-trodden paths of airline advertising, wartime and post-war propaganda posters and the London Underground.

Having said that, even these can deliver a few surprises, the greatest of which is probably this Beaumont.  In fact more of a fright than a surprise really; Mr Crownfolio is very worried that someone has beheaded their mum and put her in the cabbage patch.

Beaumont vintage propaganda poster 1950  cabbages
Leonard Beaumont, 1950, est. €120-400

Even at the top end, that estimate seems fairly reasonable when you consider that the lot also includes three other posters of the same ilk, all dating, I think, from after the war.

Anonymoust food propaganda poster after world war two

Green vegetables vintage British propaganda poster

Shredded cabbage vintage ministry of food propaganda poster late 1940s

On a similar theme is this poster, although with the added bonus of an interestingly menacing tone.

1946 bread want it vintage propaganda poster Ministry of Food
Anonymous, 1946, est. €80-160

Once again, there is a slew of airline posters, many of which have featured on this blog before.  Of those, the most desirable is probably this Abram Games.

Abram Games vintage 1949 airline poster BOAC
Abram Games, 1949, est. €650-1,000

But there are a few novelties here too.  This is one.

vintage 1949 BOAC poster Glad airline time is money
Glad, 1949, est €150-280.

I have never come across Glad before, but it’s really rather good, so if anyone can knows more, please do let me know.

The second is by John Bainbridge, about whom I do know more and have been meaning to post about for some time, because he is both excellent and not well enough known.

John Bainbridge, vintage airline poster BEA, 1949
John Bainbridge, 1949, est. €150-250

Although he worked in Britain for much of his career, John Bainbridge was originally from Australia, and there is a really good archive of his work over there, which I must post about one day.

There aren’t many London Transport posters for once, but those few are quite unusual.  This first one can only be from the 1930s.

Roy Meldrum vintage London Transport poster Green Line 1933
Roy Meldrum, 1933, est. € 300-600.

Van Sabben also have the poster below dated to 1935, which seemed a bit odd to me.  And a brief delve into the LT Museum site gives a date of 1950 instead, as well as confirming that it is one half of a pair poster.

James Arnold out to the Farms vintage London Transport poster 1950
James Arnold, 1950, est. €120-250.

Again, this looks like quite a bargain, as it also gets you this S John Woods poster from the same year as well.

S John Woods vintage London Transport poster 1950

Oddly, the other half of the farms pair poster is also on sale, but in a different lot.

Other half of farms pair poster
James Arnold, 1950, est. €100

I’m no completist when it comes to pair posters – would you ever really put the other half up on the wall?  So given the choice, I think I’d probably rather have the S John Woods instead.

As if all of that wasn’t enough for one day, Poster Connection also have a sale in San Francisco on 28th April.  There are airline posters, and that’s probably all I need to say about it.  But I did rather like this one.

BEA vintage airline poster Europe 1948
Anonymous, 1948, est. $200-360.

But it’s not just the gaiety I like, it’s also a reminder of the huge gulf between Britain and America at this point.  Britain was still enduring austerity, worse even than during the war, and this brightly coloured poster would have been an unimaginable luxury, depicting foreign travel which could only be dreamed off.  Such stuff were for export only, as the country desperately tried to entice Americans over to spend their money, and so help pay off the war debt.