Chaps like you

A bit of a miscellany today, of which the most notable items are these.

They’re a pair of 1940s government information posters, but what makes them different is that they’re not wartime posters but date, I am reasonably sure, from just after the war.

old government public information posters from eBay

The message is certainly right for the times.  World War Two itself may have been over, but the sense of emergency hadn’t gone away because the end of American Lend-Lease finance meant that the bill now had to be paid.  What was needed now was more National Savings and even more production for export earnings.  So, just as during the war, sheaves of posters were produced exhorting the nation to greater effort.  The government’s publicity budget in 1946 was nearly £3m, almost as much as it had been during the war; by contrast, in 1938, they had spent just £257,000.

It wasn’t just the quantity of posters which carried on, plenty of the wartime messages didn’t change either, and in many cases the austerity slogans are almost indistinguishable from those produced while the war was on.

Bones vintage 1946 public information poster propaganda

The ‘still’ is one clue in the poster above (which is ours and so not for sale on eBay right now),  but it is definitely post-war, because it was designed by Dorrit Dekk, who only joined the Central Office of Information in 1946.  But without that attribution it would be almost impossible to give a definite date to it.

But what’s really interesting about all of these posters, and what makes the pair for sale on eBay so unusual, is that in comparison with the wartime posters, very few of them survive.  And I think there’s probably a very good reason for this.  During the war, it was clear to everyone that this was a moment of great historical importance and so at least a few people saved the posters as souvenirs or documents or whatever you care to call them.  After the war, though, the austerity and effort had been a noble cause was now just a relentless grind in a grey, bombed-out, rather cheerless country.  It wasn’t a time that many people wanted a memento of.

There’s another reason, too.  People were sick of posters telling them what to do.  Six years of almost constant exhortation and instruction had left their mark, and no one wanted to listen any more.  All of which make these eBay survivals both rare and unusual.  Although whether they are £140 worth of rare is another question altogether.

Mind you, they’re not along as there seems to be quite a lot of expensive on eBay at the moment.  At first this London Underground poster doesn’t look unreasonable at £140, because it is lovely.

Vintage 1939 London Transport poster from Kiki Werth on eBay

But then it is only 10″ x 12″, so that’s quite a lot of money for a small bit of paper.  Mind you, if I start thinking like that, I’ll never buy anything again.

Elsewhere, this 1960s London Transport poster for the Imperial War Museum is definitely overpriced with a starting price of £125.

Andrew Hall 1965 Imperial War Museum poster London Transport

While this pair of school prints are at least starting at a reasonable £40 and £30 respectively, although I suspect they may go higher.

Michael Rothenstein school print


Leonard Tisdall School print

The first is by Michael Rothenstein, the second by Leonard Tisdall, both rather good.  I’ve written about the school prints before, but it’s probably worth pointing out that it’s yet another example of artists in the 1940s and 50s taking work for children seriously.  Good art was a very important part of the new world they were building; I wonder where that impulse has gone now.

Finally, a rare feature which is things liked by Quad Royal turning up on television.  Doesn’t happen often, so twice in one night is nothing short of a miracle.  Firstly, a set of Fougasse Careless Talk Costs Lives posters turned up on the Antiques Roadshow, where Mark Hill valued them at £1,000-1,500.  Mr Crownfolio, on our sofa, said £750.  Any thoughts as to who might be right there?  Then, straight after this on BBC Four, The Secret Life of the Airport featured Margaret Calvert talking about designing signs and typefaces for Gatwick.  That bit’s about 10 min from the end, but the rest of it is worth your attention for some cracking archive footage too.

Spacing Oddity

Just in case you thought it was all organised and museum-perfect here, a tale.  I discovered a poster tube in Mr Crownfolio’s office, labelled ‘selling’ and in it, quite apart from a poster I could have sworn we’d sold years ago, I found these two oddities which I had also completely forgotten about.  But when I took a proper look at them, they turned out to be quite interesting.

British Railways rail alphabet jock Kinnear display poster

They’re spacing rules for a typeface.

Detail from British Railways vintage poster Rail Alphabet Jock Kinnear

There’s something rather attractive about this kind of very detailed practicality, I think.

And a bit of research gave me some ideas of what they might be.  One clue is on the lower case chart.

British Railways Railway Alphabet vintage poster spacing detail Jock Kinnear

For those of you reading on your iThing, these instructions are by the great graphic designer Jock Kinneir. He’s best known for designing the template and typeface for Britain’s road signage along with Margaret Calvert (the Design museum have written an interesting piece about it if you want to know more). But in 1964 they also designed Rail Alphabet, as part of the Design Research Unit‘s rebranding of British Railways.

British Railways Rail Alphabet poster Jock Kinnear Margaret Calvert

So that’s what I think this is, particularly as the posters came as part of an assorted lot from the Malcolm Guest sale. I imagine that, given their battered and used state, they were up on the walls of a design office somewhere in the British Railways system.

British Railways Rail Alphabet poster Jock Kinnear Margaret Calvert

Now of course rendered obsolete by the computer. But a rather a fascinating bit of graphic design history nonetheless.

What I’ve also discovered in the course of writing this post is that Rail Alphabet wasn’t just used by British Railways, but also by Gatwick Airport and the NHS too, right up until the mid 1990s.  So it’s more than just a typeface, it’s the written identity of the post-war British state.  That’s quite an achievement by Jock Kinneir and Margaret Calvert, and one that deserves more than just being taken for granted.

Even though Mr Crownfolio spends his working days adjusting type into just the right places, I’m not sure that we’ll ever put these up on the wall.  Which begs the question of what to do with them.  Might the National Railway Museum want them?  Or anyone else?  Any thoughts?

While we’re on the subject of oddities, it also gives me the chance to post this.  I’ve always been fond of pictograms anyway, but some of these are particularly choice.

Chart of symbols published by British tourist authority

The poster is a chart of symbols for tourist attractions, published by the British Tourist Authority, sometime after decimalisation.  I’m guessing it’s meant as a set of suggestions for designers and guide authors.  While a few of them are familiar, not all of them caught on.

Symbol for traditional dishes

Some are possibly only required once or twice on any map of the country.

Coracle maker symbol

While others were too frightening ever to use at all.

Solarium symbol

Caravan of doom symbol

I particularly like the caravan of doom.  But there are so many.  Anyone for underground disco?

Caves are open symbol

This has to be my favourite, however, and heaven knows I’ve lived in some bits of London where it could have been applied.

Shooting arranged symbol