Further Coaching

It’s the last stage of the giant Daphne Padden archive-fest on Quad Royal.  Most of the posters I’m putting up today are for coach companies and so have at least been seen before.  In fact well over half of these are on sale at Morphets tomorrow, so if you take a fancy to any of them, you can probably have one, although I can’t promise at what price.

Daphne Padden coach party travel star signs

I know I should stop making fun of these poor northerners and their low prices, but this one is estimated at £50-100.   The rabbits below get the same estimate, and you get another spring poster to boot.  If only.

Coach tour rabbits Daphne padden coach poster

But I haven’t just come here to mutter about Morphets once more, there are a couple of things worth saying about these posters.

Daphne Padden Owl Party travel poster

One is just what a difference an archive makes.  Daphne Padden’s posters are beginning, over the last few years, to surface into the general design consciousness.  But I do wonder whether she would have been better known if she’d worked for British Railways or London Transport as well.

Daphne Padden luggage poster coaches

Royston Cooper has had a similar, if less dramatic problem.  Both he and Padden designed a whole series of really great posters for the coach companies.  But because the coach companies both had a more chequered history, and were never really considered as a national asset in the same way anything which ran on rails, the nuts, bolts and printed matter of their past didn’t end up being preserved.

Lovely Royal Blue Daphne Padden coach poster

A very brief summary of what happened in the world of coaches is that the many small companies like Royal Blue which served the different parts of the UK, were gradually bought up and amalgamated into larger groups.  In 1947 – after a war in which few coaches ran – the whole industry was nationalised, eventually becoming National Express.  This was then split up and de-nationalised between 1983 and 1987.  And somewhere in all of that, we stopped caring about coaches and, most likely, a whole pile of history was thrown out into a skip.

Spring coach poster Daphne Padden

With the result that we now don’t really know anything about coach posters at all, never mind having an archive or even dates for them.  Well, except for a few like the one below.

Daphne Padden Christmas Coach Travel 1964 poster

Which is an enormous shame as there are some wonderful posters made for the coach companies which have almost disappeared into oblivion.  And is why I keep banging on about them here, trying to give them some kind of visibility on the web.

Daphne Padden Southend coach poster

My other thought is a bit more positive though, which is that her particular style of design is now becoming interesting (possibly even fashionable) for a wider audience of designers and, possibly, collectors.  Take a look at the Fears and Kahn website, which I’ve been meaning to mention for a while.  They’ve put together, for selling, a rather distinctive set of posters, some from  coach companies, but very much in this particular idiom.  I’m hoping that this will be the start of more recognition for designers like Padden and Royston Cooper.

Daphne Padden Coach information poster

And finally, a few odd notes on some individual items.  I am guessing that this is some kind of early artist’s proof for her famous Royal Blue poster.

Daphne Padden Royal Blue artists proof

What’s odd, is that it’s not a print with just one colour missing – the text in the final poster is in the same dark blue as his hat and the lighthouse.

Finished Royal Blue Daphne Padden poster

Even odder, is that his smile is missing in the proof too.  I’m glad he cheered up.

And finally, I just like these.  I think they should be on t-shirts or something.

Daphne Padden Summer coach tour poster tree

Daphne Padden spring coach tours poster tree

Do we have any takers for Quad Royal branded goods?

By coach to Harrogate

In the immortal words of Smash Hits, it’s back – back, back, back.

Tom Eckersley British Railways Paignton poster 1960
Tom Eckersley, Paignton, 1960

What else can I be talking about but the gift that keeps on giving, the Morphets auction of Malcolm Guest railway posters.  Part One was in January, Part Two I mostly ignored because its main attraction was a set of Heath Robinson drawings.  But I’ve been anticipating Part Three – all the posters from 1960 and later – for some time now.  The catalogue still isn’t up yet, but Morphets have now put a few more teasers on their site.  And, to my relief, there are some real gems.

Jersey British Railways poster

The relief is because I’d heard that there were a lot of letterpress and otherwise dull posters up for sale – although with more than 2,000 posters in the auction, there may well still be.  I was also in fear of this kind of thing.

British Railways electrification poster

As well as this this too.

St andrews British Railway poster

But the good news is that, in this preview at least, they seem to be in the minority.  Not only are there some fairly entertaining railway posters,

Brighton and Hove British Railways vintage poster 1961
Brighton and Hove, Joseph McKeown, 1961

Relax By Rail, vintage British railways poster

in varying degrees of kitsch/Ladybird books style, but what brings me real joy is that Malcolm Guest clearly went a bit off-topic and started collecting coach posters as well, seemingly quite a few if this preview is anything to go by.

I reckon that these three at least are by Daphne Padden (of whom more later this week).

Coach trips to the Zoo vintage poster

Coach party travel vintage poster morphets

See Cornwall vintage coach poster

But I don’t know for definite, because there’s nothing but the images up at the moment.  Any names and identification are my own guesses or research, which could be proved very wrong when the catalogue comes out.

There are two definite Royston Cooper’s as well, with a probable third too.

Royston Cooper go shopping by bus vintage poster

Royston Cooper coach to London with overprinting vintage poster

Special Attractions coach poster Royston Cooper

The last one I’ve never seen before, either.

And then there are just some great posters about which I know nothing.  Like these.

Merry Christmas coach poster santa on a bus

Special Attractions top hat vintage coach poster

Any ideas?  In particular, if anyone knows who the artist of the last one is, please do let me know as it’s driving Mr Crownfolio insane right now.  He reckons it might be someone associated with Private Eye, if that helps at all.

And there is a rather nice Abram Games from 1967, which may well be a coach poster too.

vintage Abram Games poster Carfree Carefree

The sale itself is on 21st and 22nd of July, which by my reckoning gives me just six weeks to work out how I am going to afford any or, ideally, all of this.  Right now, I have no idea.

Advance poster warning

Today, a couple of odds and ends where nothing is happening yet, but will in due course.

Firstly,  the Morphets site is trailing Part Three of the Malcolm Guest collection, which are the 2,000 or so (if my memory serves me correctly) post-1960 posters from the collection.  Not as interesting to railway buffs, very interesting to Crownfolio.  At the moment they are teasing us with just two tiny jpegs.

3 day tour south devon poster morphets another post 1960 railway poster that I can't see

I know nothing of either of these posters, so if you can tell me who or what they are, I’ll be very grateful.  In the meantime, Mr Crownfolio and I will start saving the pennies for July.

At the other end of the country, Wallis and Wallis are selling some more HMSO posters in early May.  I blogged about the last sale, which included some interesting ATS recruiting posters.

ATS Cook HMSO vintage poster Wallis and Wallis

Amazingly, those first twenty lots fetched almost £15,000 (full story here), which is fairly mindboggling, given how little these kind of posters used to go for just a few years ago.  I also didn’t find them a desperately inspiring bunch either, but I am guessing they appealed more to WW2 collectors than poster/design collectors, so am perhaps not that well-qualified to comment.

Land girls ww2 vintage poster wallis and wallis auction

The lots on sale in May will come from the same batch, which were apparently saved by a worker at a printing firm when he was asked to throw them out, hence their mint condition, but Wallis and Wallis aren’t giving away too many details yet, apart from the image above.    More news as it happens.

Mr Bawden designs a railway poster

You’d think that the subject of the Morphet’s auction had been well and truly exhausted – it was only a poster sale after all.  But there was one more thing I wanted to say about it, and that’s Edward Bawden.

I knew he’d done some rather wonderful London Transport posters before now.

Edward Bawden London Transport half pair poster

This one was also in the Morphets sale (estimate £150-£200, sold for £1200, I say no more).  It’s half of a pair poster from 1952 and is rather wonderful.

But what really surprised me was this.

Edward Bawden York railway poster

For the very simple reason that I had no idea that he had ever designed a railway poster.  It’s from 1954 and is a Quad Royal depicting the York mystery plays*. The National Railway Museum collection only has this one.  Are there any more out there that I don’t know about? Or is it unique?

*And it only went for £440, so with hindsight I wish I’d bit a bit more bravely on it.  Never mind.

Railway posters vs design

It was a long day, watching the Morphets auction.  And as all of those posters went buy, one after another going for way more than the Crownfolio budget, I found myself getting more and more jaded.  Until, by the end of the auction, I was quite glad that we’d only bought one single lot.

It wasn’t just that I was gorged on posters – although the experience was a bit like trying to eat a whole box of chocolates at once.  Seeing so many ‘classic’ railway posters together made me realise that (heresy alert here) the majority of them are not actually great pieces of design.

Of course, your average railway poster does have a lot of things going for it.  Nice watercolours, pictures of pretty parts of the countryside or heritage; a nostalgic vision of a Britain long gone.  A lovely thing to hang on your wall.

But when you look at them as pieces of poster design, it’s hard to get enthusiastic, particularly about the post-war breed.  The typography is average at best, and not integrated into the poster, while the images themselves are hardly cutting-edge illustration.  Of course there are some wonderful posters, like the one below, but they’re the exception rather than the rule.

lander english lakes poster auction

In the end – faced with five hundred of them laid end to end at the Morphets auction – it’s hard not to see the vast majority of railways posters as not only safe, but even a bit reactionary.  A nicely drawn vision of a Britain of plough-horses and fields, ancient cathedrals and Georgian towns, and, of course, steam trains.  Easy on the eye, not modern, not threatening – and not much different to buying a Victorian sketch of trees and a few cows to go over the fireplace.

This may seem a bit harsh, but I think it’s fair.  Because the other distinguishing factor of the auction was that some of the more striking and modern posters were the ones that didn’t get the highest prices.  The Lander above (which I love) only went for £300.

And Crownfolio’s only purchase of the whole long day was this.

Bristol poster auction

Which is lovely – and was also one of the only posters not even to reach its estimate.   So perhaps it’s a good thing that railway poster collectors aren’t in it for the design, it may yet still leave a few bargains for those of us who are.

The biggest poster auction ever. Perhaps.

Manchester Piccadilly station poster morphets auction

As mentioned below, the Morphets sale last month was a one-off spectacular the likes of which may not be seen again for some time.

This was certainly true in the Crownfolio household, where the event involved three computers (two downstairs for watching while child-minding and cooking, one upstairs for actually placing bids) and an entire day spent in front of screens watching one poster after another reach what seemed to be eye-watering prices. I don’t think my nerves can stand anything like that again for some time to come.

Morphets themselves are trumpeting it as “The biggest and most important sale of posters that has ever been held…”  But was it really?

It certainly wasn’t the biggest in terms of turnover.  The sale realised £410,000, which Christies, and I am sure many other auctioneers, have definitely surpassed before.

Then what about the prices?  I for one had hoped that a combination of the recession and the sheer quantity of posters on offer all at once would mean that on the whole prices might be low (subtext, and we could pick up a bargain or two). But as poster after poster flashed past, the overwhelming impression was of new highs being reached with almost every lot going for at least a hundred, sometimes several hundred pounds over its estimate.

bromfield swanage poster morphets auction £400

Now, however, in the cold light of day, the prices don’t seem to have been breaking records, more at the low end of average.  (Disclaimer: I’ve only checked the items I was interested in, along with a few star lots – if other things did perform well, please do let me know!)  But what did make the achieved prices seem dramatic were the surprisingly low estimates.  Perhaps they had also thought that the recession would have left everyone too broke to buy so many posters.

So sale volume, good but not exceptional, prices good too – but so far no cigar. And probably not the greatest poster auction ever held.

But what was genuinely extraordinary was having so many railway posters being sold in one place.  Whereas your average Christies or Onslows sale might have twenty, thirty, perhaps a few more in amongst the Mucha and friends, here that’s all there was: different periods, different styles and different destinations all the way from the first lot to number 593 ten hours later.  So yes, if you like railway posters, it was probably about as big as it’s ever going to get.

But as we slowly worked our way through every region of Britain and Ireland, I gradually came to realise one thing.  Which is that I don’t really like many railway posters very much.  And the more I saw of them, the less I liked them.  I’ll try and explain why in my next post.