Mammoth sale

Right, in my attempt to keep on top of things, a quick scamper through the forthcoming Swann Galleries auction.  Which is tomorrow, so you’d better be quick if you actually want to buy any of them.  Me, I’m just window-shopping, especially at these prices.

All the prices are high, but then that’s a posh auction in America for you, but the one I slightly take exception to is this.

McKnight Kauffer, 1924, est. $1,500 – 2000

But that’s only because we sold one at the last Onslows sale, and it went for £230, which seemed quite reasonable at the time.  And it was backed on linen too.

Kauffer is also represented by this rather magnificent Art Deco mammoth (now there’s a phrase I never thought I’d have recourse to).

McKnight Kauffer, 1924, est. $2,000 – 3,000

There are a few other London Transport posters in there, like this rather splendid Zero.

Zero, 1935, est $800 – 1,200

Although I do end up wondering whether I’d ever put that up on the wall.  Maybe if I were a museum.

There is this rather lovely pair of Barnett Freedmans too.


Barnett Freedman, 1936, est. $700 – 1,000 the pair

Of more interest to me are these two Orient line posters, mainly because I wrote about the first one a while back.

Richard Beck, 1937, est $600 – 900

Reimann Studios and Kraber, 1937, est. $600 – 900

The second one is at least partly by Kraber, whose work I keep discovering and each time I say that I will find out more about him.  I must make good on this promise one of these days, because every single design I come across by him is great.  This is no exception, and I would happily put that poster on the wall if someone would like to buy it for me.

This, being an early airline map by Moholy Nagy, ought to be interesting.

Moholy-Nagy, 1936, est. $10,000 – 15,000

But it just isn’t, is it.  The price suggests that other people might not agree with me though.

And finally, as is customary with these sales where there are just a handful of British posters, a dip into the furrin.  This is a Savignac rough design that I just like.

RAYMOND SAVIGNAC (1907-2002) MA COLLE. Gouache maquette. Circa 1951
Savignac, 1951, est $3,000 – 4,000

But this is much more interesting.

RAYMOND SAVIGNAC (1907-2002) TASTEE BREAD / BAKED WHILE YOU SLEEP. Group of 39 gouache studies. Circa 1950s.


RAYMOND SAVIGNAC (1907-2002) TASTEE BREAD / BAKED WHILE YOU SLEEP. Group of 39 gouache studies. Circa 1950s.


Savignac, 1950s, est. $800 – 1,200

These are two designs from a set of 39 roughs, which Savignac clearly did for a British firm.  Now I did know that he and Colin, amongst others, had worked over here, but evidence of it doesn’t come up often enough if you ask me.

Swiss eye

I’ve mentioned Poster-Auctioneer before in passing – they’re a specialist poster auction house in Switzerland.  And until now I thought they only sold Swiss posters (for Swiss people, etc).  But either I hadn’t looked at their website properly, or they’ve expanded it, because now they have a poster shop with plenty of things for immediate sale.

There are still lots of posters of mountains, skiing and cheese, naturally, but a rather useful search function lets you filter out posters by subject.  And should you select Public Suburban Traffic, you’ll come across something rather interesting, a set of more than forty pre-war London Transport posters.

Hampton Court vintage london transport photographic poster 1938 Kew Gardens vintage London Transport poster photographic 1938
Anonymous, 1938, €120 each

What makes them interesting is that what’s on offer here isn’t a collection of  the usual suspects.  Instead, these look like the pre-war output of London Transport selected with what I can only describe as a Swiss eye, one which is much more interested in photography and type than illustration or whimsy.

It's a pleasure vintage london Transport photographic poster 1938
Anonymous, 1938, €120

The result is a very different version of London Transport’s output.  There are plenty of posters here I’ve never seen before, even though each and every one of them is represented in the London Transport Museum Collection.

Summer Chicken vintage London Transport photographic poster 1938
Anonymous, 1938, €90

While others only crop up very rarely.

Maurice Beck Staff Insurance vintage London Transport poster 1931
Maurice Beck, 1931, €120

The Petrol Tax poster from this set did come up for sale at the Swann Galleries earlier this year, but Poster-Auctioneer have all three on offer.

There are also some interesting designers represented, like Richard Beck, with both halves of this pair poster up for sale.

Richard Beck vintage London Transport poster Richard Beck vintage London transport poster
Richard Beck, 1938, €230 each

Even better are these two posters by Milner Gray.  These seem to be the only two posters he ever designed for London Transport, and both are being offered by Poster Auctioneer.

Milner Gray shopping hours vintage London Transport Poster, 1938 Shop Early vintage London Transport poster 1938 Milner Gray
Milner Gray, 1938, €120 each

Now the sharp-eyed of you will have noticed that the vast majority of these posters date from 1938.  I can’t actually explain this, but I do have a vision of a Swiss designer coming over to Britain just before the war, and spending quite a lot of money at the London Transport Shop before he returned home.

Beath Timber exhibition vintage London Transport poster 1937
Beath, 1937, €180

But however this collection came together, it’s an interesting proof of the fact that you find what you are looking for.  A British designer or design historian would argue that, even in London Transport, British modernism never quite happened.  But to a Swiss eye, out and about in the capital in 1938, it was very much there, and he carried the proof back with him.

Eckersley Lombers Geolological museum 1938 vintage London Transport poster
Eckersley Lombers, 1938, €120

This also makes the date even more intriguing.  Perhaps a form of continental modernism was about to flower in Britain, only to be cut short by the war?  It’s unprovable, but these posters certainly make the idea seem possible.

Of course, the collection is also not quite as didactic and tidy as I am making it seem.  In addition to the photographic and typographical posters, there are also some pair posters from after the war, which are much more romantic.  I particularly like this John Wood pair poster from 1950.

John Wood Vintage London Transport Pair poster churches 1950
John Wood, 1950, €250

There’s more flamboyance than that too if you want it.

Denys Nichols vintage London transport pair poster 1950
Denys Nichols, 1950, €240

Another shopping trip perhaps, a recognition that the world had changed after the war.  Or perhaps the modernism had all but disappeared from the walls of the Underground.  We’ll never know.  But I’m very grateful to whoever did put together this collection of posters, because it’s allowed me to see British design in the late 1930s from the outside – and from a very different point of view.

Beck indeed

While I pointed out the P&O archive a while back, I also said that I wanted to come back to it.  And there’s one very good reason for doing so; his name is Richard Beck.

Richard Beck Vintage P&O poster orcades 1937

The handful of posters that he produced for P&O are that rare thing, home-grown British modernism.  And it looks first class.

Orient Line Cruises to Norway vintage travel poster Richard beck 1937

Beck seems mainly to have been active in the late 1930s.  All these three posters for the Orient Line apparently date from 1937.

Orient Line Vintage travel poster Richard Beck 1937

At about the same time, he was also working for London Transport – these two panel posters were designed in 1935.

August Bank Holiday vintage London Transport poster Richard Beck 1935

Beckontree Park vintage London Transport poster 1935 Richard Beck

But even before the start of World War Two, Beck seems to disappear from the record for a while.  He next pops up as the designer of this.

Richard Beck vintage poster 1956 Olympics Melbourne

For a change, though, it’s possible to account for all of this, because there are a couple of decent biographies of him out there on the web – the best here.

To start with, his early work looks as European as it does, because he studied at the Blocherer School in Munich, so was far more exposed to European modernism than the average British designer.  Hence his uber-modernist designs for London Transport, like this leaflet.

Richard Beck leaflet for London Transport 1930s

Secondly, he then disappears because he went to the other side of the world.  In 1939, he went to New Zealand as design consultant for the British Pavilion at the Wellington Centennial Exhibition.  And he never came back; instead he migrated to Australia, serving in the Australian Imperial Force during World War Two and then setting up a design consultancy in Melbourne when the war was over.

Mural on Hosies Hotel Richard Beck Melbourne Olympics 1956

He did very well, too, designing not only for the Olympics (the mural above still exists in Melbourne, although it was apparently once much brighter) but also for a whole range of clients and companies, including stamps for Australia Post and the new decimal currency.  And Australian wine too.

Richard Beck wine design 1950s

Beck did well for himself.  But one of the reasons I find his story so interesting is that he wasn’t the only one.  Just as British design after the war was revitalised by an influx of European designers, it seems that Australian design was also very much shaped by immigrants.  Pieter Huveneers designed for at least as many Australian institutions as Richard Beck.  Did the world of British graphic design seem too closed and old-fashioned for these designers, or was the appeal of a new sunshine life simply so appealing after the rigours and horrors of World War Two?  We may never know.  But if there’s an Australian Crownfolio reading this who has some of the answers, I’d love to hear from you.