That’s no lady, thats…

Well, what exactly?

Canvey Lady Charles Pears 1926 poster London Transport

The catalogue for the latest Great Central Railwayana Auction flopped through the letter-box the other day and I was rather taken with the poster above, mainly because of its extreme oddness.  It’s as though someone has a) put up a piece of Russian constructivist sculpture in Canvey Island of all places and then, b) commissioned a poster of it.  Which is great but, you have to admit, intriguing.

Fortunately, the torrent of knowledge that is the internet came up with the answer quite quickly.  The lady is actually a shipping beacon – although one that’s a bit of a mystery even if you live on Canvey Island because it was probably demolished in the early 1950s, well before anyone thought of taking a reasonable photo of it.

Canvey Lady photo from the interflob about Canvey island

This is the best that I – and the Canvey Community website – can come up with.  They’ve got the full story on their website here if you want to know more.  And the London Transport Museum also have the poster in their collection.

So now I know.  To the extent that I am almost tempted to bid for the poster – although in the absence of any estimates at all in the auction, I have no idea whether or not I could afford it.  (Why do railwayana auctions do this?  Am I supposed to be such a railway buff that I can just intuit what it might go for?  Does anyone know?).

There are a few other odds and ends in the auction too that are worth taking a look at.  In my current enfeebled state, I quite fancy spending the rest of the winter in Moretonhampstead, for example.

Manor House Hotel GWR poster 1923

Preferably in about 1923.  Although you can still stay there if you want, it’s now called Bovey Castle and looks like a magnificent piece of Edwardian kitsch if that’s your bag.

This, meanwhile is a rather natty bit of design, although not one that I can tell you much about other than it’s by Keenan.

Keenan Heysham Belfast railway poster

And this is a Rowland Hilder railway poster, which isn’t something I didn’t even know existed until now.  But it’s rather good too.

Rowland hilder East Anglia railway poster

I can tell you that it went for £680 at auction about eighteen months ago, so probably won’t be a bargain this time round either.

Finally, there’s this, which for some reason I find utterly bemusing.

GWR whitby poster andrew johnson 1931

Perhaps because Then looks slightly more modern to me than Now.  Or maybe because I keep thinking that Captain Cook has just come back in the bottom picture.  Not that any of this matters in the slightest as someone in Whitby will probably want this poster very much indeed.

If any of these are of interest to you, the auction is on 15th January, and you can find the catalogue here.  Or if you want to know more about Canvey Island, can I very much recommend the Julien Temple film Oil City Confidential which is wonderful (I know, I didn’t want to watch a documentary about Dr Feelgood either, but trust me, it’s brilliant).

You Can Be Sure of Shell

The relationship between archives and the internet is not always a one way street.  What gets most discussion is how, and whether, archives are putting their catalogues and content on line.  But in the meantime, the internet itself is also becoming the archive.

Here’s a fascinating example.  It’s something I’ve touched on before, but it’s such an extraordinary (and well-hidden) resource that it deserves its own post.

Way, way down in the bowels of the Sothebys website, their catalogues now go backfor more than 10 years.  And so they include the 2002 sale of many of the original paintings commissioned by Shell for its post-war educational posters.

Now, this isn’t your typical poster sale.  To start with, Shell didn’t really commission the usual run of poster artists for their educational posters, the people concerned are mostly illustrators.  Some of the finest illustrators working in the 1950s and 60s, to be precise, like David Gentleman, S R Badmin, Tristram Hillier and Rowland Hilder.

Perhaps the best-known illustrations for sale were the images of individual counties, which were covers for the Shell Guides as well as centre-pieces for the associated posters.

S R Badmin original illustration for shell county guide
S R Badmin, Derbyshire

Rowland Hilder Kent illustration for Shell County Guide
Rowland Hilder, Kent

Ian Henderson, Worcester illustration Shell County Guide
Ian Henderson, Worcestershire

Richard Eurich, Cornwall illustration Shell County Guides
Richard Eurich, Cornwall

I don’t think I’ve ever come across the Worcestershire one before (and I would have noticed it if I had, not only is it a great piece of design, but Worcester is where the Crownfolio family came from, back in the day).  The Eurich, meanwhile, was the most expensive of the county illustrations, going for a quite spectacular £12,925.

But detailed illustration did seem to be what the buyers wanted most.  The highest-prices went to the S R Badmin images of trees through the year.  Here’s February (£14,100) and September (£10,340).

S R Badmin trees and shrubs February original shell poster illustration

S R Badmin shell poster illustration trees and shrubs september

Although Tristram Hillier’s Fossils also went for £14,100, but that’s because it’s genius.

Tristram Hillier Fossils shell educational poster illustration

While David Gentleman’s Roads series (which I love almost the best) went for hardly anything.

David Gentleman Ridgeway shell poster llustration

David Gentleman Ermine Street Shell poster illustration

And why Ermine Street fetched £3,290 while the Ridgeway fetched only £999, I will never understand.  Why pay more for tarmac?

But to some degree, the prices aren’t the most interesting thing about the auction.  What I like most about the archive is that it is there at all.  Here, for the last time, all of Shell’s illustrations are gathered together, from the famous ones,

Rowland Hilder Sussex shell County guide poster illustration
Rowland Hilder, Sussex

to some that I never knew existed.

David Conner Rousham Court shell illustration
David Conner, Rousham Court

It should have been a book.  But at least it is still out there on the web.