Posters past

A while ago I posted, as did many other people, about the ghost posters of Notting Hill Gate, thanks to the wonderful photos taken by Mike Ashworth.

wide of disused passageway Notting Hill Gate tube station

In the late 1950s, this tunnel, which ran between different lines at Notting Hill Gate tube station, was replaced by escalators and sealed up.  What remained there for more than 60 years was a fantastic set of posters, a glimpse into what was really being advertised at the time.

Old posters in disused passageway at Notting Hill Gate tube station, 2010

What’s particularly fascinating is that they’re not all good.  Of course there are some classics like Daphne Padden’s poster for Royal Blue coaches, but some of them are frankly quite average.  Dial FLE 5000 for the Evening News.

The reason I’m reminding you about this is that a similar set of posters – only this time not stuck to any walls – have just been sold on eBay.  There are seven of them, and it really does look like the contents of a pile given to the poster hangers at the start of the day.

Harry Stevens Boulogne vintage travel poster 1959

British Railways book holiday travel poster 1959

Once again, there are some lovely pieces of design – my favourite is probably this Victor Galbraith image.

Victor Galbraith vintage 1959 sport travel poster

The LT Museum dates that to 1959, and my guess is that they are all from about the same period.

So far, all so wonderful, but there are also some decidedly average ones.

Mechanical Handling Exhibition Earls Court May

Some which can only be described as looking  like newspaper ads magnified.

Atlas van vintage advertising poster 1959

Along with a couple which aren’t even that interesting.

London TRansport vintage evening news advertising poster

I have no idea where the set  have come from, but I’m going to ask, so if I find out more I will let you know.

But they’re not just interesting as a cross-section, they also tell me, at least, something new.

Lt Copes advertising poster

All of these posters are 20″ x 30″, so Double Crown size, which was the standard advertising format of the period (if you want a full explanation of imperial poster sizes, Tom Eckersley will be your guide)  Which is what you’d probably expect, given that, just like today, all kinds of companies advertised on the Tube network.

But two of the posters are for institutions – British Railways and London Transport – who usually used the 40″ x 25″ Double Royal poster for their advertising.  That’s the size that posters on railway stations and on the outside of Tube stations always were, and that’s the size that most railway and London Transport posters are when they survive – take a look at any auction if you don’t believe me.

Except here we have two posters, one for the railways and one for London Transport itself, which don’t fit that format and instead have been designed to sit amongst all the other commercial advertising.  Which surprised me, as I’d never really thought that they ever produced posters in this format.

Of course it makes complete sense when you do think about it, especially for London Transport who must have printed at least some Double Crown posters just to fill in any gaps which appeared in their commercial advertising spaces.  Victor Galbraith’s elephant is probably doing that job on the tunnel walls above.

Victor Galbraith Party Travel London Transport poster 1958

And even a cursory search on his name in the London Transport Museum archives produces other designs in a Double Crown size too, so while they might have been uncommon, they weren’t entirely unusual.  Here’s another one from 1959.

Victor Galbraith rush hour poster vintage London Transport 1959

But that BR and London Transport produced these posters  is also not surprising because this point, the late 1950s, is the final heyday of the poster.  This was an advertising medium of such importance that even British Railways, with its own poster sites in its own poster sizes, couldn’t afford not to be part of it.  This wouldn’t last though, within a few years commercial television would have ended the dominance of the poster forever.

My Victor Galbraith search also brings up this wonderful bird, who is a Double Royal this time.

Galbraith vintage London Transport poste r1958

I wonder how the decisions were made as to which posters were chosen for which sizes.  That, like so many other things, is something to find out more about one of these days. Unless there’s someone out there who knows already.

The ghosts of Notting Hill Gate

I’m always intrigued by the afterlife of posters.  Most design history – and indeed almost any kind of writing about them – concentrates on how they were made, who designed them, how they were printed and so on.  But I’m just as interested in what happened to them afterwards.  What did people think about them as they walked past every day?  Were there lots of ugly ones as well as the good designs we treasure now?  Why do some survive and not others?

Which is why I was so fascinated to find this photo set on Flickr.  Here are a complete wall of posters, just as someone might have walked past them (well, a bit dirtier) preserved, not in aspic, but in a forgotten corner of the London Underground.

Old posters in disused passageway at Notting Hill Gate tube station, 2010

To be precise, they’re in a disused passageway at Notting Hill Gate Station.

wide of disused passageway Notting Hill Gate tube station

The photos come from Mike Ashworth, who has the rather wonderful job of ‘Design and Heritage Manager’ for London Underground, and so is best placed to explain how they came to survive.

They were discovered during the modernisation work we’re carrying out at the station – and the project team found their way in when some partition work was uncovered. The original Central line station was abandoned, along with the original lifts, during the installation of escalators that took place c1956/9 when the Central & Circle line stations (once separate on either side of the road) were combined after many years of planning. This passageway is one of the remnants of the passageways leading to the lifts that were ‘sliced through’ during the reconstruction.

Daphne Padden Royal Blue coach poster in NHG

So, what would I have been looking at as I waited for the lifts in Notting Hill Gate in the late 50s?  This rather wonderful Daphne Padden to start with (this week on Quad Royal is rather being brought to you by Daphne Padden, as there will be more on Friday too).  The Ideal Home Show as well.

Ideal Home Show poster Notting Hill Gate

And Pepsodent toothpaste.

Vintate pepsodent toothpaste ad Notting Hill Gate

If you’re feeling a bit more cultural, there’s also a new exhibition about Iron and Steel at the Science Museum,

Iron & Steel at the Science Museum poster, c1959 Notting Hill Gate

And a rather wonderful invitation to cruise the River Thames.

River Thames vintage poster Notting Hill Gate Station

Once again, though, these posters are a reminder that not everything published in the 1950s was a design classic, as these posters for the Evening News and the Chain Garage in Hangar Lane prove.

Evening News small-ads poster

Chain Garage, Hanger Lane - car hire poster, c1959

But for me the real lesson from these posters is just how little survives from the period – and what a selective sample it is.  Admittedly, I’ve not done the most comprehensive search ever, but, apart from the Daphne Padden, I can only track down one other of these posters on the web.  That’s the elephant that you can see three copies of on the first picture, which is a London Transport poster by Victor Galbraith (thanks to Mike Ashworth for pointing that out too).

Victor Galbraith Party Travel London Transport poster 1958

It’s a salutary reminder of just how much chance determines what we see, study and collect today.  And if anyone can tell me any more about any of these, then I’d love to know.

But please don’t go to Notting Hill Gate expecting to see these posters.  They are totally inaccessible in a disused bit of the station – which is probably why they have survived – and there is no way that you can get to them.  But the flickr set is there for everyone, which I do think is a great way for London Underground to share them.

Meanwhile, I forgot to mention yesterday that the art of the poster got a very thorough two page write up in the Observer on Sunday.  You can read the full text of it here, although without most of the images that accompanied it in the paper version.

Lilliput from Modern British Posters

It is of course prompted by Paul Rennie’s Modern British Posters book, and the exhibition which accompanies it from next week in London.  I’ve had a copy for a few weeks now, and it is a fantastic overview of the evolution of the modern poster, which I am feeling very guilty about not having reviewed properly yet.  The problem is that it’s so comprehensive and well-informed that it’s hard to know where to begin.  But I will try next week.

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