Spring 2004

Sex on the coffee table [EXTRACT]

Tart Cards: London’s Illicit Advertising Art

By Caroline Archer, Mark Batty, Publisher, £19.99, 24.95 dollars

Since 1984, the year when British Telecom was privatised, and the 1953 act against advertising on Post Office property was inadvertently repealed, London’s sex-oriented businesses have promoted their services through the distribution of small cards in telephone boxes. The crudely produced cards feature groan-worthy euphemisms such as ‘Very Cheeky Teenager Needs Firm Hand,’ ‘Santa’s Grotto: Gentlemen Only,’ and ‘Have Your Seats Caned for X’mas,’ paired with portrayals of sex-related services that vary from full colour images manipulated in Photoshop to one-colour hand-drawn illustrations composed from a seemingly small array of interchangeable visual components including whips, belts, fishnet stockings, stilettos, G-strings, rubber nurses’ uniforms and schoolgirls’ ties.

As subject matter for a book this is promising – illegality and sex add a certain allure to a graphic design publication. Such a subject should provide ample opportunity for detailed analysis and interpretation of typography and visual language, its production and consumption set amid a colourful social context. You can see why Mark Batty, Publisher, a newly launched New Jersey-based publisher of otherwise staid books on various arcane aspects of typography, was intrigued . . .

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