Wednesday, 10:22am
3 October 2012

The purpose of posters

London Transport’s spare posters go under the hammer at Christie’s tomorrow.

‘Of course it's not about graphic design,’ said my friend, glancing at the high proportion of besuited viewers. ‘It’s about money!’

We were sipping drinks at Christie’s in South Kensington last night, where hundreds crowded to see the private view of ‘Posters with a Purpose: the London Transport Museum Sale’, writes John L. Walters.

Abram Games (1914-1996), ‘A TRAIN EVERY 90 SECONDS’, lithograph in colours, 1937, printed by Waterlow & Sons Ltd., London, 39½ x 24½in.
Montague Birrell Black (1889-1964) ‘LONDON 2026 A.D.’, lithograph in colours, 1926, printed by The Dangerfield Printing Co. Ltd., 40 x 50in.


Graham Twemlow gave a short talk about Edward McKnight Kauffer, whose posters for the London Underground brought him great fame in the 1920s and 30s after a slow start in the war years.

Edward McKnight Kauffer (1890-1954), ‘SHOP BETWEEN 10 AND 4’, lithograph in colours, 1947, printed by The Baynard Press, 24 x 15in.


Twemlow paid tribute to the great technical feats performed by anonymous individuals in printing presses such as Waterlows, who translated the poster artists’ intentions into crisp outlines and glowing colours.

He said that lettering was not one of McKnight Kauffer’s strengths, but suggested that the hand-rendered characters were ‘part of his charm’.

Edward McKnight Kauffer (1890-1954), ‘TREAT YOURSELF’, lithographs in colours, 1935-1936, 40 x 24 ½in.


A glance at the price estimates (nothing less than £1000) revealed figures that were beyond the means of most of the people in the room: designers, illustrators, students, curators, academics, and descendants of the original poster artists, including Simon Rendell (grandson of McKnight Kauffer) and Naomi Games (daughter of Abram Games). But there were several passionate collectors and a (we conjectured) smattering of high-net-worth individuals in nice outfits.

Harry Beck (Henry Charles Beck, 1902-1974), ‘UNDERGROUND MAP’, lithograph in colours, 1935, printed by Waterlow & Sons Limited, London, 25½ x 34in.

Lot 321

In addition to posters by celebrated illustrator-designers such as Tom Eckersley, Edward Bawden, Misha Black and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, there’s work by artists such as Man Ray and Graham Sutherland, and maps by Harry Beck (above) and MacDonald (Max) Gill (below).

MacDonald (Max) Gill (1884-1947), ‘YOU’VE ONLY GOT TO CHOOSE YOUR BUS’, lithograph in colours, 1920, printed by Waterlow & Sons Ltd., London, 40 x 50in.

Lot 308

This amazing collection (326 items in all) drawn from London Transport’s collection of spare posters goes under the hammer tomorrow morning (Thursday 4 October 2012, 11am), so there’s not much time left to see them. They are on view at Christie’s, South Kensington until 5pm today.

Misha Black (1910-1977) & Kraber (John Rowland Barker, 1911-1959) ‘London Transport and London’s Service’ lithograph in colours, 1947, printed by The Baynard Press, 39½ x 24½ in.


Posters With A Purpose: The London Transport Museum Sale
Christie’s London, South Kensington Saleroom, 85 Old Brompton Road,
London SW7 3LD, UK

Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions and single issues. Eye 83 is out now, and you can browse a visual sampler at Eye before You Buy.