Decorative mapmaker, mural painter, architect, letterer and graphic artist, MacDonald (‘Max’) Gill was born in Brighton on 6 Oct 1884, where the University’s Design Archives are still paying tribute to him and other pioneers of graphic design in their research. His colourful maps played a significant role in British poster design and colour lithography as a form of dramatic visual communication, and provided a unique combination of information, design and decoration. He redesigned the iconic logo of the General Post Office (GPO) in 1934 and created elaborately decorative maps of mail services.
The 1920s and 30s saw the development of modern poster design and visual advertising for large companies and organisations such as London Transport, Shell Oil and various railway companies. MacDonald Gill produced map posters for the London Underground (most notably the “London Wonderground Map of London Town” in 1914) and was commissioned by the Empire Marketing Board to create eight map designs (best known is his “Highways of Empire” map, 1927) plus some accompanying letterpress posters and the Board’s distinctive logo.
Sir Stephen Tallent, Secretary of the EMB, transferred to the GPO as their first Public Relations Officer when the Board closed in 1933. One of his first tasks was to produce a GPO logo – an early example of branding. Even before he had joined the GPO, Tallents had suggested the use of a Post Office badge and commissioned Macdonald Gill to produce the design. The first approved version had two concentric circles but this was soon reduced to one. This was then used on all items of publicity and advertising.
As part of the GPO’s poster campaign to advertise their services and activities to the public, Gill then created a map of international Radio Telephone Services in 1935 (held by BT Archives, Finding No TCB319_PRD0143), and of Mail Steamship Routes in 1937 (pictured above). These elaborately decorative map diagrams were complex and included a wealth of cartographic information and typography. In fact, Gill used his own hand-drawn version of a classic Roman font for the poster title. (He shared this typographic skill with his brother Eric Gill, creator of the widely known typeface Gills Sans. Eric also designed the background of the first George VI definitive stamp series for the Post Office in 1937.) Below the title, the map of the globe, complete with trading routes, is combined with a series of sketches depicting the developments in shipping over ten centuries. It even includes ships that were never involved in the movement of mail such as a Viking craft (AD 908).
One of the mail ships shown on the map is the RMS (‘Royal Mail Ship’) Queen Mary. MacDonald Gill had also created one of his perhaps most beautiful painted maps for this celebrated liner which made its maiden voyage in 1936: a large-scale decorative North Atlantic Map for the first class dining room.
A beautiful reproduction of the MacDonald Gill’s Map of Mail Steamship Routes, 1937 is now available in our Online Shop. The sheet map (approx. 62cm x 76cm) is folded in a wallet and comes with an introduction by BPMA Curator Julian Stray.