Tag Archives: London Transport

Miniature Posters: the stamp designs of Abram Games

This Thursday (17 September) Naomi Games, daughter of designer Abram Games (1914-1996), will be joining us to talk about her father’s stamp designs, his working process and show progressive sketches from his archive. Here she gives us some background on her father and a taste of what to expect.

Abram Games with his controversial ATS poster, which was later withdrawn.

Abram Games is best known for his posters. He was the official war poster artist during WW2, and during his sixty year career he designed three hundred posters, notably for London Transport, Guinness, the Financial Times and BOAC. He also designed the first animated ident for BBC television, the covers of Penguin Books, and the emblems for the Festival of Britain and the Queen’s Award to Industry. Less is known of his numerous award-winning stamp designs for Britain, Jersey and Israel. In 2014, his centenary year, he was included in the ‘Remarkable Lives’ issue. Royal Mail also issued a special Abram Games postmark to celebrate his 100th birthday. Always an obsessive letter writer, he would have been delighted!

Poster advising on the best time to post mail. Poster artist: Games, Abram

Poster advising on the best time to post mail. Poster artist: Games, Abram

His first published stamp was for the 1948 Olympic Games and he was nicknamed ‘Olympic Games’ thereafter. He boasted that he was the only artist to have his name on a British stamp, as designers were not allowed to sign their work.  After winning the competition to design the Festival of Britain symbol, he  also won the stamp competition and his ubiquitous Britannia appeared alongside side the head of King George V1. His involvement in the Festival of Britain was a great boost to his career and he continued to secure many prestigious commissions throughout his life.

KGVI, 1949 Universal Postal Union: Submitted design by Abram Games

KGVI, 1949 Universal Postal Union: Submitted design by Abram Games

Games was a self-taught designer. His only formal training was two terms at St Martin’s College of Art but he continued to study life drawing and anatomy. He believed drawing would be the key to becoming a successful designer. He faithfully followed his axiom ‘maximum meaning, minimum means’, always keeping all his designs as simple as possible. When creating a poster or stamp, he filled a layout pad with several ideas. He wasted no time covering large areas and avoided detail. Once he had selected his thumbnail design, he circled it with red pencil. He said, ‘I never work large because posters, seen from a distance are small. If ideas don’t work an inch high, they will never work.’ Thus the design of stamps – his ‘miniature posters’ – was second nature to him.

The event will take place on Thursday 17 September 18.30-19.30 at The Phoenix Centre, Phoenix Place, London, WC1X 0DL.

To book tickets please visit abramgames.eventbrite.co.uk or telephone 020 7239 2570.

Vintage GPO Posters go up for online Auction

As regular readers will have seen here at the BPMA we have a stunning poster collection. The General Post Office (GPO) was a trendsetting organisation, particularly when it came to marketing, and in the 1930s it broke the mould with its innovative poster designs.

James Mawtus-Judd

Poster on careful packing by James Mawtus-Judd

This Thursday (9 July) we’ll be offering the public a rare opportunity to own a piece of iconic design when we put a significant selection of vintage GPO posters (duplicate to our collections) up for online auction via Onslows Auction House.

John Vickery (2)

Poster from the Outposts of Empire series by John Vickery

These stunning images come from this golden age of public relations at the GPO, between the 1930s and 1960s. Some of the most prominent artists and designers of the time vied for commissions, creating striking posters on a range on subjects from airmail through to pleas for the careful packing of parcels.

Harry Stevens

Poster calling for careful packaging by Harry Stevens

The posters to go on sale include works by Edward McKnight Kauffer, Tom Eckersley, John Armstrong, Jan Le Witt and George Him. Many of these artists went on to take commissions at places such as London Transport and the Ministry of Information where they created iconic designs to support the war effort during the Second World War.

Edward McKnight Kauffer

Poster from the Outposts of Britain series by Edward McKnight Kauffer

The money raised at auction will go towards delivering The Postal Museum and Mail Rail, where posters, and design more generally, will play a vital role in telling the remarkable stories of how the British postal service helped to shape our social and communications history.

Please visit Onslows website to view the full auction catalogue.

Edward McKnight Kauffer – Outposts of Britain

Edward McKnight Kauffer (1890 – 1954) was one of the most significant designers of the 20th century, noted for a unique style which embraced a number of different influences and techniques: his work drew on impressionism, cubism and vorticism amongst a number of other movements and ideas. Kauffer was one of the leading exponents of what became known as graphic design, combining typography, abstraction and photographic elements, and utilising techniques like photomontage and airbrushing in his designs.

Outposts of Britain - Posting box at Lands End

Born in Great Falls, Montana, USA, he moved to San Francisco where he studied at art school in the evenings. Eventually his paintings caught the attention of Joseph McKnight, a professor at Utah University, who offered to sponsor him – Kauffer took the middle name of ‘McKnight’ as a mark of gratitude. He studied at the Academie Moderne in Paris before moving to London at the start of the First World War where he produced successful posters for, amongst others, the GPO (General Post Office), London Transport, and Shell, and in 1924 wrote a book, The Art of the Poster. He was also one of 20 artists invited to submit designs for the 1940 stamp centenary issue, but declined, due to the pressure of other obligations. Moving to New York at the onset of the Second World War, he was commissioned by MOMA and American Airlines as well as several institutional clients; and continued to work up until his death in 1954.

Outposts of Britain - A postman in the pool of London

Amongst the posters he produced for the GPO, the 1937 series of educational posters entitled ‘Outposts of Britain’ are probably the most well-known, each poster focussing on a different region of Britain to demonstrate how the postal service could traverse distance to deliver the mail. The posters combine black and white photographs with bright painted elements – a first in GPO poster design – and also include typography as a key component of the overall image. They were created as part of a free posters for schools scheme, which also included designs by Harold Sandys Williamson, John Armstrong, and John Vickery, and their issue was publicised in the Post Office Circular of October 1937.

Outposts of Britain - A postman in northern Scotland

Ever popular, all four posters in the ‘Outposts of Britain’ series are now available to purchase as prints on our poster website.

Outposts of Britain - A postman in Northern Ireland

Barnett Freedman, Stephen Tallents and the making of the Jubilee Stamp

by Scott Anthony 

Historians often remember King George V’s Silver Jubilee in 1935 as a jamboree, a day when the British collectively bunked off from the economic, political and social strife that beset the nation between the wars.

The Silver Jubilee stamp designed by Barnett Freedman was central to the popular celebrations. Philately played a large part in King George V’s popular appeal, and by an odd twist of fate Jubilee day fell on the 95th anniversary of the launch of the Penny Black. It was apt that King George’s Jubilee stamp would become one of a long 20th century line of everyday collectables.

Less appreciated now is Freedman’s extraordinary artistic ambition. Freedman’s design utilised then cutting-edge printing techniques to give the stamp something approaching a three dimensional texture, while his use of shading was designed to make it appear as if light was emanating from the King’s head. As well as a sentimental appeal, for contemporaries the stamp had an almost sci-fi attraction that attracted a degree of controversy.

George V Silver Jubilee stamps by Barnett Freedman

George V Silver Jubilee stamps by Barnett Freedman

“By taking full advantage of the photogravure process and getting a brilliance of effect hitherto unknown in our stamps”, sniffed The Manchester Guardian, “Freedman has sacrificed what is to some an essential quality of design.” In short, when it came to stamps, the newspaper critics of the day where stuck firmly in the flat earth camp.

However, the popular success of the Jubilee stamp marked an important step towards resurrecting the reputation of the lithograph. Artists like Freedman along with Paul Nash, Edward McKnight Kauffer and Graham Sutherland believed that the lithograph enabled mass production while keeping the artist in close personal touch with his audience. Something of Freedman’s working methods can be seen in the GPO Film The King’s Stamp. As the rhetoric of the day went, “in the modern age good art should not be the exclusive property of museums”.

Under the direction of Sir Stephen Tallents, Britain’s first public relations officer, the General Post Office had similarly sought to imbue everyday objects with rare aesthetic value. From Rex Whistler’s Valentine’s Day Telegram to Giles Gilbert Scott’s Jubilee Telephone Kiosk to the bright bakelite phones Tallents placed in Victor Saville musicals, Freedman’s stamp was part of a wider upsurge of what might be best described as a brief moment of Civil Service idealism.

Tallents’ triumphant commissions had also finally secured Freedman’s public reputation. Born of Jewish Russian émigrés in the East End of London, Freedman had begun attending night school at St Martins aged 15, while by day working on the design of tombstones (for a stone mason) and then war memorials (for an architect). After winning a London County Council arts scholarship to study at the Royal College of Art, Freedman eeked out an existence teaching and designing book covers. Notable successes included Siegfried Sassoon’s Memoir of an Infantryman and several books by Tallents’ friend Walter de la Mere. Indeed, Freedman would later design the Tallents family Christmas card.

The Post Office’s commissions brought Freedman’s methods to a mass national audience and secured the 33 year-old employment from the most far-sighted and prestigious corporate sponsors of modern art in 1930s Britain; London Transport, Shell and Crawford’s advertising agency. Freedman’s exacting style now playfully emphasised the importance of road safety, modern agricultural methods and the importance of beer drinking to sporting success. He also found minor celebrity as the violin player providing the musical accompaniment to William Simonds’ puppet show.

A Barnett Freedman illustration from The Post Office: A review of the activities of the Post Office 1934

A Barnett Freedman illustration from The Post Office: A review of the activities of the Post Office 1934

Most importantly, Tallents professional patronage sealed an ongoing personal relationship with Freedman. Both were part of a generation for whom the 1935 Jubilee was indeed a rare jamboree, as Britain was buffeted by successive wars and economic crisis. Post-war austerity required Freedman’s acceptance of an ever greater teaching load, the pressures of overwork, stress and relative poverty contributing to his untimely death at the age of 57.

Tallents and Freedman shared an interest in Alfred Stevens, a cult hero of British art typically held up at the time as a victim of Victorian vulgarity and short-sightedness. Amongst their last letters Tallents pointed out to Freedman that the flat (in Canning Place, Kensington) where he designed The Jubilee Stamp was adjacent to the one in which Stevens had designed his ill-fated Wellington monument.

It was a quirky and amused exchange, but Freedman could have been forgiven for thinking that not all the comparisons with the “British Michaelangelo from Blandford Forum” were entirely happy ones.

Many thanks to Jeremy Parrett at the Sir Kenneth Green Library, Manchester Metropolitan University for his assistance with this article.

Scott Anthony is a Research Fellow at the University of Manchester and author of the BFI Film Classic Night Mail. On 29th October he will be talking about the GPO’s patronage of art, design and film under Tallents at the BPMA.