Tag Archives: poster art

Vinegar Valentines

Sending special letters for Valentine’s day probably dates from the mid-18th century. We have a number of examples of early Valentines in our collection. The idea of choosing a sweetheart on Valentine’s Day may be connected with the idea that 14 February is the date on which birds began mating.

A Valentine's day featuring an image of a bird.

A Valentine’s day featuring an image of a bird.

The name of the day has also been linked to a Christian martyr named Valentine who signed a letter to his jailer’s daughter, with whom he had fallen in love, “from your Valentine.” It was even believed in the eighteenth century that the festival had developed from the Roman Lupercalia (15 February), which celebrated the coming of spring and included fertility rites and the pairing off of women with men by lottery.

A spiteful valentine from c.1814 sent to Thomas Williams Esq., No. 41 Berkley Sqaure. The last line of the verse reads 'if all men, were like thee - then, I'd sooner die than marry'.

A spiteful valentine from c.1814 sent to Thomas Williams Esq., No. 41 Berkley Sqaure. The last line of the verse reads ‘if all men, were like thee – then, I’d sooner die than marry’.

Not all valentines were declarations of love however. We have letters in BPMA’s collection complaining about the sending of insulting and rude Valentines and more particularly about having to pay for them. This is because prior to 1840 and the introduction of uniform penny postage, letters were paid for by the recipient rather than the sender. As such, on Valentine’s day some people with a particular grudge or spite against someone would, anonymously, send rude or grotesque valentines which the receiver would then have to pay for, really adding insult to injury. These have become colloquially known as spiteful or ‘vinegar valentines’. Complaints were made to postmasters requesting refunds for such vinegar valentines.

Poster showing the consequences of missorting, especially on Valentine's Day

Poster showing the consequences of missorting, especially on Valentine’s Day

As a variation of this, one of our acquisitions for the museum collection in the past year was a coloured print of a postman delivering letters on Valentine’s Day. Although of a much later date this print shows how the public didn’t always trust the Post Office to deliver their valentines in a prompt and appropriate manner, and postmen were certainly not viewed as potential valentines themselves.

A spiteful/vinegar/comic Valentine or Penny Dreadful.

A spiteful/vinegar/comic Valentine or Penny Dreadful.

We hope you all receive nicer Valentines than these!

Emma Harper, Curator

The Bloomsbury Group and the Post Office

The British Postal Museum & Archive’s poster collection holds designs by many giants of 20th century graphic design, including Edward McKnight Kauffer, Tom Eckersley, and Jan Lewitt and George Him. However, many of our posters also feature images from painters and artists too, and include work by famous 20th Century names like Ruskin Spear, and the brothers John and Paul Nash.

Two of the most fascinating are those designed by Vanessa Bell and by Duncan Grant, members of the famous Bloomsbury Group. Named after the area of London in which it was based, the group also included Bell’s sister, Virginia Woolf, the economist John Maynard Keynes, and the writer Lytton Strachey (Grant’s cousin) amongst others. Bell and Grant formed part of a complex web of relationships within the group: they had an affair which produced a child, Angelica, whom the art critic Clive Bell – Vanessa’s husband – brought up as his own. Grant, meanwhile, continued an on/off relationship with the writer David Garnett, who then went on to eventually marry Angelica, when she was in her early 20s. Despite their affair apparently ending shortly after Angelica’s birth, Bell and Grant remained close and lived together for more than 40 years until Vanessa’s death.

Just as interesting, however, is the story behind the work they produced for the General Post Office (GPO), and the different receptions it received. Both Grant and Bell accepted commissions to produce poster designs for the Post Office, and Grant’s 1939 design of a postman was successfully used in the schools educational series.

79,242 Postmen. Poster produced as part of a set of posters for schools promoting the General Post Office work force; featuring a postman. Artist: Duncan Grant. Date: March 1939. (POST 110/2501)

79,242 Postmen. Poster produced as part of a set of posters for schools promoting the General Post Office work force; featuring a postman. Artist: Duncan Grant. Date: March 1939. (POST 110/2501)

Bell’s 1935 poster ‘The Last Minute’ however, despite having been commissioned by legendary GPO publicity officer Stephen Tallents (who wrote to her suggesting that ‘Instead of merely commanding them to post early, we will show them how ridiculous they look, and what inconvenience they suffer, when they post late’), was eventually rejected.

The Last Minute. Poster promoting the benefits of posting mail early. Artist: Vanessa Bell. Date: 1935. (POST 110/2489)

The Last Minute. Poster promoting the benefits of posting mail early. Artist: Vanessa Bell. Date: 1935. (POST 110/2489)

Tallents’ successor Crutchley, writing to the Poster Advisory Group (whose members included Clive Bell, Vanessa’s husband) explained that

As regards ‘The Last Minute posters’ by Mrs Bell, however much one may admire it as a painting, I am afraid that it scarcely conveys the message which the Post Office wishes to convey on the subject of Early Posting and with great regret, therefore, I must inform you that this cannot be used.

While the posters differ stylistically, in substance they are similar: each highlights the human face of the Post Office, emphasising the service aspect and portraying postal workers as calm, collected and efficient. Equally, both represent a painterly style in contrast to the growing prominence of graphic design, which became the hallmark of GPO posters throughout the 40s, 50s and 60s.

Making up for its initial rejection, Vanessa Bell’s poster can now be seen in the BPMA’s poster exhibition ‘Designs on Delivery’, currently on show at the Great Western Hospital, Swindon.

See more posters from the Royal Mail Archive in our online exhibition Designs on Delivery.

Christmas cards in bundles

In the lead-up to Christmas we are sharing with you 12 Posters of Christmas, a dozen classic postal posters from the Royal Mail Archive. Today’s is…

Poster recommending that mail be tied in bundles to assist with the Christmas mail, designed by Kenneth Bromfield, c. 1967. (POST 110/2581)

Poster recommending that mail be tied in bundles to assist with the Christmas mail, designed by Kenneth Bromfield, c. 1967. (POST 110/2581)

Until as recently as the 1990s it was common for the Post Office to request that large numbers of letters or cards be posted in bundles. Assuming the public bundled the letters and cards correctly, this assisted greatly with mail sorting during the busy Christmas period.

Royal Mail no longer asks that you bundle your letters and cards as a great deal of mail is now sorted by machines which electronically read the address and postcode on each item of mail.

Overseas mails

In the lead-up to Christmas we are sharing with you 12 Posters of Christmas, a dozen classic postal posters from the Royal Mail Archive. Today’s is…

Poster advertising final posting dates for overseas Christmas mail, designed by Tilley, September 1966. (POST 110/3034)

Poster advertising final posting dates for overseas Christmas mail, designed by Tilley, September 1966. (POST 110/3034)

This poster first appeared in September 1966 and as with other long, landscape posters would have been displayed on to the side of small Morris post vans. The designer Tilley has created a colourful scene to promote the list of Christmas posting dates available at post offices. A dolphin representing sea (or surface) mail holds a copy of the list in its mouth, while a bird representing airmail holds a copy in its beak.

These days the public are more likely to use the internet to find out the last posting dates. The Royal Mail website lists the dates for 2012 here: http://www.royalmail.com/greetings.

Get your Christmas presents from our online shop. Order before 18 December for delivery within the UK.

Seasons greetings by radio

In the lead-up to Christmas we are sharing with you 12 Posters of Christmas, a dozen classic postal posters from the Royal Mail Archive. Today’s is…

Poster advertising radio telegram service; featuring a ship and the radio mast, November 1960. (POST 110/1406)

Poster advertising radio telegram service; featuring a ship and the radio mast, November 1960. (POST 110/1406)

Wireless or radio telegraphy was pioneered by Guglielmo Marconi and General Post Office (GPO) at the end of the 19th Century; we have previously blogged on its important role in saving lives after the Titanic disaster. While Marconi’s invention was originally implemented to transmit messages where a wired telegraph network did not exist (i.e. to ships at sea), radio was, of course, later used to broadcast information and entertainment (we have also previously blogged on the GPO’s involvement with the BBC and early broadcasting).

The above poster from 1960 advertises the GPO’s radio telegram service, where telegrams were sent overseas via a relay of on-shore transmitting stations and ships. International telephone calls were still prohibitively expensive in this period and telegrams were the most affordable option for anyone needing to send a quick message over long distances. This poster, which would have been a common site at local post offices, uses simple, stylish graphics to encourage the public to use this service at Christmas.

Post Early at Christmas

In the lead-up to Christmas we are sharing with you 12 Posters of Christmas, a dozen classic postal posters from the Royal Mail Archive. Today’s is…

Poster advertising final posting dates for the festive period; featuring a Christmas tree and a candle, designed by Hans Arnold Rothholz, 1951. (POST 110/1276)

Poster advertising final posting dates for the festive period; featuring a Christmas tree and a candle, designed by Hans Arnold Rothholz, 1951. (POST 110/1276)

From the 1930s until the 1960s the Post Office ran its annual “Post early” campaign, encouraging people to send their letters and parcels as early as possible to avoid a rush in the week leading up to Christmas. We have previously blogged about this campaign and how it became a victim of its own success. A Post Office Regional Director’s Conference paper of 1966 (RD (66) 2, POST 73/122) concluded that the campaign had proved to be “somewhat of an embarrassment since it produces a large volume of traffic before we are ready for it”.

The above poster from 1951 shows the last posting dates as 19 and 20 December, Royal Mail’s recommending posting dates for 2012 can be found on their website. If you are sending a Christmas card or parcel to Canada, Eastern Europe or the United States today is the last day – do not delay!

You can purchase a selection of “Post early” Christmas greeting cards from our online shop. For delivery within the UK please place your order by 18 December.

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

GPO Poster Design

Post much earlier this Christmas

Jan Lewitt and George Him's 1942 poster on the topic of posting during the festive season.

Our collection of GPO posters has proved to be a popular topic on this blog, with design enthusiasts, postal historians and many others united in their admiration for the work of artists such as Barnett Freedman, Jan Lewitt and George Him, Edward McKnight Kauffer, Peter Huveeners, Hans Schleger (Zero), Tom Eckersley, and Hans Unger. Their work and that of many other artists can now be explored in greater depth in our new podcast GPO Poster Design.

This podcast is a recording of a talk given at the BPMA last November by Dr Paul Rennie, Head of Context in Graphic Design at Central St Martins College of Art. The talk covers the development of public relations, poster art and communication at the GPO, and the advances in technology which enabled poster designers to work with new and innovative printing techniques.

If you enjoyed our exhibition Designs on Delivery – GPO Posters from 1930-1960, which can now be viewed online, or our last podcast in which Dr Scott Anthony discussed the pioneering work of Sir Stephen Tallents’, the GPO’s – and indeed Britain’s – first public relations officer, we think you will enjoy Paul Rennie’s talk.

Be first not last - Post early for Christmas

A poster promoting early posting for Christmas, designed by Tom Eckersley, 1955.

Some of the posters referenced in Paul Rennie’s talk can now be found on Flickr. For more on poster design from this period visit Paul Rennie’s website or read the blog Quad Royal.