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.
Map of Mail Steamship Routes (POST 118/833 holds a photographic print)
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.
Sketch / artwork for the redesign of the GPO logo by MacDonald Gill in 1934 (POST 122/8391). The first approved version had two concentric circles but this was soon reduced to one. The annotations also mentions the typeface used as “Gill Sans” which had been created by MacDonald Gills’ brother Eric.
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).
Detail of Mail Steamship Routes – a Viking craft
Detail of Mail Steamship Routes – S.S. Mauretania & RMS Queen Mary
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.
Posted in Archive, Collection
Tagged BT Archives, design, Design Archives, Eric Gill, General Post Office, George VI definitive stamps, Gill Sans, GPO, GPO logo, graphic art, graphic design, logo design, London Transport, Macdonald Gill, Mail Steamship Routes, maps, RMS Queen Mary, Shell Oil, SS Mauretania, Stephen Tallents, typography, University of Brighton, Viking craft
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.
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.
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.
Ever popular, all four posters in the ‘Outposts of Britain’ series are now available to purchase as prints on our poster website.
Posted in Archive, Collection
Tagged cubism, Edward McKnight Kauffer, GPO posters, graphic design, Harold Sandys Williamson, impressionism, John Armstrong, John Vickery, Joseph McKnight, London Transport, Outposts of Britain, photography, photomontage, poster, poster art, poster design, Shell, Stamp Centenary, The Art of the Poster, typography, vorticism