All posters copyright © Royal Mail Group Ltd courtesy of the British Postal Museum & Archive unless stated otherwise.
This month the University of the Arts London Archive and Special Collections Centre and the British Postal Museum & Archive present the first poster exhibit from the Royal Mail Archive, with additional items from UAL on display in the Archive Centre (details below). The University of the Arts London is also showing on loop the film Night Mail (1936) which the British Film Institute calls "one of the most popular and instantly recognised films in British film history ... one of the most critically acclaimed films .. [of the] documentary film movement".
To mark the occasion this month's feature provides online access to this exciting new exhibition 'Designs on Delivery: GPO Posters from 1930 to 1960'. Focusing on a period when designers such as Edward McKnight Kauffer (1890-1954), Tom Eckersley (1914-1995), Leonard Beaumont (1891-1986) and F. K. Henrion (1914-1990) were working and the General Post Office was at the cutting edge of poster design and mass communication the posters are arranged by theme to illustrate the organisation's aims. Through the medium of basic text, images and colour the posters show how the posters translated, often complex, messages to the public in order to educate them. Technological developments in the postal service which comment on social changes, such as the introduction of airmail, can also be traced through the posters.
The General Post Office (GPO) was established in 1657 as a monopoly service, combining the functions of state postal and telecommunications carrier and spawning similar services across the British Empire. From 1660-1969 it was a State Department but in 1969 it became a statutory corporation named The Post Office. In 1981 the corporation was divided by function due to the expansion of services beyond paper-based needs: into the Post Office for postal needs; and British Telecom for other communicative needs.
From early on the service was innovative for example, being the first known creator of stamps (Penny Post) in 1840. With the growth of communications The General Post Office became about more than paper deliveries within Great Britain but it was also this expansion which would see the Department split up. Design was a factor from the first, stamps required designing and the change of system required advertising. The power of advertising was used to promote the General Post Office as a service and necessity. As poster design began to expand in the early twentieth century the General Post Office increasingly used this medium and its rising stars.
These artists all had individual styles but they all achieved the same ends: to communicate sometimes complex messages via colour, brief text and image. This exhibit features several artists who worked not only for the General Post Office but other organisations such as London Transport, and Shell-Mex BP.
The exhibition is divided by six key themes, with examples of posters and explanatory text. There are brief biographies for many of the artists.
The exhibition runs from 7th October - 4th November 2009 in the Well Gallery, London College of Communication, Elephant and Castle. The Archive Centre is next to the Gallery, for entry please ring the bell. For details on opening times and the College's location please contact University of the Arts London Archive and Special Collections Centre on 02075 149 333. Free entry.
- Karyn, Archivist, University of the Arts London
All posters copyright © Royal Mail Group Ltd courtesy of the British Postal Museum & Archive unless stated otherwise .
- The Royal Mail Archive: Publicity: Original Artwork for Posters, Leaflets and Telegrams
- The Royal Mail Archive: Publicity: Printed publicity material
- Vanessa Bell (1879-1961): correspondence of the artist Vanessa Bell.
- Tom Eckersley (1914-1995): collection of works of the artist Tom Eckersley
- Barnett Freedman (1901-1958): material compiled by and related to the artist and designer.
- John Westwood (born 1919): Head of Design at Her Majesty's Stationary Office; collected examples of good printing and design.
- BP Archive: the records of the company include public relations materials.
- International Council of Graphic Design Associations (ICOGRADA): F K Henrion was President of ICOGRADA, 1968-1970.
Links are provided to records on Copac for these items. The Copac library catalogue gives free access to the merged online catalogues of major University, Specialist, and National Libraries in the UK and Ireland, including the British Library. For more information about accessing items see the FAQs on the Copac website.
- E. McKnight Kauffer: A Designer and his Public by Mark Haworth-Booth (2005) Records on Copac
- FHK Henrion: Five Decades a Designer: research, catalogue and organisation by Mike Hope (1989) Records on Copac
- A Guide to the Post Office archives compiled by Jean Farrugia (1996) Records on Copac
- Leonard Beaumont, Artist-designer by Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield (1983) Records on Copac
- Post Early: GPO posters, 1920-1960 by Mike Barden, sponsored by the Royal Mail (1993) Records on Copac
- Royal Mail: the Post Office since 1840 by M. J. Daunton; foreword by Asa Briggs (1985) Records on Copac
- Tom Eckersley: An exhibition of works from the Eckersley archive with an introduction by Teal Triggs and an essay by Paul Rennie (2005) Records on Copac
- Vanessa Bell by Frances Spalding (2006) Records on Copac
- Our history through the post - The British Postal Museum and Archive: the website includes examples of posters and the opporunity to buy postal heritage prints
- Poster Design: The British Postal Museum and Archive's blog on poster design
- GPO Poster Design: Dr Paul Rennie, Head of Context in Graphic Design at Central Saint Martins, London, explores the history and development of poster art and communications at the GPO; November 10, 2009, 7:00-8:00pm at the British Postal Museum and Archive
- National Life Stories: An Oral History of the Post Office (British Library website)
- Eckersley Archive: University of the Arts London (VADS: the online resource for visual arts)
- Edward McKnight Kauffer (Design Museum website)
- FHK Henrion Archive and Research Library (University of Brighton website)
- Leonard Beaumont (British Council website)
- Rennies Seaside Modern: gallery has original vintage posters and prints, including works by Eckersley, Henrion, and McKnight Kauffer (Folkestone, Kent)
October 2009: Designs on Delivery: GPO Posters from 1930 to 1960
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