16 March 2018

London Tramways – posters and artworks at the London Metropolitan Archives

Another day, another archive, another subject.
And equally as marvellous, but for different reasons.
The London Metropolitan Archives recently held an open day event where posters and artworks from the tram age were be on display.
How could I resist?
I was there the minute the place opened. On a table in the middle there were piles of lovely printed posters from the 1920s and the 1930s. But better still were the actual artworks or designs for those posters on the side tables and these showed a bygone world of hand-lettering, retouching, cut and paste, and pencilled annotations – all devices we no longer, or very rarely, implement these days now that most things are computer generated.
The poster on the left is hand panted in thick block colours – see how some of the place names have been cut out and stuck on top to indicate where they should be placed in the final version. The second poster, which is also artfully hand painted, has a wealth of information and amendments written down the right-hand edge including about deletions and additions. The third poster here shows places linked to Dickens' London. The placenames were, for some reason masked out, but by holding it up to the  light I could see them, The last poster shows a glimpse of a fabulously colourful image for Hampstead Ponds and some beautifully rendered hand lettering  – note how accurately the gold outline has been applied – this is all done with a brush!!
All of this reminded me of when I first started working in the advertising world back in 1980. A designer would produce a colourful, hand-rendered design for the client, using Magic Markers, Pentel Pens and gouache with perhaps, a few images glued onto that. And he'd point to the client's supplied image, probably in slide format, and say "this part of this image will be here".  Clients seemed to have more imagination back then and they trusted the design agencies to produce what they required.
Once the design was approved it was then passed on to the artworker (that was me) and/or the typographer (also me) to pull together an accurate 'artwork for print'. This was a black and white rendition of the design made with the help of Rotring pens, a PMT machine, Cow Gum and Rubylith which was then sent to the reprographic department to be made ready for the printer. It was a marvellous creative process.
Today we have AppleMacs and digital cameras and various photo editing programs and everyone thinks they are an armchair designer. Apparently, we just wave a magic wand at the computer and it does all the work. I think clients think it's some kind of mind-melding process. A download of sorts. The daft thing is that it takes longer to produce something from concept to printed product than it did 50 years ago because today people are amending almost hourly. Yawn.
Anyway enough reminiscing... back to the tram posters...

A poster for London Zoo had a contemporary sketch (known as a 'scamp') beside showing another layout. The second poster shows amendments made by masking out with paper and with white paint. The third pic shows two posters – the one on the left has been part filled in with colour. Note the panel at the bottom of that poster which looks to have been originally painted as white lettering on a black panel but a section of it is rendered in yellow on green. It was the latter option that was chosen for the printed poster as can be just seen in the pic at the very top of this post.  The other poster in that image has very vibrant colours of bright blues, yellow and orange with handwritten annotation in lovely red inked script. The final pic shows a beautiful painting of a tram with almost type-quality hand-lettering applied in white brush strokes underneath.
More adeptly applied paint in the first pic of this section – note the quality of the lettering here, especially the squiggly inline on the black letters.
The last three pics are of printed examples. The Pullman Tramcar poster just amused me because it seemed a bit odd to show a pic of a sedan chair – what are they saying; that the trains are as slow as two men carrying a heavy weight?!
I was intrigued by the designs and the illustrators/artists whose signatures appeared on most of the finished posters. I made a note of most of them and it seems that rarely did a artist get employed twice. As for the printers who were employed by London County Council Tramways to produce these colourful posters, it appears the main two were Waterlow & Sons, Dunstable, and Vincent Brooks Day & Son, WC2. I also spotted two posters showing a printer from just around the corner from my home; Hill, Siffken & Co, Grafton works, N7. Sadly, I can't find anything find anything about the company except in reference to the things they printed. Any info welcome. 
I was like a pig in a colourful pit of loveliness, cooing and oohing about the artistic details of this and that and asking Simon the curator the occasional question.
It was amusing (to me), that apart from a brief visit by one other woman, the room mostly contained older men, many of whom were, I think, a little bit disappointed that there wasn't more about the actual trams and the tramlines. A lot of them looked through the posters disdainfully as if they had to do that and occasionally one would say something like, "that's the ABC1237 that used to run via Elephant and Castle but they changed the route to go past London Bridge and renumbered it in September 1931; ".
Well, I enjoyed myself and I am really glad I went there!
https://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/london-metropolitan-archives/Pages/default.aspx is a major resource for historical information for anyone doing any research be it family history, old maps and photos etc. They also have an online search facility and a marvellous photo library.
It looks like I will need to use the archive to find out more about Siffken & Co.

Tram access covers feature in one of my posts from last year.

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