Vintage posters celebrate north London’s lost tram network

By Tramway to Camden Town for the Zoo

By Tramway to Camden Town for the Zoo - Credit: Archant

Connecting leisure destinations such as Kenwood, London Zoo and Camden Town with the rest of London, the tram network was seen as a way of driving social change. Posters advertising its delights offer a fascinating insight into life in 1920s London at Christie’s forthcoming sale.

Posters may conjure up visions of tatty, blue-tacked student bedrooms, offering maximum impact for minimum output. On graduation, the wall hanging may get upgraded to a framed print, perhaps switching focus from bands and films to reproduction artworks. But there is a general perception of posters as not terribly serious, something to grow out of once you can afford to buy ‘proper’ art to hang on the walls.

Not so the posters sold by the 19th and 20th Century Posters department at Christie’s South Kensington, where wares range in subject and style from travel to politics and from Art Nouveau to Postmodernism.

Collectors are most often drawn to posters by their subject matter, first and foremost, whether they relate to a hobby, a product or a particular place. At the same time, poster design tends to reflect the dominant visual trends of an era and they span the avant-garde movements of the early 20th century.

“Posters have a unique way of capturing a moment in time,” says Sophie Churcher, a associate director in Christie’s posters department.

North Londoners should head to Christie’s next poster sale to pick up interiors with both a visual and local interest.

The sale, on Thursday, June 4th, features a selection of adverts for the London County Council Tramways (LCCT) produced from 1922 in response to competition from London buses.

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The majority of the Tramways posters were commissioned from the Central School of Arts and Crafts, allowing a range of students, including many women, to see their designs displayed around London.

“The posters offer us a unique glimpse into how the Londoners of the 1920s spent their leisure time,” says Churcher. “Tramways posters promoted strolling through Kenwood and Hampstead Heath and Mary Wright’s poster for London Zoo is a striking portrayal of one of London’s biggest tourist attractions.

“Tramways posters are exceptionally rare, in part because London Transport did not keep any quantities back for their archive. Of particular note is Speed which we believe was previously unrecorded and has never appeared at auction before.”

The tram network was the largest in Europe from its inception in 1914 and was seen as a way of driving social change, because its cheap, fast service could encourage workers to move out of the crowded inner city and live healthier lives in the suburbs. During their heyday, the longest tram route operated a weekend service between Archway, then part of Highgate, and Downham via Brockley, over 16 miles.


Sophie Churcher explains why to collect posters

Collectors are drawn to the posters for a variety of reasons: they are highly evocative of their era and location, they impart a critical understanding of the development of graphic art and they have a very immediate impact; their original function being to stimulate, distract and communicate in an instant. This combination of cultural significance and visual appeal gives the poster a very unique place in the eye of a collector.

Vintage posters were originally intended as disposable advertising – whether on the subway, billboard or high street – and for this reason there are not many, relatively speaking, that have survived. This rarity, coupled with the striking promotional imagery and skillful design displayed in each poster, as well as the history of why they were made and the broad spectrum of subject matter illustrated, make it a very appealing category for new collectors as well as connoisseurs. The appeal and the impact can be instant.

Posters fit well within both contemporary and more traditional interiors. Today the majority of buyers are private individuals – often who have never bought at auction before – who simply like the images, and use the posters to decorate their homes or offices.

The Posters sale takes place on Thursday, June 4th at Christie’s South Kensington

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