Dave King makes a great book for quarantine

September 18, 2020

Very nice early review of a book about designer Dave King, by Jeremy Leslie at Magculture. I grew up up (unknowingly) looking at King’s designs in The Sunday Times colour supplement, and he introduced me to the amazing images of John Heartfield and Constructivism. (And King’s book on Heartfield from the Tate is a gem.)

I followed the perturbations at Time Out in 1981, the appearance of the Not… news sheets and then – POW! – that first City Limits cover by King for art director Carol Warren. (It’s on the dust jacket on my History of British Magazine Design.)

Later, at the Financial Times, the picture editors would relish any hint of a chance to visit King’s archive in Islington.

Jeremy points out that the text of the book has had a lot of input from Simon Esterson, who chose The Sunday Times Magazine as his favourite influence for a talk at the St Bride Printing Library several years ago – and brought along a file of dog-eared copies as evidence!

So, this looks like a treat for anyone stuck in quarantine.

>>Book: David King by Rick Poynor

Soho’s legendary Vintage Magazine Shop

August 26, 2020


The Face magazine is legendary as the 1980s ‘style bible’ and, as this February 1981 article shows, it knew how to pay homage to the legends that helped make it.

David Hepworth – who was soon to become editor of Smash Hits and later launch Empire, Q, and The Word – did a four-page article on the Vintage Magazine Company and Danny Posner, its founder. Posner started out in 1974 and expanded to eight shops, including the famous Brewer Street shop in Soho and a store in San Francisco. The stock expanded to include film memorabilia and merchandising.

And Hepworth wasn’t the only music enthusiast who frequented Brewer Street: Posner and his partner Angela Maguire could claim ‘David Bowie built his collection of Eagle and Private Eye through us.’

They were also early advertisers on Magforum 25 years ago and Posner’s sheer enthusiasm for magazines – and incredible knowledge – was evident the moment you started to talk to him. Mention a cover subject and he’d rattle off a dozen examples – and have half of them in your hand from the warehouse shelves in a minute.


The article is illustrated with covers from British, French and US titles such as Autocar, H&E, Le Sourire, Man, Melody Maker, Nuits d’Amour and Rhythm, as well as some comics.

Posner died a couple of years ago, but Maguire continues to run the magazine archive in East London and sell issues through the Vintage Magazine Company website.


Danny had some advice for Face readers: ‘Hang on to any current magazines pertaining to movies, fashion or pop.’ The Face, he reckoned, ‘will be much sought after in 15 years’ time’.

Which gave Hepworth a nice way to end his piece: ‘Buy two. You know it makes sense.’

1984: the year T-shirts went to war

August 22, 2020


Models wear Katharine Hamnett activist T-shirts on the June 1984 cover of The Face magazine

These days, T-shirts just seem to be covered in commercial logos or platitudes. Back in the 1980s, however, British fashion designer Katharine Hamnett made the activist T-shirt  a force to be reckoned with across the world.


Hamnett meets Thatcher

‘Stop Acid Rain’, ‘Worldwide Nuclear Ban Now’ and ‘Stop Killing Whales’ in huge black capital letters on white cotton were among her in-your-face slogans for 1984. 

Hamnett even brought her campaigning style to a Downing Street reception to promote Britain’s fashion business in March that year.

She wore one of her own T-shirts that yelled ‘58% don’t want Pershing’ to meet Margaret Thatcher. This was a reference to a US missile system being deployed in Europe. The prime minister is supposed to have remarked ‘We don’t have Pershings, we have cruise [missiles]’ as she shook hands with the designer.

Frankie Goes to Hollywood used Hamnett-style T-shirts to promote Two Tribes, the Liverpool band’s second single after Relax, in summer 1984. The slogans were ‘Frankie Say War! Hide Yourself’ and ‘Frankie Say Relax Don’t Do It!’ Both singles got to number one, as did The Power of Love at the end of the year. Three consecutive chart-topping  singles was a feat that not even the Beatles achieved.

Note the word ‘bodylicious’ on the Face cover at the top of the page. It was used 20 years later as the title of a top 10 Destiny’s Child single.

The Observer Magazine colour supplement did its own version of one of Hamnett’s designs for its New Year 1986 cover. Hamnett still does activist T-shirts today.


Get a fix on 86: the Observer Magazine‘s take on Hamnett’s designs for its end of 1985 cover

Barclay’s Universal Dictionary 1842

August 17, 2020


The Image above is a detail from the 1842 title page of Barclay’s Universal Dictionary showing a young Queen Victoria. She gained the monarchy just five years before, in 1837. Above her head is the English rose, framed by her Latin royal cypher, VR; Victoria Regina. This is the first in a series of title pages from 19th century books I’ll be putting up in the next few weeks.


It looks like a fine steel engraving for the full title page, though it is not signed. The page design  has a resplendent throne with the English royal motto since the time of Richard the Lionheart, Dieu et mon droit (God and my right), on the wall behind.

The page also features personifications of the lion and the unicorn that decorate the United Kingdom’s coat of arms, the lion representing England with the cross of St George, and the unicorn with Scotland’s saltire.

The lion’s face is particularly appealing.


Prince pops up on a fag packet

August 16, 2020


I mentioned a while back who I thought a fake cigarette had been painted on a photograph of Edward, Prince of Wales in 1919.


And now I’ve come across this advert in a 1923 issue of Printers’ Pie for the Prince Charming cigarette brand. He’s painted on a packet of cigarettes rather than a cigarette being painted oh him!

The brand was made by Moustafa of Piccadilly and the character is clearly based on the Prince of Wales, in a pose and uniform just like the ‘doctored’ photograph.

Celebrity endorsements were popular at the time, but they were usually by stars of screen and stage, rather than the next-in-line to the throne. There is not sense that Edward was involved in this.



Ouroboros – more than just a worm

August 5, 2020


As a teenager I read The Worm Ouroboros by ER Eddison, in which the Lords of Demonland battle against the devilish King Gorice of Witchland. This followed on from reading the fantasy fest of JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings (the latter read in the form of a ripped up copy of all three works in a single-volume paperback shared between a bunch of pals).

Coming across this advert for The Worm Ouroboros in a 1971 copy of Oz magazine (number 38, September) brought all this teenage history back. And I’ve now learned that Eddison was a British civil servant.

The promotional quote in the advert – ‘a literary event of the first importance’ – looks to be from a reviewer with a made-up name, Orville Prescott.

In fact, Prescott was the leading book reviewer on the New York Times from 1942 to 1966. He will have been just 16 in 1922 when The Worm was published by Jonathan Cape in London with illustrations by Keith Henderson, so it’s not clear when the comment was written. Most probably, it was a 1952 hardback edition, with an introduction by Prescott. 

So, I read them in the wrong order, because the first publication of The Worm predates Tolkien’s Hobbit by 15 years; and the Rings did not appear until 1954.

Like Tolkien’s works, there is a sense of the Norse about The Worm, but then Eric Rücker Eddison was a Viking enthusiast alongside his career in the Board of Trade. And he was well ahead of the fantasy curve, with another work, his Zimiamvian trilogy, coming out between 1935 and 1958.

He also mixed with the Inklings, the Oxford-based literary discussion group that included both Tolkien and CS Lewis, author of the Narnia books.

Today, The Worm has been scanned and can be read free online.

The name ouroboros comes from the motif of a snake or dragon biting its own tail and forming a circle, an image that goes back to the ancient Egyptians. The symbol denotes eternity, along with love or mourning, and was made fashionable by Queen Victoria in the 1840s. Today, Ouroboros is the name of a software protocol underlying one of the most fashionable of financial experiments, the Cardano cryptocurrency.


Mr Barraud’s photographs

August 3, 2020

1883 Merry England magazine advert for the photography studio of Herbert Rose Barraud

Advertising page from 1883 Merry England magazine for photographer Herbert Rose Barraud

This advertising page from the May 1883 issue of Merry England magazine is for the photography studio of Herbert Rose Barraud in London’s Oxford Street. He specialised in portraits of Victorian society and celebrities. The National Portrait Gallery has 500 of Barraud’s photographs.

The advert quotes John Ruskin, ‘the great art critic’ and one of Barraud’s sitters, writing about Barraud’s photographs:

They are wonderfully and singularly beautiful, and go as far as the art can at the present day, and I do not see it can ever do much better.

It’s not the sort of advert you can imagine a photographic studio running today. There is lovely detail in the engraving, with many literary and artistic allusions:

  • The laid-back, cheerful Old Father Time points to his scythe, on which is written: ‘In the twinkling of an eye’.
  • He has wings and one arm rests on his hour glass. A steam train runs below him and there is a spider’s web and ‘head rest’ by his feet.
  • In the rays smiling rising sun is a quotation from Shakespeare: ‘The sun stayeth its course to play the alchymist.’ In each of the flames of the sun is a number or letter spelling out the photographer’s address: ‘Barraud. 263. Oxford. St. W.’
  • In the background to the left is a horseman vaulting a gate, and a windmill with birds and an arrow flying overhead. To the right is a camera, and a palette with ‘truth’ written on it, and paint brushes. In the centre is an easel offering image sizes: life size, panel, promenades, cabinet and cartes.

Close-up of advert shows how the flames of the sun spell out Barraud’s address

This detail shows how the flames of the sun spell out Barraud’s address

Barraud’s studio was renowned as being one of the largest and best-fitted studios in Europe, complete with a lift, so the visiting dignitaries – who included Gladstone and his family, Darwin, Tennyson and a raft of leading actors – would not have to climb the stairs.

Girls in champagne glasses

August 2, 2020


What is it about women celebrities sitting in champagne glasses? The US actress Goldie Hawn was shown in a champagne coupe by photographer Arny Freytag for the cover of Playboy magazine in January 1985. But she’s not the first, and probably won’t be the last, actress to be so portrayed.

Below, we have Kylie Minogue on the cover of fashion monthly Vogue in a suitably celebratory Christmas shot by Nick Knight as the ‘Princess of Pop’ (December 2003).


And Demi Moore was never one to be left out in the leggy glamour stakes, so took to the cover of the Observer Magazine (7 October 2007) after her divorce from Bruce Willis. This looks more like a glass globe seat than a champagne glass, but the look is very similar.


And here’s a variation on the idea, going back 105 years. This 1915 cover of women’s weekly Home Notes was painted by no less than Mabel Lucie Attwell (May 29). Atwell’s cute toddlers were a favourite around the home on china and all sorts of goods for much of the 20th century.

Mabel Lucie Attwell 1915 Home Notes magazine

Mabel Lucie Attwell painted this 1915 cover of Home Notes with a cherub perched on a glass cup of custard

Finally, another illustration. This leering toff appeared inside the issues of the men’s monthly pocket magazine Razzle in the late 1940s, with a girl bubbling away in his glass.




How to spot a magazine reproduction

July 12, 2020


Letterpress impression on this 1866 issue of Sharpe’s London magazine is clear

Country Life, Women’s Weekly, Time Out, The Face – all magazines that have published reproductions of their first issue. In the case of the latter two, the fact that they are celebratory facsimiles is made clear, but there is no such indication in the others.

So, if you’re buying a copy of Country Life that seems to be a first issue from 1897 or a premier Women’s Weekly from 1911, you need to watch out for clues, because the real thing is worth far more than a repro.

As I mentioned in a post about buying and selling copies of Country Life magazine, the giveaway is the printing technique. Most magazines before 1950 will have been printed letterpress, with gravure for big run titles between about 1930 and 1990. With letterpress, the metal type is raised and often makes an impression on the paper.

The scan at the top of this page shows the detail from a copy of Sharpe’s London magazine from 1866. The impression from the printing of the reverse page can be clearly seen. This is a particularly obvious example and better techniques as the century progressed greatly reduced the excess pressure, so it’s unlikely to be this clear.


Facsimile of first Woman’s Weekly

The first issues of both Country Life and Women’s Weekly were letterpress, so should show some signs of the impression of the type on the pages. Modern copies using offset lithography will be perfectly smooth.


Also, the real issues are unlikely to be in good condition. Women’s Weekly was printed on newsprint, which will have turned brown and brittle because of the acid in the woodpulp paper. The facsimiles are printed on brown paper, but the colouring is very even, which will not be the case with the real thing, because these usually brown from the outer edges in.

Country Life is tricker in this regard because it was printed on good paper, but it will have picked up dirt. Finally, the staples will have discoloured the paper on the centre pages and will probably have rusted, particularly on Women’s Weekly.

So, if you’re selling one of these, be careful in your description. If you’re buying, ask about the provenance. If in doubt, assume it’s a repro.

Saucy side of the first superstar of comics

June 12, 2020


Ally Sloper was ‘the first superstar of comics’, says The Oldie magazine, who inspired the screen personae of Charlie Chaplin and, especially, WC Fields.

ally-slopers-favourite-relishNo small accolade, but it doesn’t end there. From 1867, with his first appearance in Judy, a rival magazine to Punch, into the 1920s, Sloper also put his name to no end of goods – and got his very own weekly comic, Ally Sloper’s Half-Holiday, which ran for nigh-on 40 years. His fame also spread through the music hall, theatre and magic lantern shows, and in motion pictures as early as 1898.

The BFI has a short comedy sketch online based around a man reading a copy of Half Holiday at the barber’s.

As shown here, Ally Sloper’s Relish was one of these products, alongside everything from clay pipes to doorstops to ceramics and watches. These, alongside empty bottles of the sauce, often come up on eBay searches for Ally Sloper. The advert is from the February 1932 copy of The Fleet, a monthly aiming at serving sailors and anyone else interested in Britain’s Royal Navy.