Full steam ahead

VALUABLE: Tom Purvis's lithograph for Bridlington, from 1932, is among the lots.
VALUABLE: Tom Purvis's lithograph for Bridlington, from 1932, is among the lots.
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THE art that promoted bucket-and-spade holidays for British Railways is in demand. John Vincent reports.

Nobody captured the seaside mood better than the professional poster artist, whose work was once dismissed as mere advertising but is now highly-sought-after.

Many of the best travel posters were commissioned by the regional rail companies such as the London Midland Scottish, London North Eastern Railway, Great Western and Southern, in the halcyon days of steam when trains ran on time and before services seemed disrupted by the wrong sort of leaves on the line and engineering works. Others were ordered by the resorts themselves or by early tour operators such as Cook’s.

In the 1950s and 60s, traditional seaside images, captured by leading artists such as Terence Cuneo, Norman Wilkinson, Tom Purvis, Donald Maxwell and Bradford-born Frank Newbold, could be picked up for 10 shillings (50p). But prices began rising when specialist sales were first held nearly 30 years ago – and descendants of those canny railway staff who squirreled away “surplus” posters from station platforms and waiting rooms are now reaping the benefits.

An echo of a quieter, gentler age when fathers often wore ties, even on the beach, and children generally behaved themselves comes with the sale at Christie’s in London next week of a magnificent collection posters, including a batch featuring Yorkshire resorts.

Stylised 1920s and 30s images of sunny days by the sea at Scarborough, Bridlington, Saltburn, Knaresborough and Withernsea, together with a British Railways poster promoting the Dales, are on offer with estimates ranging from £800 to £3,000 each. Purvis’s 1932 LNER poster advertising Bridlington, depicting a mother and baby paddling at the water’s edge, may prove the most expensive, while five Newbould images (two for Bridlington, two for Scarborough and one for Cleethorpes) may sell for £1,200 and £2,000 each.

A particularly striking poster by Henry Gawthorn promoting Knaresborough – “It’s quicker by rail” – showing a view through a carriage window may go for £1,200, while Fred Taylor’s 1928 view of a crowded boating scene should fetch a similar sum. Gawthorn’s 1930 Saltburn promotion has an estimated selling price of £600-£800.

Newbould did not, of course, restrict his poster art to Yorkshire and one of his most famous creations, for the LNER nightly service to “The Belgian Coast” via Harwich and Zeebrugge in 1930, could fetch £5,000. Born in Bradford in 1887, Newbould studied at Bradford College of Art, becoming one of the UK’s best poster artists with clients including London Underground. In 1942 he joined the War Office, where he was an assistant to Abram Games and designed the series of posters with the slogan “Your Britain: fight for it now”.

Topping all of the 204-lots is Russian-born artist Alexandre Alexeiff’s 1931 poster for The Night Scotsman (“leaves King’s Cross nightly at 10.25”), valued at £15,000-£20,000.