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Small picture books

English Chintz V&A book

Shelf Appeal can deny no longer the presence of at least one collection on the shelves. Of small books, booklets really, from the V&A museum in a super series called Small Picture Books, published in the main in the 1950s by HMSO.

They are of a perfect size. They are picture books of funny old collections in the V&A. They are proper curatorial connoisseurship as it once was but is no more. Except for a few surviving curators who have not been ‘let go’ from their museum yet because they are hidden in a small office on an unknown staircase in a quiet part of the museum and everyone has forgotten that they are there.

The small volume seen here is English Chintz Small Picture Book No. 22, first published in 1955, followed with this second edition of 1967. Not a big seller then. It seems to have had the same cover on both versions. A light, delicate and bright Roger Nicholson design. Nicholson has had some research and writing action over at the Quad Royal blog, Their content very often crosses over with that seen here. And as the Quads say, there isn’t a lot to find out about Mr Nicholson. He did some very nice textile designs in his time, I do know that. But no chintz that I am aware of.

English Chintz has some very nice pictures of other nice textiles in it though. In black and white of course. But still nice. The text is mercifully sparse. What there is is cumbersome enough: ‘In view of the uncertainty that has hitherto prevailed concerning the dating of English printed textiles, only those fabrics have been illustrated which could be dated exactly, or within a very narrow margin of error, by reference to precisely dated evidence such as pattern-books, excise stamps, design registration numbers, etc.

That sort of writing is not going to win any more fans for chintz. But Mr Nicholson’s cover just might tip a few design types over that way.

Modern hen

Modern Hen by FHK Henrion at Festival of Britain

The 1951 Festival of Britain is of consistent interest here at Shelf Appeal. The exhibition was a fleeting sight in London, open from 4 May to 30 September 1951. They started to dismantle it the day after it closed and by Christmas that year almost all traces of it had been removed. That has only helped the whole thing become legend amongst design and exhibition types.

I have just finished reading the book The Festival of Britain: A Land and It’s People by Harriet Atkinson. And a darn good read it is too, with a lot of detail about the ‘exhibition’ aspect of the whole thing. Both literally, as in who made what, and metaphorically, as in a country choosing to put itself on exhibit.

Elsewhere I have been working on a book about ephemera collected by one Charles Hasler, who worked on typography for the Festival. A lot of his friends and contemporaries also worked on the Festival. In fact you’d have felt most neglected in the late very 1940s if you were a designer and weren’t doing something on it.

This image shows F.H.K. Henrion’s Modern Hen display in the livestock section of The Country, in Land in the main Dome of Discovery. It appears in Atkinson’s book. Henrion, an émigré from Germany, was a super graphic designer who also worked on Ministry of Information propaganda exhibitions during the Second World War.

How joyous is Henrion’s use of eggs as a graphic conceit to pick out the title on a backing of cardboard egg boxes? I can only think I have become too immersed in the Festival world that this sort of thing looks perfectly appropriate to me. The use of real hens in the display slightly boggles the mind though.

And. What is a Modern Hen anyway?

A proper trouser

Bestway woman's trouser sewing pattern 1942

Shelf Appeal can’t get over the disappointment of today’s trousers. All those jeggings, jeans and just plain awful palazzo pants in cheap ‘bright’ nylon fabrics. Jeggings are just tights by another name. Jeans are only nice in dark denim or on James Dean. Palazzo pants were designed for lounging on your cruise ship, otherwise all that fabric is a hazard, and should never be made in anything less than silk.

The women’s trouser to please was designed in the late 1930s and came into its own in the Second World War. This Bestway pattern from around 1942 is for those sorts of trousers, or to name them properly: ‘ladies’ slacks.’ These were based upon men’s trousers. Yet fitted to the woman’s waist (small pleats at the front, darts at the back), generous over the hips, seemly across the gusset area and with pockets. Ahh, pockets.

These were trousers for doing stuff in. If we believe the propaganda, women were digging for victory in trousers like this. Certainly they were stepping into areas of once traditionally male employment in trousers like this.

The top looks to be a simple knit jumper, probably home knitted. Tucked in at the waist for a neat silhouette. The trousers would be made (in the 1940s) in any material to be found. But you can betcha it wouldn’t two-way stretch, whatever it was.

Liberty’s blouses

leaflet advertising Liberty's blouses and smocks

Shelf Appeal has never liked Summer. It is undignified. Far too much bunting related gaiety, outdoorsy organized activity and heat. Nothing for it but to dodge from one spot of shade to the next and dream of Autumn. Sartorially speaking, nothing one wears seems to stay smart in the sun.

This early 1940s leaflet advertising Liberty’s blouses and smocks (and isn’t ‘smock’ an underused word?) makes me feel cooler just looking at it. There is nothing I don’t like about this cover. The typeface. The illustration. Her red lipstick that picks out the red flower on the Sunbeam washing crape Sonja blouse that matches the red skirt that matches the red painted fingernails that match the (surely grosgrain) ribbon on her wide straw hat. And whilst she has very slightly flushed cheeks, it is plain to see she is in no way overheated.

The blouses inside this leaflet have charming names. The Nita ‘note the cute pockets’, the Stella and the Daphne ‘dainty georgette Blouse with elastic gauging’ give way to the Bettine. The smocks answer to Utility, Puck ‘most attractive for house wear’ and Tulip, a ‘three-quarter length Smock in “Golden Bird” silk. Beautifully hand-smocked and scalloped.’

The women in the colour illustrations have very slight lavender tones in their hair, politely suggesting these are blouses and smocks for the mature woman. All the blouses are available in long and short sleeve versions. Most button up high or tie off before any hint of cleavage. The prints are restrained and tasteful in that Liberty way.

This is Summer dressing with dignity and to delight.

Up my street

Up My Street by Louise Lockhart

It is always nice to see people following their passion. Design for Today is a new imprint making very nice things indeed and making them with passion. First off the press was a Bawden and Ravilious Brick House by Alice Pattullo, full of detail for the spotter and aesthetic presence for the collector. Next is this Up My Street concertina book by Louise Lockhart AKA The Printed Peanut. Louise has many nice illustrations in her catalogue but this is for sure my new favourite.

Drawing or engraving shops harks back to 19th century trade cards engraved with an illustration of the establishment in question. Often with crinolined ladies mooching in front of nice big Georgian glass windows before going in to purchase. Through to 1938 and Eric Ravilous’s High Street, the most wanted item on many a book & illustration fetishist’s list. Including mine.

Up My Street nods and winks to the shops in those older works. But it has it’s own story to tell. From the David Hockney-esque chap at the beginning of the street, past the (handy) Ironmongers, the Monte Carlo café serving ice cream to a stripy-jumpered customer, stopping to gaze in the sweet shop window, collect washing and to pat the dog in the Launderette and finally dodging pigeons outside the Bakers to get cakes for tea. On the reverse are the shopkeepers themselves, rosy cheeked and accompanied by odes to their trades.

So much thought and love and Printed in England care has gone in to this production. Design For Today suggests you can read this as a book, put it on the mantelpiece or frame it up. I am putting mine on the shelf.

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