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Charles and his ephemera

Shelf Appeal magazine April 1938

Today I get to go to my own book launch. Not something I ever thought I would be doing.

I had a lovely job this year – to look through boxes and boxes of ephemera on shelves at MoDA that was collected by a graphic designer called Charles Hasler. Charles worked in London across the war years and into the Festival of Britain. He knew many of the ‘names’ in design, worked for some and certainly received Christmas cards from most of the others.

His ephemera collection reflects a life lived in design in mid-century Britain. It also reflects his own paper obsessions – among them Notgeld paper money, Victorian lithography, sheet music and wine labels. When he wasn’t designing for clients, Charles wrote articles on his obsessions. And he wrote extensively on typography, presumably something he didn’t manage to get out of his system as chair of the Typographic Panel for the Festival of Britain.

It has been a joy to pull together the seemingly random story of the Hasler collection. Researching rare, ephemeral pieces from many of the tastiest designers of the period was something that was right up my alley and down my street. Not least because Charles collected a tasty run of Shelf Appeal magazines – the namesake of this blog.

I like writing this blog. I like writing for magazines and catalogues. I like the fact I now have hard copy.

Felt toys

Felt Toys Dryad Press book 1935

Dryad Press books are very often lovely. They appeal to the craft side of my brain. They make me want to make things.

This is the third (revised and enlarged) edition of Felt Toys, 1935. Dryad Press was an imprint of Dryad Handicrafts, which in turn belonged to the cane furniture business started in Leicester in 1907 by the juicily named Harry Hardy Peach. Peach was a design educationalist, founder member of the Design and Industries Association and all round good handicraft egg.

Dryad’s first book Simple Embroidery by Elsie Mochrie appeared in 1923. Mochrie was an embroideress trained at Leicester School of Art. Between 1923 and 1931 she wrote over 20 books for Dryad, including this one. It was co-authored by Ivy Roseaman, another Leicester School of Art graduate and Mochrie’s assistant.

The word ‘handicraft’ strikes a bit of terror in the heart of the modern craft cognoscenti. As ‘real’ craft cosies up to the art world – chasing higher prices and more column inches – so the smaller domestic side flourishes without support from anyone except Kirstie Allsopp.

Included in this book are instructions for making a ball, goose, elephant, goose girl doll, monkey and donkey. Plus two rabbits named Jane (in a gingham dress) and Jimmy (unclothed but with carrot). There is no mention of the designer of this handsome cover. Perhaps one of the Dryad authors designed it. Someone versed in lino prints or textiles. And with a steady hand to draw that title lettering.

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.

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