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Playtime book by Bunty Crosbie


Shelf Appeal tries not to collect children’s books. For where would that end? Buckling shelves and a collecting headache, that’s where. But a few have snuck on to the shelf nevertheless. Books I’ve tripped over in charity shops, usually. As a search for children’s books on eBay just boggles the mind.

Playtime c1943 by Bunty Combie is a very pretty book. Lovely illustrations that accompany (so-so) poems which look to be by Bunty as well. Bunty Crombie is an unusual name. But she is rather elusive, despite that. She illustrated a few books around 1940 including The Strange Tale of Ebb and Flo and Billy Boy Goes Sailing. But digital provenance is missing.

There are quite a few women illustrators who popped up in the 1930s and 1940s for a few books and then disappeared. Bunty’s illustrations are those of a mature artist, someone who probably studied the craft and perhaps did jobbing illustration work somewhere. Maybe in an advertising agency. Often these women were married to other artists and art directors, gaining that difficult ‘in’ to publishing.

Playtime was published by the Sylvan Press. It is a nice big card covered book. The Sylvan Press published some lovely illustrated books, including Lewitt-Him’s The Footballers Revolt, of which Playtime is a very similar production. The press was based in South London at Henderson & Spalding Ltd printers. Their books often had a bit of the Père Castor going on – super nice illustrated French children’s books. I try not to collect those, either.

Scientific and technical

Spon scientific and technical publishers logo


This is just the sort of back book cover Shelf Appeal likes. Because as an amateur part time ephemeral-detail sleuth it sets me off on a hunt. Very often I get nowhere. But I like the hunt and I like the odd bits of things those hunts throw up. It’s not the getting there, it’s the interesting blind alleys.

SPON scientific and technical publishers and their odd but quite super logo seem to be something out of the Ealing classic The Man in the White Suit. A made up name with just enough real to pass muster. But SPON is and was real. I’m not sure if it is the same publisher today as it was in 1946 but maybe, for they still publish technical books. SPON or E. & R N. SPON seem to have had London and New York offices and to have been around as far back as the 1870s. They were swallowed by Routledge and then Francis & Taylor. But the funny name lives on.

This little (King Penguin sized) book has a title long enough to fill its cover: A Pocket Book of Alphabets for Ornamental Penmen, Engravers, Signwriters and Draughtsmen. It is a reprint of a turn of the 20th century book of stock typefaces for your local window dresser and shop label writer to take for inspiration.

I have speculated about that SPON logo. Is it a clown’s hat? Some sort of traffic cone fantasy? Or a very obscure technical instrument? Either way, I like it and the funny type / italic mix up too.

Never have too many

Doll faces in Stockholm toy museum

The number 2 bus in Stockholm took me to the door of the Transport Museum there. At the back of the Transport Museum was the Toy Museum. A funny old set up, it’s true. But when it comes to museums, often it is a case of the funnier the better.

In air redolent of motor oil, the Toy Museum was case after case crammed with toys. Accompanied by quite a few hand written labels. Robots. Dolls. Tinplate pretties. Bears. Toy soldiers. A goodly selection of toy dioramas. And a toy train corner manned by two gentleman train obsessives – making, mending and keeping things moving. And trying not to catch the eye of the visitors.

Shelf Appeal loves a nicely displayed toy, beautifully lit. Very often on show in Paris. But Shelf Appeal also appreciates those mad displays of collections as far as the eye can see. The ‘lets put it all in a case until we can cram in no more’ school of curating. Shelf Appeal is of the opinion that any museum, however haphazard, is better than no museum at all.

Some cases in the Toy Museum were too full for the toys to need propping properly. Another had children’s drawings as a backdrop to toy helicopters slipping on their cotton strings. Many smaller toys, in many cases, had fallen over. Some cases had lost their toys at some point but the empty stands were still there.

The display of doll pieces pictured here was laid out in a basic, utilitarian way – almost willy-nilly – on an old bit of scrim. In a funny old glass case. Good enough for me.


Jaeger for Christmas

Rene Gruau cover on Jaeger Staff News magazine 1953

What a glowing edition of the Jaeger Staff News magazine from Christmas 1953. The Rene Gruau cover illustration imbues such positivity about consumerism, fashion and post-war life. Her gorgeous red New Look-ish coat and matching hat. All those big wrapped parcels. His generous wool overcoat and grey Homburg the first word in understated, well-dressed man.

This cover illustration was also the years Winter press advertisement for Jaeger. The Gruau adverts for Jaeger were so visually strong. And this from a company with a history of commissioning great fashion illustrations. The marketing people (Colman, Prentis & Varley under the creative direction of Arpad Elfer) usually left out extraneous copy and let their illustrations sing a capella. Often just the word Jaeger, in a distinctive 3 line typeface design (used by Jaeger since the mid 1930s) ran on the adverts.

Inside, this staff magazine is more prosaic and less pretty. The post war recovery is everywhere. Lots of talk of export. Then more pages of company gossip along the lines of ‘who’s who in the men’s merchandise department’. There are plenty of photographs of glamorous women staff from the selling branches, all wearing bright lipstick, rolled back hair and natty little neck scarves. Stories from the factories feature too, with an order from Japan for 7000 dozen pairs of  ‘slack hose’ (that was completed in just a month in their factory at Shepshed, Leicestershire) creating much excitement. And finally a mention for the social committee in Ipswich, ‘which is always thinking up something.’

In seasonal greetings ‘all at headquarters’ wish ‘the Jaeger Family throughout the country and overseas a Merry Christmas and Good Health in the New Year’.

This is a proper staff news magazine. The forerunner of the Intranet homepage. The tone is patriarchal, it’s true. But the reporting about merchandise and marketing successes is credited to the people behind, and far behind, the label.

Makes you smile

Isetan department store

Shop windows aren’t what they used to be. Christmas is the season. But apart from Selfridges and Harvey Nichols (for the traditionalists we might include Harrods but I’m not going to) there isn’t a lot of inspiring window display going on. If you are lucky you get a bit of white stuff to indicate snow, ribbon-tied piles of stacked boxes or perhaps some baubles, usually of varying aesthetic quality.

A friend recently went to Tokyo, Japan and took this picture of the Isetan department store in its Christmas 2015 coat. The whole thing looked great and I wanted to know more.

The theme of the Isetan windows this year is Jenkka – Life is a Gift. Apparently a Jenkka is a Finnish folk dance. The store commissioned 22 illustrators from all over to design their campaign. They covered the store in vinyls. They made a free downloadable song sung by plait-ed, costum-ed Finnish singers. They made a website with an animation of all the characters dancing and a social campaign to upload and decorate a selfie. They made a video of the Isetan Mitsukoshi staff singing along to the song. Finally (just to tease me, I am sure) they made paper carrier bags, each done by a different illustrator.

This is how to do proper Christmas decorations. The illustrations let loose across the building – and the rest of the campaign – make the whole thing joyous. Much more so than the slick John Lewis adverts (with their stage school castings and revoltingly twee songs to buy on iTunes) that are supposed to get us excited about the season.

The sumo character here was drawn by Ana Albero. The pulchritudinous ladies in baby blue jumpers were drawn by the splendidly named Thai illustrator Ittiphat Jittichotphong. That name and the whole campaign make me smile.

Isetan Japan shopping bags

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