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London in your pocket

London Craftsman by Marjorie Quennell 1939

This little book London Craftsman is a common thing. Not in its looks or content, you understand. But it is easy to find and cheap to acquire.

Written by Marjorie Quennell as ‘a guide to museums having relics of old trades’ it is perhaps the 1939 equivalent of #MuseumWeek. It was published by the London Passenger Transport Board. They lived at 55 Broadway, London, Charles Holden’s epic 1920s home for the Underground Electric Railways Company. Decorated, here and there, with Eric Gill and Jacob Epstein pretties.

This book was ‘One of the London-in-your-pocket books, 6d’. Apart from the lovely idea of having London in your pocket it offered: ‘Many guides in one and 24 photographs as well.’

Quennell was, at the time this was published, a curator at the Geffrye Museum, where (Wikipedia tells us) she installed those period rooms that never really seem to have changed. Naturally there is a nice fat entry on the Geffrye in the book. She had been married to architect Charles Quennell and together they  researched and wrote on social history and archaeology.

The tone of the book is nice. Quennell goes through each museum looking for examples of early trades. For someone interested in the history of museums it provides nice snippets.  The Science Museum (where I worked out a good few years) has: ‘..under Sir Henry Lyons’ charge become human. It has stooped to its public, and in simple language explains to the schoolboy and the the man in the street as much of the marvels of science and industry as it is possible for them to understand.’

The look of this book is neat and tidy. The paper wrap cover is a lovely bit of typographic design. I normally like a pattern or a picture on a cover. But this book succeeds despite the lack.

Hen’s eggs

Egg cook book Blanche Vaughan

Cooking is not so big here at Shelf Appeal. The accoutrements of cooking, on the other hand, often make it on to the shelf. Tea towels, of course. Packaging, naturally. One or two cook books illustrated by Edward Bawden, essential. Yet this blog started off with a cookbook post, all about the look of the thing, back in 2007.

Weidenfeld & Nicolson is an imprint under the Orion publishing hat. It isn’t one on my design radar as they don’t have a particular look and feel to their output. I’m so visually-led that I notice logos (the Faber ff) or colours (Penguin) and remember a publisher from signifiers like that. Yet their extremely pick-up-able cover for Egg by Blanche Vaughan designed by Clare Skeats can’t be faulted. Super simple and satisfying. Like an egg, in fact.

I do really like a book with a one word title. The word egg is a very nice looking word, with lovely letters to play with. But this cover has no egg (text) on it. It is formed simply by a white egg silhouette with a cardboard cut out of an egg yolk, filled from behind by the yellow title page. All on a tasteful grey ground.

The book opens to nicely laid out recipes such as pink pickled eggs and gypsy toast. Illustrated with lovely egg and lifestyle photographs. I may even be persuaded to actually cook something eggy now.

Seeds I don’t need

Maja Sten seed packet designs for IKEA

Shelf Appeal goes to IKEA about once a year. It’s enough. Grab some cheap frames. Take some pictures of toys stacked high. Watch people eating meatballs and admire the strange green cakes.

I like to keep an eye on their packaging and graphics too. The food packaging is particularly tasty – simple, graphic and good.

This year was a bumper graphic / packaging year. They had these here seed packets on their shelves and they made me extremely happy. The £1.75 (for a pack of 3!) was out of my purse before I knew it.

These were drawn by Maja Sten, it says so on the packets. I seem to remember IKEA began as a named-designer-less zone, although I might be thinking of Muji. Maja’s website shows her to be a very good illustrator indeed, with a beautifully steady use of pen and a sense of pattern that seems to be in the blood of the Scandinavians.

These pretties have nothing of the beautiful old Victorian and Edwardian seed packaging about them. Which is why I like them so much, I think. Now, what to do with all those seeds…

The minimum shop

The Shop London Transport 1937

The golden age of London Transport design has been well documented and reproduced in luscious poster and design books. Shelf Appeal has quite a few of those books on the shelf. Shelf Appeal has even more books on the history of shops, particularly from the years between the wars.

This image popped up in the book Smaller Retail Shops, published by The Architectural Press in 1937. In amongst the distraction of all the modernist shop front stories, a London Transport ‘shop’ of automatic machines. They name it “The Minimum Shop” which is a lovely conceit.

In The Shop the machines appear to be selling cigarettes, matchbooks and gum. What looks like a weighing machine is in the middle. To the right of the machines some lovely posters tease our eye. I don’t know about everyone else, but stand aside because the ‘Moss Bros, Covent Garden’ poster is mine. Although I am sure the Eno’s posters are equally nice.

If this was Covent Garden tube station, The Shop must be long gone, for they can hardly handle people in their small space there these days. Never mind inviting you to stop and look for change for a pack of gum and to weigh yourself.

So inclined

Incline Press New Year book 2015 Hoppelpoppel

Shelf Appeal used to work at a private press in Oldham. At college in Manchester at the time, I used to regularly get on the train or bus and mooch the surrounding towns. Looking for funny little local museums (favourite hangouts, even then) or charity shops and if I was really lucky, a second hand bookshop.

Oldham had a great second hand bookshop. It stocked the vibrant reproduction Curwen patterned papers and I got talking to the owner about the why of that. Turned out a chap called Graham Moss ran a private press in Oldham and stocked the shop with the Curwen papers and his productions. Before I knew it I was an intern at the press, stitching books, designing a book cover, tipping in papers and learning more about the great and good of the illustrated and lettered world.

The Incline Press was at that time on Printer Street Oldham. Of course. A small victorian light industrial building that never got warm (oh, the cracking finger ends) and was piled high and low with various books, pamphlets and printerly press stuff, all in various stages of hand-making. With scuttling four legged assistants under foot. It was a great place to work.

I lost touch with Graham when real life intervened and a move South happened. But a few weeks ago I spotted @Inclinepress on Twitter and typed ‘Hello’. This smart red decorated New Year book came through the post soon after. Made to greet the New Year. From the digital to the handmade. And now back to the digital.

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