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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.

The right ski-wear

Moss Bros ski brochure from 1961

Snow is a funny thing. It looks pretty but it doesn’t play pretty. Unless you sport. Then it has a whole other use for you. Obviously, though, the fashion aspect of sport is interesting to Shelf Appeal.

Moss Bros were always the middle men of high street fashion. A lot of wedding hire suits, a lot of safe office suits. I hadn’t known they also hired sports gear. This 1961 brochure advises early arrangements should be made – that sartorial bookings for a January holiday could be made from the previous August onward. My history of Moss Bros tells me that hiring ski wear was still a newish game for the company in 1961. And apparently customers often bought up outfits they had hired, quickly making it a profitable arm of the company.

The 1950s had seen an expansion and promotion of affordable package holidays. And in the 1960s resort construction for winter sports holidays followed suit. Moss Bros was there to make sure those young families (and this brochure is aimed at them) made their first tentative steps abroad suitably attired.

The signature on the cover illustration here is ‘Douglas’. I was wondering why that rang bells when I realised he also illustrated a magazine cover I wrote about a while back. That was a 1933 drawing, but the signature here is the same. Sadly I still couldn’t turn up anything on the artist.

Lastly, I rather liked the photo (below) in the brochure for 3 styles of ski googles. There is something of the smiling fashionable fly about the women, in particular.

Goggles in a Moss Bros ski brochure from 1961

Made in Japan

Chenille pine cone snowman decoration made in Japan

The Shelf Appeal xmas image this year is of one of those incomprehensible pieces of decorative tat made somewhere in Japan some time last century. It therefore fits right in with the year’s worth of odd tat exposed for your reading pleasure on these pixelated pages.

Shelf Appeal isn’t much on Christmas, except for the flotsam of ephemeral bits and pieces that accompany the day. And that accompanied the day over the years.

The small vintage chenille figures – santas, snowmen, elves and odd creatures of indistinct origin – seem to me to be the most irreligious and comic of all decorations. And, after those fragile paper balls and concertinas, my favourite markers of the special day.

This chap (snowman v transvestite) even has little high heels on. His robust pine cone self and vivid plastic topper probably contributed to his survival over the years. And he carries a candy cane because, well, they’re striped.

Deep is Shelf Appeal ‘s disapproval, nay horror, of the idea of e-cards. But festive images, slapped here, Instagram, Twitter and everywhere; that’s different. Somehow.

Portrait of a woman

Giovanni Moroni Portrait of a Woman

Shelf Appeal isn’t so much all about the art. There are much more interesting things on the shelf. Like design, fashion (or costume to be proper), graphics, books, toys..

But portraits have always had a pull. I’d long known of the painting The Tailor by Giovanni Morroni, a rare and lovely image in the grand style but of a working man. So I trundled down to the lesser-spotted (to me) Royal Academy to see their show of Morroni’s work. To see what else, or rather who else, he painted.

To find the tailor wasn’t the only or even the main pull in the exhibition. Morroni’s ladies were the thing. Absolutely mesmeric portraits of sixteenth century women of substance, status and intrigue. Women not smiling but thinking, looking elsewhere. Against tasteful putty grey backgrounds, with nothing to distract from the interest of their faces. Their costumes, too, were most beautiful. Morroni could certainly paint a pinked damask, slashed or woven silk, a lace collar. But the faces held forth.

This was my favourite face in the show; a portrait of a woman. I stood admiring her for a while as the Barbour-clad, blow-dried artelligensia shuffled past behind me.

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