The zoo

London Zoo leaflet 1949

I worked for a little while at London Zoo. I always find a zoo faintly disconcerting and want to let all the animals out. Except the insects, of course – call me prejudiced. Yet the infrastructure of weird and wonderful animal houses and the historic posters and advertising for London Zoo make up for that disconcerting urge. I say historic, because in recent years the zoo has moved away from lovely illustrative work and gone for the cute photographic / National Geographic approach. Not for me.

This 1949 leaflet for London Zoo is a corker. A triumph of map drawing and humorous visual commentary. The double page map (reproduced courtesy of the Strand Magazine) is full of tiny details of people, feeding times and such like. An artist paints a rabbit. A chap eats his sandwich and ginger beer on the Broad Walk. In the Children’s Zoo a young girl bravely feeds a Wallaby. Winston Churchill walks a lion (Rota) and a white Kangaroo, smoking a cigar, of course. And a plump lady tries to tempt a Giraffe with a juicy branch of leaves.

London Zoo 1949 leaflet

The artist JP Sayer seems to have been a master of early data visualisation. I think this was part of a series of 12 picture maps of London that Sayer did for the Strand Magazine in 1946. He also seems to have done some (dullish) mappy travel posters. As they all did then.

I love a map that is not strictly formal, that has a bit of personality and quirk. It is a tradition the Herb Lesters are carrying on in grand style. Mayhap London Zoo will commission them to bring illustration back to the animals?

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