Last month in Harrogate, auctioneers Morphets held a sale of what is thought to be the biggest collection of vintage railway posters ever to come on the market.
The 580 posters, offered on January 15-16 alongside original artwork, advertising placards, railway notices, books, railway office furniture and ephemera all came from the Knaresborough home of the late Malcolm Guest, a lifelong railway enthusiast who died last year.
Born in Torquay in 1943, Malcolm Ivor Guest developed an early love of the Great Western Railway. Before he took up his place to study architecture in Cardiff in the early 1960s, he had a temporary job in the publicity department at Paddington Station. When offered a full-time position he seized the opportunity.
Under the new regime of British Rail, most of GWR's publicity material was considered superfluous and was disposed of, but Malcolm had the foresight to save as much as possible and so started his vast collection.
Pre-sale interest was so strong that Morphets decided to relocate the sale from their normal saleroom to the more spacious environs of The Pavillions of Harrogate at the Great Yorkshire Showground. Despite the snow, there was a good turnout of private buyers, the poster trade, museums and a number of county councils looking to buy for their tourist boards.
Interest was predominantly from the UK, but there were also some keen American bidders, with one New Yorker remaining on the phone for the entire eight and a half hours of the first day's sale. But most surprising was the impact of internet bidding, no doubt accentuated by the adverse weather which meant that many were unable to reach Harrogate. Some 222 bidders registered online via the-saleroom.com and accounted for almost a quarter of the total.
The first day of the sale offered posters and original artwork and saw 99 per cent of lots find buyers, with 91 per cent sold on the second day of railway collectors' items, artwork, archives, books and ephemera. The total was £411,392 over the two days, of which £100,000 sold to internet bidders paying an additional three per cent premium for the comfort of staying at home.
The highlight of the Guest collection was a jovial view of Southport's Lido, a quad royal produced in c.1925 for LMS, which made the top price of the sale at £6200, more than double a £2000-3000 estimate. Fortunino Matania is known for his glamorised images of a number of, perhaps less than glitzy, British locations, and this illustration of the Merseyside resort embodies the bygone glamour of the British seaside. This was the top auction price recorded for the poster, followed by £4500 at Christie's South Kensington in 2001.
Whilst this poster extolled the virtues of balmy Southport in the summer, the previous lot, also by Mantania, advertised its credentials as a winter resort. Southport: Wintertime, printed for LMS by Waterlow & Sons Ltd c.1930, was graded condition B+ with an estimate of £2000-3000 and sold for £4400.
Both posters were among 267 in the collection of the larger quad royal size, measuring 3ft 4in x 4ft 2in (1.01 x 1.27m). Generally these fetched somewhat higher prices than the smaller double royals, 3ft 4in x 2ft 1in (1.01m x 64cm), of which there were 313. Predictably, familiar holiday destinations were popular, with posters advertising the golden beaches and thatched cottages of Devon and Cornwall selling particularly well.
A rare image of the Cotswolds by John Cater, printed for British Railways by Jordison & Co., in condition A also proved popular. It sold at £1200, above hopes of £200-300.
The Guest collection included three copies of Speed to the West by Chas H. Mayo, a quad royal printed by Jordison & Co for GWR. Estimated between £1000 and £1500, with two in condition A and one A-, were all snapped up at £1800, £1900 and £2200 apiece. The previous top price for this poster was £1800 for a B+ copy in 2008 at Christie's South Kensington.
The romance of the Flying Scotsman also proved alluring.
A stylish and rare 1932 quad royal by Philip Zec for LMS LNER titled By Night Train to Scotland, in condition B, belied a £400-600 estimate to sell for £3200.
Other Scottish posters were popular, in particular Scotland: Its Highlands and Islands (off Staffa) by Tom Gilfillan, printed by John Horne for LMS. In condition A this attractive poster made £2800 against an estimate of £800-1200. Elizabeth Pepper Darling, owner of Morphets, was overwhelmed by the interest in original artwork produced for the posters. Against cautious estimates, a good number of these made it into the top 25 prices of the sale.
Most desirable was a watercolour by Frank Henry Mason RBA (1876-1965) of Dartmouth estuary, 8 x 20in (20 x 51cm), an original design for a carriage print commissioned by GWR.
Estimated at £250-350, it made £3200. An oil on canvas of Surfers on a Cornish Beach by Jack Merriott, commissioned by GWR for a Newquay poster, 2ft 9in x 2ft 1in (84 x 64cm), sold at £3000, above a £600-800 estimate.
The posters notched up the bulk of the sale total (around £300,000), and the second day attracted a slightly different crowd of predominantly railway buffs.
The second highest price of the sale, £5500, was achieved by a class 49XX steam engine plate for the locomotive Wardley Hall. The hefty 5ft 8in x 20in (1.73m x 51cm) brass and painted metal plate was sold with the associated brass cabside number plate, and had been estimated at £6000-8000.
But this is not the end. The Knaresborough house has yet more riches to relinquish.
These will be included in Morphets' March 4 sales, most notably the 84 pen and ink drawings by William Heath Robinson, originally commissioned by GWR for their Railway Ribaldry book published in 1935.
The buyer's premium was 15%