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The complete set of six Tom Purvis East Coast Joys LNER posters estimated at £20,000-25,000 in the Onslows auction on July 12.

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East Coast Joys by Tom Purvis, a master of advertising art, appeared as a series of six promoting the London and North-Eastern Railway (LNER). Although usually displayed individually, they can be ingeniously placed together as a single design showing beach and beautiful blue sea.

While that has been possible using the modern reprints produced by the National Railway Museum, Onslows is offering a complete original set for what is believed to be the first time at auction, estimated at £20,000-25,000.

The specialist poster auction house says this set was acquired by the vendor in the 1980s from a well-known poster dealer, the late Leslie Sherlock, and “from the excellent continuity of condition of the posters it is likely the set had always been together rather than been ‘assembled’ by the dealer”.

Onslows sold three examples of this set in an extensive LNER poster sale in 1988. The collection had come from the British Rail advertising department offices at Marylebone Station in the 1960s and had been saved from destruction by a quick-thinking railway employee. He also saved the lever arch files containing the priceless pre-war artists’ contracts and correspondence between the railway and artists and vice versa.

Patrick Bogue from Onslows says: “From this unique archive, of which Onslows holds copies, we are able to tell the fascinating story of the wonderful set of East Coast Joys posters.”

'King of the Hoardings'

Purvis (1888-1959) was known as the ‘King of the Hoardings’ and perhaps is now regarded as one of the greatest commercial artists of the golden age of railway posters. He studied at the Camberwell School of Art for three years by winning scholarships and went on to study under an elderly Degas and then Walter Sickert.

His first work was with the advertising agency Mather & Crowther, spending six years learning the art of advertising, and then two at the Avenue Press mastering the practical side of lithographic printing. His first independent poster was for Dewar’s Whisky in 1907 when he only 19.

After the First World War, where he had served as a captain in the Artist’s Rifles, he went on to design covers for London Magazine and Passing Show and much other advertising artwork.

Purvis was now making his name as a poster artist. His design for Edwards Soup with the slogan They’re all in it led to further poster commissions from The Empire Marketing Board, Shell, Austin Reed and the Daily Herald. He gradually developed his distinctive style of flat areas of brilliant colours laid next to each other without any dividing line.

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One of the Tom Purvis East Coast Joys posters in a complete set of six estimated at £20,000-25,000 in the Onslows auction on July 12.

Forward-thinking company

In 1926 Purvis started working for the LNER. The forward-thinking company was ahead of its time and cleverly employed five of the leading poster designers of the day, each with three-year contracts.

They became known as the ‘The Big Five’, the others being Fred Taylor, Frank H Mason, Frank Newbould and Austin Cooper. They agreed to confine their work to the LNER with exception of the London Underground.

Purvis designed the LNER totem which was used on all the posters from 1927. From 1927-29 he was guaranteed commissions to the value of £450 per annum. For the years 1930-32 the contract increased to £500 for each year.

Good sports

Onslows describes how in a letter dated June 23, 1930 to Purvis from Cecil Dandridge, advertising manager of the LNER and headed Pictorial Posters in 1931, Dandridge confirms that Purvis has agreed to consider designing “six double royal posters of the East Coast giving special attractions in the direction of sports etc”.

The contract for 1931 confirms that Purvis was paid £300 for the six designs (about £18,000 in today’s money). The original designs for the posters were exhibited in the LNER Ninth Exhibition of Poster Art at the New Burlington Galleries London in March 1931.

Bogue adds: “We have a copy of the 1931 exhibition catalogue showing the designs were hung in Gallery No. 1, and not the printed posters. The catalogue also states that copies of most of the posters on exhibition were available to buy for 2/6 for the DR size and 5/- for the larger QR size. From Purvis’ own press cuttings, we can see that the newspaper reviews were glowing with appreciation for his work.”

East Coast Joys was an immediate success. The Railway Gazette wrote: “Quite delightful as regards treatment, technique and colouring is the set East Coast Joys, the ‘joys’ relate to walking tours, sun and sea bathing, and sea sports. Placed alongside each other the set forms one continuous picture – a beach scene - but each poster is designed to stand alone. The brilliant blue of the sea in this series is something to marvel at.”

The learned journal also reckoned the poster would be a hit with the LNER holiday patrons.

Eighty-eight years later, East Coast Joys is still a big hit with collectors.