The 6ft 11in (2.1m) square oil on panel, offered for sale at Chorley’s (20% buyer’s premium) Modern Art and Design sale on April 16 at Prinknash Abbey Park, had been commissioned by WH Smith’s chairman Charles St John Hornby and director Arnold Power.
Leslie MacDonald ‘Max’ Gill (1884-1947), well-known at the time for his pictorial poster maps, was paid the handsome sum of £765 (around £45,000 in today’s money) for the work.
The 1in to 1 mile scale map features the UK bookstalls and branches of the firm, as well as typical decorative flourishes such as shoals of fish in Art Deco waves off the coastline and the old and new methods of newspaper delivery shown through bi-planes, trains and horse-drawn vehicles.
Northern Europe is also included: at the time WH Smith had branches on the Rue de Rivoli in Paris and in Brussels. The map was installed in the firm’s boardroom in the autumn of 1931. Estimated at £20,000-30,000, it was the choice lot among signs and ephemera consigned to Chorley’s by The WH Smith Archive.
The trust, a separate entity to the high street chain, is run by the Smith family “to receive, store and preserve the historical collection of letters, documents, miscellaneous materials and artefacts relating to the WH Smith family and company” as an “archive for the benefit of historians, scholars and the public generally”.
MacDonald was the brother of fellow artist and sculptor Eric Gill (1882-1940), who also produced signage work for the stationer in the inter-war period.
Three framed sheets bearing Gill’s hand drawn lettering, estimated at £1200-1800, sold at £16,000 in the same auction. Both lots were bought by private UK buyers on the phone.