London Transport posters of the 1930s: A display at the Bodleian Library

26 March 2010 

BoatraceGoetz_webThis April, the Bodleian Library showcases a small selection of posters which would have caught the eye of travellers on London’s buses and underground trains in the 1930s. At that time, the Underground Group was a leader in poster publicity thanks to Frank Pick (1878—1941), the company’s Managing Director, who was responsible for creating a strong visual identity for the company. He revolutionised its poster style and also famously commissioned the Johnston Underground typeface. 

By the formation of London Transport in 1933, the company was considered a patron of the arts, enthusiastically commissioning leading and avant-garde artists to create posters to inspire travel on London’s trains and buses. Small panel posters were produced for display in Underground carriages, as well as on the inside and outside of buses and trams, carrying the art into the streets. Designers such as Herry Perry, Margaret Barnard, Walter Goetz, the husband and wife team Clifford and Rosemary Ellis, and André Marty offered vivid and varied artwork, ranging from naturalistic imagery to more radical geometric and abstract designs infused with the Art Deco spirit. The London Underground would eventually be dubbed ‘the world’s longest art gallery’. 

The posters chosen for the Bodleian display tell the story of the London year in the 1930s, from the noisy thrills of the January circus, to the quieter pleasures of Spring bluebells, the pomp and ceremony of the Royal Tournament in June, balmy nights at London Zoo in August, and the bustle of Christmas shopping.

Julie Anne Lambert, Librarian of the John Johnson Collection, Bodleian Library said: ‘These small posters are gems. Redolent of their age, they encapsulate in their graphic simplicity the style of the 1930s’.

The posters come from the John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera which was assembled by John de Monins Johnson (1882—1956), Printer to the University of Oxford. Johnson collected retrospectively, gathering over a million items, mostly British, which span the years 1508 to 1939. He wanted his collection to be, as he put it, a ‘museum of what is commonly thrown away’, holding ‘all the ordinary printed paraphernalia of our day-to-day lives’ and ‘varying in splendour from the magnificent invitations to coronations of Kings to the humblest piece of street literature sold for a penny or less’.  More information about the Collection and several digital projects can be found at www.bodley.ox.ac.uk/johnson

Picture: Boat Race, April 4. [Walter] Goetz (1911-1995), Dangerfield Printing Company Ltd for London Transport, 1936. Copyright London Transport Museum.

The London Year:  London Transport posters of the 1930s

    26 March -25 April (Closed Easter Sunday 4 April)
    Proscholium, Bodleian Library
    Opening Hours
    Mon-Fri 9.00am-7.00pm
    Sat 9.00 am-4.30pm
    Sun 11.00am-5.00pm
    Admission free
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