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Saturday, 21 December 2013


Much of my ancestor Austin Cooper’s graphic design was in posters for the London Midland & Scottish and London & North Eastern railway companies, but in the course of his career he also designed 54 posters for the London Underground. I wrote last year about several series that he executed between 1928 and 1932 in promotion of London’s museums. Now I’ve found an even earlier commission, from 1924.

Even then, London Transport was concerned about overcrowding on the Underground. In the early twentieth century, posters encouraging the use of the Tube to shop in central London were frequently balanced by others urging shoppers to confine their activities to the off-peak hours between 10am and 4pm. That way, trains at rush hours would have more room for commuters.

Shop! but Shop Between 10 and 4 –
two Christmas posters from 1920, both by Gladys Mary Rees
As shopping increased towards Christmas, so did the need to manage the time at which shoppers travelled. The 10-4 message was already being promoted by 1920, and in 1924 Cooper was recruited to aid the campaign.

His stylised, simple image of a Christmas tree and presents is modern and direct, typical of the man who would go on to write a classic textbook about poster design. Although a  Canadian by birth, his empathy with the British love of nostalgia comes through in the motto “A Merrie Christmas” in a red ribbon above the tree. (Another example of this feeling for Olde England is his 1927 series for market towns served by LNER.) The bold font, his own design, is at once firm and friendly.

A Merrie Christmas
from Austin Cooper in 1924
and from me in 2013

Illustrations for this posting all come from Pleasure Trips By Underground, a wonderful book by Jonathan Riddell, a curator at the London Transport Museum, which I urge you to buy/visit!

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