This marvellous poster is to be offered for sale by auction on December 10th 2010, this rare modernist design by Philip Zec, published in 1932 was his only design for the forward thinking London and North Eastern Railway Company who employed some of the finest commercial designers of the day.


The design is in first place to break our own record price for a British railway poster.  “By Night Train to Scotland” showing the Flying Scotsman at speed on an atmospheric moonlit night, it is estimated to sell for between £10,000 and £15,000. The current record for a poster from this genre is for the LNER poster “The Night Scotsman” by Russian émigré Alexander Alexeieff   which sold in 1996 for £10,000.


The poster is one from a superb collection which recently came to the market from a deceased estate. The sale includes some of the very finest railway posters we have offered in recent years. Please have a look at our auction preview pages for a flavour of what’s to come.


Biography and notes on the artist.


Zec was born in Russia in 1909 to a family who was soon to flee Tsarist oppression settling in London before the First World War. At thirteen the young Philip won a Scholarship to St Martin’s School of Art, on graduating he joined Arks Publicity an advertising agency, later setting up his own commercial art studio working for agencies including J Walter Thompson, which is when the railway poster was commissioned. In 1930’s and during the Second World War he worked as the political cartoonist for the Daily Mirror, some of his wartime cartoons caused great embarrassment to the Government. Zec had no previous experience of drawing cartoons but was hired by H.G. Bartholemew and given complete creative freedom without editorial censorship. Working alongside Connor, who went under the pen-name “Cassandra”, Zec was to provide cartoons to accompany “Cassandra’s” column. With Connor occasionally providing captions for Zec’s drawings, the outbreak of war in 1939 provided the dominant influence in his work during this period. Unlike the early war time cartoons of Low and others, Zec depicted the Nazi’s as snakes and vultures, implying a sinister side in contrast to the ‘buffoons’ drawn by his peers.  Commentators have since ascribed this approach to a strong anti-Nazi sentiment borne out of Zec’s Jewish ancestry.  It is said the feeling was mutual and that Hitler had placed Zec on his ‘black list’ of individuals to be arrested following an invasion of Britain.


Zec’s most infamous illustration was published in the Daily Mirror in 1942 and caused a political furore which threatened the existence of the newspaper and caused him to be labelled a traitor. Appearing in the 6 March 1942 edition, the cartoon featured a merchant seaman adrift in rough waters clinging to the remains of a ship, apparently torpedoed by a German submarine. Beneath the picture, the caption read: “The price of petrol has been increased by one penny’ – Official.” One of a series of pieces attacking profiteers,  the original caption penned by Zec was to have been "Petrol is Dearer Now."  According to Zec, the cartoon was intended to illustrate that wasting fuel had serious consequences in terms of the risks taken (and the lives lost) by sailors bringing it to the country. William Connor suggested the revised caption, believing Zec’s effort lacked impact.  Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Minister of Supply Herbert Morrison along with others in the government were outraged. They interpreted the cartoon as a comment that petrol companies were deliberately profiting at the expense of British lives - particularly those in the merchant navy.  Churchill called on MI5 to investigate Zec's background, which revealed nothing more sinister than the fact he had left-wing sympathies and found no evidence of him being involved in subversion. At the same time the Mirror’s register of shareholders was investigated to consider whether the paper should be shut down. The matter was debated in the House of Commons and, after MPs urged caution, the government settled on a severe reprimand. Three years later, Zec’s VE Day contribution was widely acclaimed. Depicting a wounded soldier handing over a laurel representing victory and peace in Europe, the caption read “Here you are. Don't lose it again!”   His most famous poster of WW2 was “Women of Britain Come into the factories”  published in 1942 it could not be more different in style than the railway poster on offer. It seems to evoke and is influenced by the interwar era of the Russian communist party posters.




After the war Zec became a director of the Daily Mirror. Between 1950 and 1952 he was employed as editor of the Sunday Pictorial while continuing to draw for the Daily Mirror until 1954. In 1958 he left the Mirror Group and worked for the Daily Herald until 1961, and then as art director on the Jewish Chronicle and editor of New Europe.  Becoming blind in later life, Philip Zec died in Middlesex Hospital, London, on 14 July 1983.



Fortunino Matania (1881-1963)

London Midland and Scottish Railway

Sold for a premium inclusive £7270


The recession busting November 2009 auction completed a great year for Onslow's poster auctions.  This auction was our first entirely held on the internet, a great step forward into the unknown for us as we have now ceased presale direct postal mailing, viewing the lots in London, and printing the catalogues, not so good for the Post Office or our printers, but very good for the environment.  The internet has without doubt proved to be a success, with many new buyers coming to us through our partner Liveauctioneers and buyers searching through the Antiques Trade Gazette.  In these difficult financial times where finding a fruit bearing home for savings, posters have proved to be the new currency;  for example a well chosen British railways poster bought in 1988 for £300 would now sell for £3000.


Notable success in this auction where the four different White Star Line posters which with some duplicates sold for nearly £20,000, not bad for the vendor who only paid a few pounds for them.  A rare Alphonse Mucha Zodiac poster dated 1898 found by the vendor at the bottom of a box of worthless prints brought just under £3000.  Not strictly posters but rarely seen lithographs by John Piper entitled Nursery Frieze I & II depicting the Kent Coast they were designed in 1936 at the early stage of his prolific career and unsigned, all the same they made a total of £2360.  A set of three WW2 propaganda home front posters by H M Batemen from the "the man who wasted...." series made £1340, Frank Brangwyn's sinister WW1 poster "Put strength in the final blow" exceeded its estimate making £780.  The most colourful poster in the auction advertising a 1950's film "Afrika" estimated £150-200 was hotly pursued ending up selling for £430.  A not seen before set of six small sized posters for BOAC and Quantas by Harry Riley and dating from the early 1950's went for a total of £880.


We are currently accepting entries for our auction on June 30th


Ends April 1st 2010


Titanic's sisters found in house clearance




One of Onslows most interesting discoveries of late are the thirteen shipping posters purchased unknowingly for a few pounds from a house clearance in Northern Ireland. The posters are of famous White Star Liners including the Titanic's sister ship the Olympic, the Majestic, Adriatic, Megantic and Albertic. The posters can be accurately dated to certainly post 1912 and the sinking of the Titanic due to the additional lifeboats shown on each ship. They probably date from around 1919 when the Atlantic passenger routes were opened up due to the end of WW1. The finest poster of the group is by Montague B Black showing the Olympic this poster is estimated to sell for £2500-3000. Another is Montague B Black's White Star Dominion Line to Canada, after the war there was a campaign to attract people to Canada to set up home and start farming. The collection is likely to  bring the lucky vendor a windfall of £15000. Not bad for an afternoons work clearing rubbish from a house.


The posters where discovered in original as found condition, they had been rolled for many years and considering their age are in remarkably good condition.  From our experience of the poster market the best prices can be achieved by presenting the posters in the best possible condition. We have therefore had the posters backed on linen and any small tears and damage restored.


The posters will be included in our internet auction of Vintage posters on

Thursday 12th November at 2.00 pm.




The Austin Reed Collection of

Posters and Artwork Designs

by Tom Purvis

To be sold by auction Fifty Years after his death


All photographs used in this article reproduced from the Onslows Picture Library please see the preview page for posters in the auction

Onslows are pleased to announce the sale by auction of the Austin Reed collection of posters and original designs by the 1930's  British designer Tom Purvis on view at the Design Centre, Chelsea Harbour, London SW10 on Tuesday 31st March 2009 between 2.00pm and 6.00pm and auctioned live on the internet through at our Dorset office on Thursday 2nd April at 3.00pm.


The collection number some twenty designs were for many years displayed in the firm’s flagship store in London’s Regents Street. Saleroom estimates range from £700 for an original design to £5000 for the finest posters. They will be sold together with two hundred lots of other Vintage posters.


Tom Purvis’s posters are some of the most sought after by collectors in the United States and Great Britain. In 1990 Onslows were fortunate enough to offer for auction the remaining contents of his studio, the sale set new records, with the beautiful London and North Eastern Railway’s Umbrella girl poster selling for a record £5500. Although he had died in 1959, his widow Jane had kept his posters, drawings and paint brushes in tact in his Oxfordshire studio.


In his day the professionals who commissioned work from Purvis regarded him as the supreme British master of poster art between the wars. He was known as "The King of the Hoardings". Tom Purvis was born in Bristol on the 12th June 1888, the son of a Master Mariner later to become a maritime artist. Purvis assisted his father preparing paints. The family was not wealthy but his father financed a first term at Camberwell School of Art, through winning scholarships he was able to stay the course. He studied under Sickert in London and Degas in Paris, the story goes that one day Sickert seized Purvis’s rubber and hurled it through a skylight telling him "bloody well draw". Later he learnt the trade with six years at Mather & Crowther  the advertising agency followed by a stint at the Avenue Press learning about lithography. His first independent poster was for Dewar's Whisky in 1907 when he only nineteen. He served with the Artist's Rifles in World War 1, which left him not the healthy man he had been before the war.



He designed many posters for the war effort, and covers for the London Magazine. He was now making his name as a poster artist and his Edwards' Soup poster "They're All In It! lead to further commissions. He was gradually developing his distinctive style of flat areas of brilliant colours laid next to each other without a dividing line. The finest designs he did are among those for Austin Reed, the London and North Eastern Railway and Shell. He was now a very successful poster designer adopting a business-like attitude and charging up to £250 for a design. In all his work Purvis was insistent on the closest co-operation with the client before a drawing was started. He would talk over the client's problem with extreme care and thoroughness and then patiently search for the best method of illustrating the "personality of the product" and the purpose of the campaign. An article in an issue Commercial Art in 1929 W D H McCullough , Advertising Manager for Austin Reed states "In whatever class the work is being used, it is the Austin Reed policy only to use the best obtainable. Probably the height of superb simplicity in modern men's wear art work is attained by the Underground posters by Tom Purvis.




These are specially designed for the artificial light and form an almost perfect expression of the fundamentals of the artistic policy of the firm. John Gloag a director of the advertising agency Pritchard Wood & Partners said of Purvis , a likeable jovial and most accomplished artist with no nonsense approach. He deservedly made a lot of money from his work, especially as he alone produced nearly all the ideas for his posters.


Tom Purvis brought respectability to commercial art. He once said " I loathe the word artist. Personally I am proud of being called a Master Craftsman." In 1930 he was amongst a group of artists who banded together to form the Society of Industrial Artists, which brought pressure on the industry to improve standards for training and employment for commercial artists. He was one of the first Royal Designers for Industry in 1936, elected Master of the RDI in 1939. During World War 2 he was an official artist for the Ministry of Supply and firms including Rolls-Royce, he would often return home from the factories black after sketching workers. His famous wartime design (1940) for the National Savings poster "Lend to defend his right to be free" featured his son John aged 10. After the war he only did designs for Blackpool Pleasure Beech and one other for what had now become British Railways. It seems that in the post war austerity his colourful and provocative posters had no place and were no longer in demand or maybe he had lost his way ? Now a Roman Catholic he turned to painting portraits and religious subjects. He was never content thinking he could have done better. Money had no real meaning to him, he was one of quiet generosity, it was said of him that having received a payment for a commission in the morning, by lunch time he had given it all away



He died almost forgotten in August 1959 and is buried at Buckfast Abbey in Devon. Burt Thomas his old friend and fellow artist of great repute wrote of his art "His posters were the finest that ever appeared on the hoardings. They were real posters, not just showcards enlarged as most posters were in those days. One could take them in at a glance while passing on a bus, which is the test of a good poster".



Please click the link below to view past press releases then click "Back" on your browser to return to this page.


November 2007 Press Release


March 30 2007 Press Release


March 19 2007 Press Release


Golden Age Returns to Vintage Poster Auctions