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Economy and Smartness in Men's Wear

McKnight Kauffer: Derry & Toms posters

E. McKnight Kauffer, 1917

In 1917 Stanley J. Toms of Derry and Toms purchased one of Kauffer’s Colour magazine ‘Poster Gallery’ images with the intention of converting it into a Derry & Toms poster advertising men’s wear. Whereas most of Derry & Toms poster designs clearly conformed to fitness for purpose, it is difficult to comprehend why Toms thought the image of an African(?) boy astride a donkey would suit the poster’s aims. In his 1924 book, Art in Advertising, Percy Bradshaw reported that Kauffer was asked to alter one of his designs ‘as a concession to the public who had not yet been educated to this form of pictorial work; but the first Kauffer poster attracted a great deal of attention’. It is not clear, however, which poster Bradshaw was referring to as Kauffer designed at least one more poster for Derry & Toms in 1917. Kauffer’s image from Colour magazine’s Poster Gallery page has been accurately interpreted by a lithographic artist at the printing company (only the colour of the boy’s shirt has been changed), with text added (almost certainly by a lettering artist at the printing company, not by Kauffer).

E. McKnight Kauffer, 'Our Poster Gallery'

Colour magazine, March 1917

Ludwig Hohlwein, Mittelmeer-Fahrten: Norddeutscher Lloyd Bremen, poster, 1913

Top left: photograph by W H Zimmern

Bottom right: E. McKnight Kauffer, Compadre, cotton bale label, Steinthal

In my view the image of the boy on a donkey appears to be based very closely on the central figure of a poster produced in 1913 by one of Kauffer’s formative influences, the German poster artist Ludwig Hohlwein. Although Hohlwein’s poster, advertising sea cruises to North Africa, undoubtedly influenced Kauffer’s stylistic treatment of flat areas of colour and the image of the boy looking to one side, the actual model for the donkey probably came from the photographic reference source (given to him by William H Zimmern, the managing director of the Manchester cotton exporters, Steinthal) he used for the design of a Steinthal cotton bale label.

According to my research Kauffer produced five poster designs in total for Derry and Toms. Autumn Offerings at Derry & Toms (1917) (reproduced in a copy of Studio magazine) curiously depicts a cornucopia of autumnal fruits – whereas other autumn titled Derry & Toms posters usually referred to seasonal clothes ranges. I have never seen an extant example of this poster. If any collector of Kauffer's work has one I’d love to see it

Winter Sale at Derry & Toms issued by the company in 1919, gives an insight into the direction Kauffer’s work was to take in the 1920s. Three figures, presumably dressed in winter coats available from Derry and Toms, are leaning into the rain (or snow) at an acute angle. The image represented a new dynamic in poster design for Kauffer, especially when complemented by the text, and became a precedent for his future designs.

By 1919, the date of this poster, Kauffer's designs were beginning to appear more confident. This poster is bold and

well-conceived. Is he playing on the word

sail (sale)?

McKnight Kauffer, 1919

Here Kauffer appears to have returned to the Men's Wear' design aesthetic. Could this, too, have been broadly influenced by Ludwig Hohlwein, who often depicted figures in a silhouetted profile?

Other London department stores acknowledged the growing impact made by illustrated posters, especially those issued by the London Underground. Instead of launching its own advertising campaign Selfridge's established a gallery, the Palm Court, where Underground posters could be exhibited. A journalist at the time wrote:

'The organisers of the scheme (Art in Pictorial Posters, February 1920) are heartily to be congratulated. Up to a decade ago poster-art, so developed in France, had been practically non-existent in this Country. Now we have such fine exponents of the modern spirit as E. McKnight Kauffer, Frank Brangwyn and MacDonald Gill giving their best art for the people'.

Gregory Brown, Winter Sale, Bobby & Co


In the wake of the perceived success of the Derry & Toms posters, the chain department store Bobby & Co Ltd rose to the occasion by appointing Gregory Brown ('F' (Frederic) now dropped) as its chief poster artist. What a splendid series of posters too! But that is best left for a separate post.



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