Thursday, 27 June 2019

General Tire – the Blow-out Proof Tire

The General Tire company began operations in 1915 as a challenger to the well established duopoly of Goodyear and Firestone. Company policy was to employ a publicity blitz to fight for market share. During the Depression, radio stations were acquired, beginning in the home state of Ohio, to access broadcast advertising on preferential terms. Media interests expanded across the US, culminating in the purchase of RKO Pictures from Howard Hughes in 1955. The business was a regular advertiser in the pages of America’s mass circulation magazines, from where these examples are drawn. A recurring theme was an invocation of American family values in the affluent middle class. Familial stereotypes addressed the readership on the importance of the protection that a General Tire offered, calming anxieties about traffic safety. Think about the children was a frequent message. An early draft captain of industry looks up from his economics textbook to gaze dreamily into the future – the caption brutally reminds us, “It would take 17 years to replace him”.

Characters from the polo playing, Long Island resident plutocracy were introduced for the aspirational customer to identify with. The social ambience became even more rarefied in the ads placed in Fortune magazine – impossibly elegant and expensively groomed couples posed in a world of art deco furnishings and cocktail shakers. A morbid strapline, “For those who would be missed in the community”, made an appearance. The senior executive readership would certainly understand. When the war ended in 1945 the tone changed again as advertisers sought to connect with the mass market of well paid car owners in the rapidly expanding middle class. A world in which smiling well-adjusted schoolchildren are escorted safely across the road, and cheery, happy families enjoy the fruits of prosperity in the form of gadgets, pedigree pets and exotic vacations was created. Throughout these decades, illustrators were preferred to photographers – a regular performer was Dal Holcomb (1901-78) but most images were unsigned. The only other signed examples are an uncharacteristic work by Hananiah Harari and a typically folksy Thanksgiving turkey by Dave Mink.

Monday, 24 June 2019

London Stations in Postcards – Kings Cross

Kings Cross Station is the London terminus of the East Coast Main Line serving Yorkshire, the Northeast and Scotland. It was built by the Great Northern Railway to a design by Lewis Cubitt and opened in 1852. Notable for the simplicity of its brick-built façade with two grand arches corresponding to the two great train sheds that covered the platforms and a clock tower. It was the most restrained frontage of any London termini and owed very little to the Gothic, Classical or Baroque traditions that prevailed elsewhere. The façade was hidden in post-war years by an accretion of undistinguished commercial premises and later by a purpose built ticket sales building. It was 2014 before these additions were removed and the station regained its former glory. In the Thatcher era the station and its environs acquired an unenviable reputation for drug dealing, prostitution and homelessness. This was addressed in the early 2000s since when commercial and residential development of redundant railway land to the north of the station has gentrified the area. In 2012 a new departures concourse opened – designed by John McAslan with a steel roof engineered by Arup, complete with spectacular lighting scheme.

Monday, 3 June 2019

London After Dark in Postcards

Until recently London was emphatically not a 24 hour city in the way that Paris and New York are. But, due to its northerly latitude there was no shortage of darkness to portray on postcard views of the city. Whistler and Monet may have found visual poetry in the mysterious crepuscular gloom of the fog-bound metropolis but this did not readily translate to the postcard although that hasn’t stopped some from trying. The best results were some rather sombre nocturnes. London was never the most glamorous of cities, even under cover of darkness a starchy sobriety prevailed. The night life was often seedy and prudish. Perhaps the only city where discomfort was an aphrodisiac. Timidly transgressive when compared with Rome or Berlin - cities where human depravity was catered to without inhibition or apology. London’s High Court Judges, Peers of the Realm, stalwarts of the armed forces and senior clergymen may have earned a reputation for dissolute behaviour but they took care never to remove their socks. At a time when Parisian “maisons closés” offered elaborately decorated exotic fantasies to their clients, their counterparts across the Channel were resolutely joyless establishments for functional transactional couplings. So I’m told. All this talk may have raised expectations that something salacious is to follow. Sadly, nothing more than a parade of rain swept streets, neon lit advertising and all but impenetrable fog.