Sought-after Sheffield steelworks poster given £300 price tag ahead of auction

AN EIGHTY-year-old railway poster advertising Sheffield is set to fetch up to £300 at auction next week.

The 40 inch by 50 inch poster, emblazoned with the words A Sheffield Steel Works, was produced by prolific Cambridge-born artist Norman Wilkinson in or around 1930, during the steam era for the London Midland and Scottish Railway.

If the poster sells for the 200 to 300 estimate at Bloomsbury Auctions in London on Thursday that would be more than Wilkinson received for the original artwork.

Shortly after they were founded in 1923, the LMS asked Wilkinson to invite 18 top British artists - including Augustus John, Stanhope Forbes and George Clausen - to produce publicity posters for the company.

The plan was that each artist would be paid 100 for their poster plus a two shillings and sixpence royalty - about 13p in modern money - for every print of the poster sold.

In the end most of the artists received more than the offered 100 - some were paid as much as 200 - but it was still a modest fee, even in the 1920s.

In the early and middle parts of the 20th century, when comparatively few holidaymakers owned cars and when overseas travel was beyond the financial reach of most people, railway companies such as the LMS commissioned artists to produce colourful, eye-catching posters to promote rail travel throughout Britain.

The now sought-after posters, mementoes of a vanished age, adorned railway station platforms and waiting rooms and now fetch hundreds of pounds, sometimes thousands, at top London auctions.

Norman Wilkinson was an unusual figure.

He is credited with saving thousands of lives by inventing so-called 'dazzle camouflage' for British ships during the First World War.

The camouflage contained a complex pattern of geometric shapes in contrasting colours, interrupting and intersecting each other, which made it difficult for the enemy to determine the type, size, speed and setting of British ships.

In 1918 he was awarded the OBE and the Award To Inventors for the invention.

King George VI was so impressed he asked Wilkinson to camouflage his private air strip at Windsor Park and the royal family's bomb shelter at Sandringham, Norfolk.

Last year seven of his original paintings for LMS posters - stored behind a wardrobe in north London - sold for 38,000 in an internet auction.

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