Donald McGill, a bookish draughtsman who once seemed set on a career in naval architecture, had no great pretensions about the bawdy comic postcards that he began designing and selling in 1904. Though millions of people bought them and tittered over the double entendres, he received no royalties and left only £735 in his will when he died, aged 87, in 1962.
It is anyone's guess, therefore, what McGill would have made of the valuation placed on one of the largest collection of his legendary works, which has come up for sale after 40 years confined to a bank vault in York.
At a time of renewed interest in McGill, nurtured by an exhibition of his work in London five months ago by the film director and McGill enthusiast Michael Winner, the body of original artworks, each of them signed by McGill, is expected to fetch £50,000.
Few individuals appear to have considered McGill's work collectable during his life, though the prominent (and unnamed) pillar of York society, whose family is now selling the collection, seems to have been an exception. The bawdiness of the collector's purchases may explain the decision not to display the body of work but to store it in the vault.
Certainly the pieces demonstrate the full McGill range of innuendo. In one, an excited spinster tells the hotel reception: "For Heaven's sake, send help! There's a man trying to get into my room and the door's locked!"
In another, a voluptuous woman is discussing the contents of her washing line with her neighbour. "Your night-dress is looking rather the worse for wear, isn't it?" says the neighbour. "Well, dear, it's seen some ups and downs in its time, you know."
McGill eventually gave up his job with the Thames Ironworks, Shipbuilding and Engineering Company in 1908. His early business was with the Pictorial Postcard Company. He later worked for an entrepreneur called Joseph Ascher. Though about 200 million of his cards were sold, he never earned more than three guineas per design.
In July 1954, at the age of 80, McGill was brought before the Lincoln Quarter Sessions to face charges under the Obscene Publications Act.It seems astonishing today, but he was fined £50, with £25 costs. It was a devastating blow to the seaside card industry, and several smaller companies went bankrupt.
"Some of this collection would never be published now," said Nigel Smith, of Tennants auctioneers, of Harrogate, North Yorkshire, which is dealing with the collection of 82 pieces. "The quality of the artwork is unmistakable, though."
The works, to be sold in individual lots, will be auctioned on 2 October.Reuse content