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As with many cultural and technological developments, progress often came in inspirational bursts – think of the Coca Cola campaign that spawned the modern image of Father Christmas. Another such leap forward came with the Shell poster campaign, commissioned in the 1930s by the firm’s advertising manager, Jack Beddington.

Following on from Frank Pick’s poster campaign for London Underground in the 1920s, the Shell poster promotion paved the way for the even more celebrated Shell Guides, an idea put to Beddington by a member of his staff, John Betjeman, who became their chief editor.

As with the London Underground poster series, Shell’s campaign promoted the benefits of touring and travel using the talents of artists that either were already – or were soon to become – household names. Contributors to the series included Duncan Grant, Edward Bawden, Graham Sutherland, Paul Nash, Edward Ardizzone and Ben Nicholson among others.

The posters reflect the nostalgic age of motoring, promoting it as a pleasurable experience using themes such as ‘People prefer Shell’, portraying racing drivers, farmers, scientists and film stars.

Now Shell are to sell 75 posters from their own archive, with proceeds going to The History of Advertising Trust, who are trying to raise £100,000 to build an extension to their archive.

The collection forms the central tranche of a Vintage Posters sale to be held at Christie’s South Kensington on May 11.

While the message – ‘You can be sure of Shell’ – may not have been sophisticated, the art sometimes was, and this collection includes a broad range of styles, from the classically representational to the surreal, abstract and graphic. It is the latter types that are the more sought after, as can be seen from the estimates including the £1500-2000 for the example pictured right, from 1938, Journalists, by Zero (Hans Schleger, 1898-1976), measuring 2ft 6in x 3ft 9in (76cm x 1.14m).