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At a fleeting, first glance, there is nothing to separate the two post-war designs for Southern railways by Helen McKie (1889-1957) to celebrate the 1948 centenary of Waterloo Station in London.

However, on a closer look something remarkable comes into the picture: her view showing the concourse and platforms is populated by numerous figures going about their business, but in one version almost all of them are in uniform and in the other, many of them in civilian clothes. The fascinating theme is that it is exactly the same figures in exactly the same positions in each picture, just dressed differently.

The titles of the posters, valued at up to $10,000 each in the October 25 Swann Auction Galleries’ Rare & Important Travel Posters sale in New York, give the game away: Waterloo Station, Southern Railway, War and Waterloo Station, Southern Railway, Peace. They show the station's look pre-Second World War and during the conflict.

In November 2011 a copy of McKie’s Waterloo Station War version sold for a premium-inclusive £4750 at Christie’s.

Leading lights

McKie, who also designed for magazines such as The Graphic, Autocar and Queen, was one of a number of women artists who became leading lights in the genre.

The Swann auction highlights a number of these designers.

The Swedish sculptor and illustrator Arnrid Banniza Johnston is another female artist whose early London Underground poster designs are among the most sought-after.

Her Regents Park Zoo design for London Underground, from 1930, shows the cages and enclosures filled with people – from a judge, earl and cardinal on swings to top-hatted gentlemen in the bear enclosure – with the animals wandering around as visitors. Swann Galleries estimates the poster at $3000-4000.

Herry (Heather) Perry was a designer and illustrated mapmaker who combined both sets of skills in her work for London Underground. Three examples on offer at Swann in this same sale, Kew, Hounslow and South Harrow, are a riot of colour and filled with amusing figures. All date to 1929, with each guided at $800-1200.