Terence Cuneo's Barnet railway poster, On Early Shift, sold for £2,500

This Is Local London: Terence Cuneo's On Early Shift Terence Cuneo's On Early Shift

A 66-year-old railway poster featuring a Barnet signal box has been sold for £2,500 at an auction – £1,000 more than expected.

The 40ins by 50ins poster had been expected to sell for between £1,000 and £1,500 at the Christie’s auction in London.

The poster, emblazoned with the words On Early Shift, is particularly valuable because it is by the late Terence Cuneo, who is regarded as one of the greatest painters of steam locomotives.

It features Cuneo’s painting of the Greenwood Signal Box at New Barnet with a fast-approaching A4 Pacific steam locomotive in the background.

It was produced by Cuneo in 1948, which means it is also one of the very first posters produced by the newly-formed British Railways, which came into being on January 1, 1948, when the four major privately owned railway companies were nationalised.

In his memoirs, The Mouse and His Master, Cuneo recalled: “Another [poster] I particularly enjoyed was the signal-box poster, On Early Shift.

“This show the interior of a busy, one-man box on the London and North Eastern Railway main line, just south of Greenwood tunnel, now, alas, dismantled. I attended all the shifts, the early, the midday and the night, in order to decide which would shape best pictorially.

“Although I finally chose the early one, I always remember the splendid character on the night shift. He was a signalman of the old school and took a terrific pride in his job and in the appearance of the box itself.

“He would never dream, for instance, of touching the levers without a chamois leather between his hands and the steel.”

If Cuneo had produced his Barnet railway poster five or six years later it would have featured his trademark mouse. From 1953, all Cuneo paintings feature a mouse, after his pet Abyssinian cat, Cleopatra, strolled into his studio one day and deposited a dead field mouse, as a gift, at his feet. 

Cuneo was liked and admired by the Royal Family and in 1953, five years after he produced his Barnet railway poster, he was made the official artist at the Queen’s Coronation.

The Queen also contributed to the cost of the bronze statue of Cuneo that was unveiled at
Waterloo Station in 2004.

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