The Collector’s Minute: Who is Fougasse?

Fougasse’s posters blanketed London Underground stations in World War Two, reminding patrons of their role in national security.

One of the joys of the antique and appraisal business is running into wonderful things you’ve never seen before,?each one a new mystery to be solved.

I had one such item come across my desk earlier this month—a Second World War-era lithograph poster signed “Fougasse.” The name was familiar, but didn’t strike a bell. However, the image put me in mind of another World War Two cartoonist of the “Kilroy was here” variety.

A bit of sleuthing through my digital and dusty hard-copy archives turned up that Fougasse was in reality Cyril Kenneth Bird (1887-1965) who adopted the pen name Fougasse for his work.

As sometimes happens, the fame of an artist can fade along with the passing of his generation. Bird, during his time, ?was a well-known British cartoonist best known for his editorship of Punch magazine and, in particular his World ?War Two propaganda posters. These warning posters hung everywhere during the war, including the London Underground stations. In the subways his posters had a captive audience, as the subway tunnels were often used as bombs shelters during the war.

These posters, with titles like “Careless Talk Costs Lives” and “Be Careful What You Say and Where You Say It” were constant reminders to the public that local knowledge of troop movements, airfields and ships in port could get to enemy agents’ ears.

Bird was a true patriot, and he realized that humor got the attention of people even in the direst times. He offered his services for free to the British government. During the war years, he designed posters, booklets and advertisements. ?For his efforts Fougasse received the Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire medal in 1946.

Bird died in London on June 11, 1965. In the ?current market his World War Two-era posters routinely sell at auction in the $250 to $400 range.

Mike Wilcox, of Wilcox & Hall Appraisers, is a Worthologist who specializes in Art Nouveau and the Arts and Craft movement.

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