From the 1900s onwards, Shell’s marketing campaigns, alongside the formation of the Shell Pecten, helped shape the iconic Shell brand. From early postcards to advertising posters, press advertisements to valentine cards, Shell used creativity and humour to capture the public’s imagination. This story is preserved in the Shell Heritage Art Collection at the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu.

About the Shell Heritage Art Collection

The Shell Heritage Art Collection is an extraordinary collection of 20th century British commercial art, featuring posters, press advertisements, paintings and illustrations, as well as early postcards, books and a unique collection of valentine cards.

Previously stored at Shell-Mex House in London, the Shell Heritage Art Collection moved to the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu, Hampshire in May 1993. Its works are regularly exhibited worldwide.

Jack Beddington with artist

Jack Beddington

Jack Beddington was responsible for Shell’s publicity and is credited with innovative marketing campaigns from the 1930s that fostered considerable brand loyalty. He subsequently held public exhibitions of Shell ‘art’ in the New Burlington Galleries and Shell-Mex House, receiving commendation for bringing art to the people.

Shell postcard of 1911

Postcards

Shell used postcards as an early form of advertising, beginning in the early 1900s. Postcards were a quick and easy way of sending messages before telephones became a popular commodity and postal deliveries could arrive several times a day. The popularity of postcards helped Shell increase their profile in Britain, reaching everyone including the non-motorists.

Shell’s wit and vision, illustrated by these colourful postcards, captured the spirit of the period.

Poster of Shell for Oil & Petrol

Posters

Posters known as ‘Lorry Bills’, as they were shown on Shell delivery trucks, were characteristic of Shell’s advertising during the 1920s and 1930s. Encouraging the public to explore Shell’s products, these campaigns were led by iconic titles, including ‘You Can be Sure of Shell’, and ‘These People Prefer Shell’.

Jack Beddington commissioned a list of artists, not instinctively associated with commercial art, to convey these simple messages. These artists went on to become famous names in British modern art, including Paul Nash, John Piper, Vanessa Bell, Ben Nicholson and Graham Sutherland.

The collection has more than 7,000 printed posters and 1,000 original artworks.

Press ad Lands End E Bawden

Press advertising

From the 1930s onwards celebrated illustrators including Rex Whistler, Edward Bawden and Mel Calman created famously humorous press advertising for Shell. The adverts were printed in newspapers and magazines and featured catchy slogans often quoted by the general public.  These campaigns created a huge public following.

A Shell Valentine card from 1949.

Valentine cards

In 1938, Shell had the innovative idea of sending anonymous valentine greetings to female customers, a tradition that continued until the 1970s.

In 1964, Shell acquired 200 Victorian valentine cards from The Valentine Shop in the Strand, London. This collection now traces the history of the valentine, charting images of romance as well as satirical cartoons and cruel verse expressing loves lost.

Shell Dorset compiled by Paul Nash

Shell Guides

The 1930s saw the launch of the Shell Guide series, which used artists and authors of various backgrounds, and were edited by poet and author John Betjeman. These popular publications showcased British counties and continued to encourage British motor tourism until the 1980s.

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