20 September 2010
David Brown examines the appeal of the totems - the distinctive enamel station signs that for many collectors typify the British Railways era. ...
One of the most iconic items from the British Railways era are the hotdog-shaped station enamel signs known as ‘totems’ and although there were once thousands of them to be found at stations, large and small, from Cornwall to Scotland, some examples remain unseen at auction.
After British Railways took over from the big four railway companies with effect from the beginning of 1948, it looked for an identifiable image to grace its stations, signage and paperwork. The design team came up with the ‘totem’ shape which was incorporated into various aspects of its corporate image. And, while British Railways became British Rail with the entwined arrows logo (still with us as a recognised symbol of a station despite subsequent privatisation), some enamel totem station signs remained stubbornly in situ. Even though BR might have become a thing of the past, the totem shape certainly hasn’t as you will find many transport-related companies incorporating the totem outline into their designs in adverts and literature. These are not always to quite the regulated shape that BR had in mind, but nevertheless the recognisable link and source of inspiration is still apparent!