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Map of Ceylon showing her Tea & other Industries

  • Author: GILL, (Leslie) MacDonald (artist)
  • Publisher: Ceylon Tea Propaganda Board
  • Date: 1933
  • Dimensions: 63.5 x 101 cms


MacDonald Gill’s striking 1933 pictorial map of the Island of Ceylon (Sri Lanka) designed for the Ceylon Tea Propaganda Board

About this piece:

Map of Ceylon showing her Tea & other Industries

Large colour map poster printed on good quality clean paper stock and in bright fresh colours. In original un-backed condition. Very slight corner crease at sheet edges upper left. Overall very fine condition.

Leslie MacDonald Gill’s strikingly designed large 1933 map poster of the Island of Sri Lanka, formerly Ceylon.

The poster was the larger of two very similar maps of the Island designed by Gill on behalf of the impressively named Ceylon Tea Propaganda Board (CTPB), whose imprint appears in the lower right corner and which had first been established just a year earlier, in 1932.

Ceylon’s reputation as a great centre of black tea production had emerged in the 19th Century through the operations of such men as James Taylor & Thomas Lipton. As an established nation of tea drinkers, it was only natural that Great Britain should be Ceylon’s principal market for her teas, taking some 67% of Ceylonese tea exports in the early 1930’s. Ceylon in fact accounted for just over a quarter global tea exports in the period between 1928 and 1940 (compared to India’s approximately 40% market share and Java & Sumatra’s 18% during the same period). However there was a significant overall decline in Britain’s tea drinking capacity during this same period, which was also accompanied by reports of an equally worrying decline in the quality of that exported tea, much of it said to be being adulterated with poorer quality substitutes.

The drop in quality of tea exports further exacerbated the recent falls in the price of tea on global markets, which had tumbled rapidly after the 1929 Crash, principally as a result of plantation expansion & resultant oversupply. The situation led to collective measures by the tea producers, negotiated through voluntary international tea agreements in 1930 & 1933. These introduced agreed output reductions and export quotas, which appear to have been effective, after 1932, in sustaining & increasing global tea prices.

The ostensible aims of the CTPB were threefold : to try and reverse the decline in tea drinking in Britain through active marketing and promotion of Ceylon tea; to ensure a control on the high quality of Ceylon tea exports by banning adulterated or sub-standard tea through officially established validation, inspection & quality checking procedures: and thirdly to try to expand the potential market for Ceylon tea amongst Britain’s other colonial dominions, especially in South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, as well as in the United States, where both hot and iced teas offered potentially lucrative new opportunities. A levy was introduced on all export shipments of tea from Ceylon to support the new “propaganda” effort.

And as an natural extension of this programme, a new International Tea Market Expansion Board (ITMEB) was also established in 1935, chaired by Sir Alfred Pickford. It coordinated the marketing efforts of the world’s three principal tea producers – the Netherlands East Indies, Ceylon & India – and brought together their respective representatives from the Amsterdam Tea Association, the CTPB and the India Tea Cess Committee.

The CTPB’s own “propaganda” efforts also brought together a wide range of writers, artists and film makers, and it is interesting to note that it was in 1934 that the now famous “Song of Ceylon” documentary film directed by Basil Wright and produced by Scot John Grierson was also broadcast under the auspices of the CTPB.

Other instances of the propaganda efforts of the CTPB are referenced in contemporary British newspapers and include local auctions, fairs and bazaars around Britain where tea propaganda literature from the Empire Tea Growers and CTPB was regularly distributed. This included such items as the colourful CTPB postcard maps of Ceylon (also designed by Gill) and “attractive (CTPB) tea strainers”! In April 1935 the Falkirk Herald drew attention to the planned building of a giant “Sky sign” sponsored by the CTPB, to be erected at the entrance to Colombo harbour on two 160 foot high pylons. Measuring 232 feet in length & with letters between 10 and 15 feet tall, its words – “Ceylon for Good Tea” – would be visible from many miles out to sea, thereby “bringing Ceylon tea to the notice of the hundreds of thousands of passengers who pass through the port”

MacDonald Gill’s map of Ceylon was part of this same campaign, and was described in the Tea and Coffee Journal of 1934 as …a most artistic pictorial map…a valuable medium for bringing the Island to the general public. It was accompanied by a small 12 page explanatory booklet authored by John Still [1890-1941], the Secretary of the London-based Ceylon Association, and honorary Ceylon trade representative in Britain for the community of commercial tea planters and growers on the Island. Still was a long-time resident of the island and the author of The Jungle Tide [1930], a poetic lyrical account of Ceylon’s wild interior and of the seemingly tidal ebb & flow of the island’s precious natural jungle. It seems probable Gill read The Jungle Tide and consulted Still whilst designing the map, as Still here receives a personal note of thanks. It appears as a half-hidden inscription in small lettering in the lower right hand corner, just to the right of the red-headed wind-blowing zephyr.

Interestingly the profile of this distinctive red-haired wind-head is labelled with the letter “P”, and the features appear to match quite closely contemporary photographs of Priscilla Johnston, Gill’s 22 year old goddaughter.

Priscilla was the daughter of his great friend and fellow artist & calligrapher, Edward Johnston [1872-1944], perhaps best-known as the designer of the original & now world famous typeface for London Underground.

(Coincidentally, 2016 marks the centennial of Johnson’s work for LU and is being marked by numerous exhibitions & events, most notably: Underground: 100 years of Edward Johnston’s Lettering for London which runs from 12 March – 11 September 2016 at Ditchling Museum of Art & Craft).

The timings would certainly fit with this being a profile of Priscilla, who had re-entered Gill’s life with telling effect at the beginning of 1933.

As Caroline Walker, MacDonald (Max) Gill’s great niece, further explains on her wonderful website:

In early 1933, at a London talk given by his brother Eric, Max met his goddaughter Priscilla Johnston, whom he had not seen for some years.  The youngest daughter of his old friend Edward Johnston, Priscilla was just twenty-two and enjoying a modest success as a novelist.  Within weeks she and Max had begun an affair.  And by the autumn she had become his assistant at the Temple studio.

Over the next five years Max and Priscilla became ever closer.  She was the passion of Max’s life.  With her love and support, his zest for life and work were renewed. Unable to live together, they nevertheless spent most of their time with each other – either in London or on work trips.  In 1938 Max finally separated from his wife Muriel and set up home openly with Priscilla in a Chelsea flat, though unable to marry because Muriel refused a divorce.  Both Max and Priscilla longed for a country retreat and within months – with the help of a small legacy – Priscilla bought a tumbledown cottage in a remote corner of Sussex.  Life was not always easy.  Priscilla was twenty-six years younger than Max and very attractive to men.  She had several flirtations, which Max tolerated, in the knowledge that she loved him deeply and would not leave him.

Eventually, Muriel agreed to a divorce and Max and Priscilla were finally married in 1946. Their married life was sadly & tragically- short-lived: Max was diagnosed with inoperable cancer in September and died four months later, in January 1947. He was just 62 and he & Priscilla had been married for less than a year. Priscilla continued to live in her Sussex cottage until her own death in 1984, safeguarding the preservation of Gill’s remarkable personal collection.

Caricaturing the profiles of family relatives and close friends in small vignette scenes and decorative wind-blowing zephyrs & cherubs such as these was a comic & playful device frequently indulged by Gill to further “personalize” his poster designs.

Copies of Gill’s CTPB map posters (and postcards) were distributed widely within Britain and around Britain’s colonial dominions in large numbers.

The map itself is a wonderfully colourful and vibrant pictorial summation of the Island’s natural beauty as well as its richly exotic flora and fauna, including wonderful grey elephants, bears, wild boar, leopards, sambhur, crocodile & flamingoes – and not least its extensive rubber & tea plantations, the latter vividly depicted in the regions to the south of Kandy. Important coastal ports & towns are highlighted with scrollwork banners. Almost mesmerising in their effect are the alternatively striped rippling blue and white waters of the surrounding Indian Ocean, whilst charming vignettes depict the exotic shells, fishes and green & hawk-bill turtles which inhabit these rich & temperate waters. And to complete the picture Gill offers up an assortment of indigenous canoes and coastal sailing craft, imperial steamers, symbolic battleships of the British Navy and beautifully portrayed 16th and 17th Century Portuguese & Dutch galleons with fulsome billowing sails, one of his own best-loved tropes.

A fine example of this increasingly rare and striking large map poster of Ceylon.

Refs: MacDonald Gill Website (Caroline Walker); MacDonald (“Max”) Gill Project – University of Brighton