Throughout 1913, Tony Sarg produced a series of 12 posters called ‘Humours of London’ for the Underground Electric Railways Company of London. They were issued monthly and depicted humorous scenes of London’s famous places and activities.
For Christmas 1913, Sarg produced a poster called ‘In Toyland’ representing a scene of gift-buying frenzy. Children clamber on the floor with toys in hand, and rotund gentlemen struggle to carry their spoils. Despite Sarg’s gentle mockery of London’s materialism, there is a festive, joyful exuberance to the poster.
The 1913 poster was due to be the last in the ‘Humours’ series but 12 months later, the country was at war. In 1914 Sarg duly produced a topical version of his ‘In Toyland’ poster of the previous Christmas. The image in the top half was identical to the original, but the text and characters in the lower half were altered.
Now the text read ‘Toyland mobilizing for Christmas. By Underground to the children’s recruiting depots’. The present-laden family group which originally occupied the space is replaced by toy soldiers in khaki, horse-drawn guns and ambulances. There is even a rather graphic depiction of an allied toy soldier standing on top of a vanquished, decapitated German combatant.
The poster was issued for Christmas 1914 and this patriotic version of the original would have been seen as a popular alternative to the usual Christmas poster. There was some initial optimism after the declaration of war that it would ‘all be over by Christmas’ but by the time December arrived it was obvious that it wouldn’t be.
Interestingly, Sarg actually originated from Germany. He entered a military academy when he was 14 years old and received a commission as lieutenant at the age of 17. However, in 1905 Sarg gave up his commission to the German military and moved to the United Kingdom, before finally moving to the United States in 1915.