sometimes it’s just about typography and typefaces. i am not one who can look at a typeface and immediately identify it. although i did find myself looking a billboard and saying to myself that’s franklin gothic. the ‘g’ is the give away. it is harder and harder for me to distinguish specific fonts, the reason being…there are more good ones than ever before. i loved drawing letter forms when in school. i enjoyed the process of designing fonts too and having had the opportunity to study with matthew carter cemented that for me. these qsl radio cards of mine are from a small collection. i have maybe twenty, give or take. these cards are not rare. they are not hard to find, nor expensive. they are not particular special, though i expect they are to the specialist collector, but they do provide inspiration. a quick look on ebay and i find over six thousand listed, not a small number. when i attend paper fairs or flea markets, i see these cards often. i cannot help but to look thru the pile and see what i can discover. maybe i’ll find something that stands out or speaks to me at that moment. i think i gravitate to clean and more stark examples. i recall a few years ago paul share and danny gregory wrote a book called hello world: a life in ham radio, that featured qsl cards. i don’t often buy these types of books but i thought it was well done and i’ve been a fan of share’s for a long time. i urge you to buy a copy. the next time you see a pile of these cards, take the time to investigate and see what treasures you’ll find.
the letterhead is always exciting to me. i recall designing a letterhead for a company called milpark, when i worked in texas. i spent a few days on a design and created dozens upon dozens of layouts. i went to town using my ruling pen and red gouache. i just loved it. i pinned all the designs on the wall of the conference room, filled it completely. the creative director came in and was…..surprised. or was it overwhelmed? there was so much to see. too much in fact. i do not recall the specific design selected but the next step was to apply the design to a business cards. the design applicational process was and is thoroughly fun. the design of the business card is something i still enjoy. that finite space requires all your design abilities. i believe the business card is still the one piece of collateral that matters. i give out my card often and am interested to see if i get a reaction. i often do. mostly i hear, “you must be a designer”. i can live with that. i assume that means i did my job. i did communicate who i am, or at least what i do. our studio, design mw, has always had an interesting business card. our card is not the standard size of two by three and half. people notice this first. second is the paper and third the printing. i once had the oddest thing happen. i came into the office early one morning, it was my usually practice to arrive at my desk before everyone else came in and have a tea and a scone. on this occasion i checked my phone messages, there was a message from someone, a designer calling from miami. the message was left late the night before and the designer had a question. he has was calling from a bar and was with two other designers. they wanted to know how the card was made. the card was engraved on both sides, but since we had duplexed the paper stock, you could not see the bruise from the engraving plate. they couldn’t figure it out. you have to love that. another designer calling about your business card. these cards pictured are all engraved. all bought at the vienna’s naschmarkt. it’s about typography in the end. these are all exquisitely hand engraved and rich in detail. the subtle detail of information. i never tire of looking at these cards. enjoy.
i never remember what hk stands for. i had to look it up: hendrik nicolass. any designer who has anything to do with letterpress will certainly know hk werkman’s designs. i have long
been a fan. in my many visits to book stores and book fairs i have seen werkman’s books on numerous occasions. his next call edition pops up most often. oddly, i have never bought a copy. the price is certainly the main reason. i’m not even sure i have ever seen a first edition.
i never tire of looking at his compositions. i dream of one day buying a hand press and beginning the experimentation myself. the smell of ink, the physical effort, the release of the paper—such is the dream. as a matter of fact, learning of the recent sale of an extremely special hand press made me consider that dream once again. i have seen pictures of karl martens’ hand press and have bought one of his works myself. my little gem. that’s what it is, a little gem of a design by hk werkman himself—an ex libris for p j hiemstra, whoever he may have been. a quick search yielded this very ex libris sold at auction at christie’s in 1996 for 159 dollars. i don’t know if he was a friend, client or associate, or if werkman created many such designs, but i am extremely proud to own this piece of his. hopefully, it is new to you. it’s always inspiring to me.
there are many items in my collection that i buy for their pure modernist design reference. many of these items don’t have a particular stories attached to them. i have bought items from dealers, paper fairs, online, from just about everywhere. in looking through my collections for this post, it struck me that i should choose a weeks worth of design inspiration. so i begin this week with a design by walter dexel. here’s a link to the merrill berman’s collection. if you don’t know it, please spend some time here for so much interesting design. if you’re not familiar with dexel, here’s a quick read. if you’re inclined to spend some major dollars here’s a link to a wonderful archive that you can own. (check out item number 81.) enjoy the week.
my father died 18 years ago today. cancer. he was a smoker and drinker, both to excess. i have neither habits. another habit of my father’s was polishing his shoes. as a child i would sit and watch as he spent an entire sunday every couple of months polishing his shoes. when he died he had 56 pairs. all varieties of brogues, wingtips, and loafers. he polished them to a flawless high shine. sitting in his undershirt and a dirty pair of khakis, he would work up a sweat. i never saw him do any work about the house. i don’t think he knew the difference between a flat and a phillips head screwdriver. he thought me cocky and arrogant. i recall a fishing trip we took in 1992. we were staying at a roadside hotel—one where norman bates would have felt comfortable—in eufaula, alabama. we were arguing about something or other and he challenged me with the question, “what two ships fought in the civil war?” we southerners always try to bring up the civil war to test each other’s knowledge. if i didn’t know the answer, i wasn’t a true southerner and certainly not as smart as i thought i was. so i pondered for a few moments, thought of one ship—the monitor—but couldn’t come up with the other name. “see, you’re not so smart, are you?” i smiled and asked, “dad, which state is farthest east—new hampshire or vermont?” he looked at me, then walked into the bathroom and closed the door. a smart-ass i certainly was. he didn’t know the answer. what he did know was how to put a shine on a pair of shoes. his trick was not to buff but to use a damp rag and rub to a high shine. he did one thing in particular: he shined the soles. well, the instep of the sole. he served in korea and he told me that is where he learned to shine shoes and i know that the first thing he looked at when he met a man, was his shoes. he certainly believed, “shoes make the man.” i inherited his love of shoes, though i don’t own anywhere near 56 pairs and i don’t spend sundays polishing mine. i do polish as needed. after he died, i did something to remember him. rather selfishly, i went to john lobb in paris and order a pair of bespoke shoes. i’m embarrassed to say how much they cost but let me just say, more than the airfare. the experience of having bespoke shoes made is thrilling and a wonder. the smell recalls sitting in a new car. the feel of a fine piece of sculpture. brancusi? i loved the whole experience. and i came to treasure something unexpected: the john lobb box. it was a simple side-stapled box, with paper-wrapped board and a printed label. i expect once upon time this label was actually engraved. i love it in every way. now i have a few pair of ready- to-wear lobb shoes, and those came in a lovely heavy-duty board box with the john lobb logotype embossed on it. it is lovely, too, but the box for these bespoke shoes seems just right, truly unpretentious. it seems less about design and more about function and simplicity. i have learned that john lobb no longer uses this box. this makes me sad, but knowing it also makes me treasure mine that much more. my bespoke lobbs have been resoled twice and should last me twenty more years, provided i shine them often. my dad would be pleased to know that i honor him in this way. he loved his shoes. today i can remember the two ships that fought in the civil war: the monitor and the merrimack. i’m ready for that question now, dad.
all things related to design ephemera interests me. running across collections of things fascinates me. in my wanderings i often find these monogram scrapbooks. i waste no time buying these books. after all i do collect ‘collections of collections’. it was quite a common practice to write letters and request replies to get the monograms from a variety of places: individual, institutions, official offices and the like. this particular scrapbook has the many lovely examples of 19th century monograms, primarily engraved initials. i am never bored in trying to decipher the intwined letterforms, some more complex than others. however what makes this book special is the pages of signatures and addresses. the contrast between the regular grid of the monograms versus the random collage of the these few unusual pages compelled me purchase this crest scrapbook. i have a couple dozen of these books, this example is typical of the majority of what i find. over the years i find less and less of these. ebay used to be a resource but i rarely check there anymore and my collecting maybe more specific at the moment. these scrapbooks are a great resource for me. when my studio did a hotel identity they proved extremely helpful and inspiring. i found this book in a book stall off portobello road in london. i had the chance to walk portobello road last october. it was a beautifully sunny and full of people. it has always been crowded to my memory and i can always find something. i recall items that i missed out on too. as there are many high end dealers along the road. often there is some dialogue when you are purchasing an antique. the dealer is interested in your collecting. the dealer parting knowledge about what your buying, telling you it’s valuable and they have priced it too low. when there is no price the dealer will look you over and the priced is determined by more than just the object in hand. this time the owner wasn’t around and twenty pounds was the price. i was happy with that and i was off to the next stall. now to my next post.