1869. germany. caspar moos. there is nothing modern about this letterhead, however the typography speaks to me. the many covers that i have written about are usually bought for the letterhead contained inside. here is just one of the hundreds that i must own, though i have never counted. i think it’s like counting your chips at the poker table. the realization of what you have changes the game. these letterheads serve as so much inspiration. the aspect of the paper, typography, handwriting and the engraved letterhead all add to its richness. the paper is lightweight, maybe 8lb. i think i bought this for one reason: the nine. the eighteen is preprinted and the last two digits are handwritten with a lovely flair. how does your handwriting look? i bet not many of us write that well. why is that? do they teach penmanship in school anymore? i know i was graded on ‘writing’ in elementary school. i remember my report card—all c’s. this letterhead is in german and i tried to make out the handwriting to translate it for you but i gave up. sorry. other more pressing things to do. whenever i think about handwriting i make a mental note; actually, michael sull comes to mind. I’d like to take one of his classes or workshops one day. i already have the tools. i’ve told my daughter we should do this together. of course i get the roll of the eyes and the ‘what planet are you on?’ look. i am interested in acquiring this skill. some day. just another thing for retirement.
the avant garde letterhead. ( great book to own) i have written that this is my main collection and i am devoted to it. should there be a fire in my building, i would know which box to grab. this letterhead is from 1931. incredible, right? tschichold’s ‘neue typographie‘ was first published in 1928. i don’t believe this letterhead was designed by kurt schwitters and i’m not sure if he was in hanover at this time, either. i’m not an art historian, but i would love to return to school and get a phd in design history, focusing on this period. many of the teachers who taught design history when i was in school were not art historians but designers who simply had an avid and passionate interest in the design history. i have acknowledged the depth and insight in christopher burke’s ‘active literature,‘ the monograph on tschichold, and strongly feel that all monographs about designers should be this informative. the time, the place, the reactions to current events—so many factors that contributed to the evolution of a particular piece of design are truly intriguing. this letterhead for a book binder—was he so progressive in his company’s marketing? was he even aware of the current design movement or did the designer simply do a barter and so got his way? whatever the case, the design is memorable and worth considering. enjoy.
sutnar. certainly one of my favorite designers. i have posted about him before, but included only one of his letterheads. here are two that i attribute to him but cannot confirm that definitively. i suspect they are sutnar, but they lack a certain forcefulness that i have come to expect from him, though these are early, ’37 and ’38 respectfully. sutnar was art director of prague’s largest publishing house, drustevní praise, at that time, so it’s feasible. no matter who designed them,they represent another study in the evolution of the avant garde letter-head that ihave come to love. simple, ordered and exhibiting all the sighs of tschichold’s ‘neue typographie.’ these were a real find. ebay strikes again.
i enjoy searching for vintage ibm materials. i recently purchased a new book (at least new to me): ‘the interface, ibm and the transformation of corporate design.’ i have only skimmed it, but it has already heightened the pleasure i take in that period of design. i started out as a lover of corporate identity, long before the phrase ‘branding’ was used. i often prefer to use the word ‘identity.’ it’s more manageable, in my mind, and often more relevant to many of the clients with whom i work. i’m not sure if rand designed this letterhead, but i expect so. i would guess it’s a relatively early design given the logo. rand was designing pretty much all ibm’s materials himself during the early years. there should be an exhibition of just the ibm stationery materials. there were vast quantities of them. i believe at one time ibm was responsible for using more paper for promotional materials and company literature than any other company in the world. incredible. i remember interviewing at saatchi in the ’80s. i was told that i would be working primarily on the ibm account and was asked how i felt about bodoni. since it was the ibm house font, i gathered i wouldn’t be using anything else. this letterhead is certainly before those days. i love the use of city typeface, too. it works perfectly for me. and that blue edge….hey, i’m a happy collector.
the letterhead. in my mind, it remains my most active collection. that is to say, if i see or am offered one, i usually buy it. the finite piece of paper—either eight and half by eleven or a4—gives me infinite pleasure. i never tire of looking at letterheads, albeit old ones. i recall while working in my second job in houston, texas, i had the opportunity to design a program for a company called milpark that made drilling products. ‘mud,’ in fact. i learned that ‘mud’ is a lubricant that aids in drilling for oil. the logotype was already set when i arrived, but the application had not yet been completed. the colors were black and red, and i happily set to work. i recall taking out my ruling pen, mixing red gouache and using a red rule for the design element. i went to town, working on it for a couple days. the creative director was a designer from cranbrook named craig minor. super great guy. (though he fired me after six months, a story for another time.) this was the feeling-out process for the new designer: a simple project with narrow constraints. after a few days, i pinned all the designs up in the conference room. they filled a whole wall. i remember craig coming in and being a bit surprised. i had done very little editing. hell, i was having fun. i didn’t care about the client, i just loved moving that little red rule around the page. the letterheads i’m sharing from my collection use the square much more successfully than i used my red rule. these designs by max huber are from the 60s or 70s, i believe, though i’m not sure. my apologies, as i do not have access to my reference books to check if these letterheads are included. they were bought at auction along with a pile of other items by max huber. i have always enjoyed the a4 format over the u.s. format. the slightly narrow vertical just seems right. there is an art to placing something on a piece of blank paper. i recall the 2d assignments of my freshman year. a small black square on a ten-inch white square. then, in the spring semester, learning in art history about the story of two squares. i even use this image as my skype picture. (yes, I carry design way too far). the swiss style is always comforting to me. i love the order. i love the simplicity. everything has its place, and moving anything on the page changes it altogether. it was obvious when i made my presentation to craig that my designs did not have this sense of completeness or uniformity. i was learning then. i still am.
rifling through boxes of old papers excites few. it is something i don’t do that much anymore but when i do there are many factors that lead me to start digging. the dealer and what else he’s selling is one. what’s on top. is it old? if so, how old? legal papers? letters? is this just one person’s stuff or has the dealer merely thrown everything together? often the dealer has never looked through the papers in question. i have carefully combed through the materials and discovered a little letterhead or old photo, something that i think has some wonderful typography or uniqueness, only to have the dealer say, “wow that was in there?! it’s not for sale.” crazy, right? and annoying. if i were a hobo i would mark the dealer’s booth with a sign saying “beware: untrustworthy.” this piece of stationery was found in just such a way. a box full of random papers and what seemed to be discarded papers. there was no rhyme or reason to what was thrown together, but i was familiar with the dealer and he generally had a good eye. i felt there might but something he had overlooked, though he’s not know for selling things cheaply. he expects a fair price and never gives a deal. so running across this letterhead was a surprise. i had never heard of henry j stahlhut but just loved his letter of september 17, 1934. almost 80 years ago. doesn’t it inspire you to write such a lovely thank you? it seems mr stahlhut and gus traveled to jackie’s and heyworth’s for dinner and stayed over. he lovingly illustrates the highlights for us. as you might suspect, mr stahlhut is an illustrator. google images turns up many wonderful examples of his work. he has done many gourmet magazine covers, cookbooks and the like. i can’t help but love each little drawing. the cats are my favorites. how could you throw this away? i recall discovering the second page and spending a significant amount of time trying to find the first page of the letter. often i don’t like to buy just one item after searching for so long. that’s because it puts too much emphasis on the one item, causing the dealer to examine it much too carefully, and his price usually goes up. the price turned out to be twenty dollars. more than i wanted to pay, but i didn’t argue. contentment comes in many forms, and happiness is finding an overlooked treasure in a big pile of papers.
how often have you heard “the printer did it”? when i first started out as a designer there would a stream of paper promotions arriving at the design studios i worked. usually followed up by a call from the paper company’s representative, “did you get our latest promotion?” when was the last time that happened? the promotions which were luxuriously printed would be passed around the studio and later in my own studio, the most deserving of these promotions were placed in a box labeled ‘beautiful items’. since I collected letterheads, whenever a promotion landed in the studio which had letterhead samples, usually to highlight a specific paper stock, i took special notice. if a desirable letterhead appeared i would put it aside. here is one such example. the law firm of shook, hardy & bacon. i don’t remember when i obtained this example, most likely in the 80s, but it has been a favorite from the school of ‘the printer did it’. this letterhead is beautifully engraved, listing over a hundred lawyers. certainly a letter received on this letterhead conveyed a formable message. a google search to their website reveals it is apparent that they have since hired a designer and now have a ‘logo’ and i expect the letterhead is ‘more’ considered but i would not expect it be have quite the same impact. each time i look at it and marvel at the simple and straightforwardness of it’s design. dare i say it’s ‘honest’ intentions. i recently designed a logotype for a boutique insurance broker firm but initially the client had the printer do it, engraver actually. i made a presentation with various degrees away from what the engraver had done to a rather expressive design using baskerville italics. the client narrowed it down to two designs; one which was just slightly but clearly more considered typestyle than what the engraver had done to one which was obviously ‘designed’. the client asked me which i preferred and i summed it up like this, ‘clearly one designed you paid a lot for and the other looks old school, more straightforward — honest.” guess which one he selected. honest it is!
i have made many trips to the paris flea market and have had many successes there. here are three: beautiful pre-ww2 letterheads. to my displeasure, there aren’t many paper dealers at the paris flea market. as you wander the stalls, you also have many indoor antique malls to search, similar to the ones i frequent here in the states. there is one particular dealer i visit on each trip who is located in one of them. it’s a store really, and it has collections of countless items: books, jewelry, buttons, combs, just about everything. i am always overwhelmed by the sheer volume of stuff. what is interesting about this booth is how beautifully categorized everything is, all color coded. yellow means one price, blue another. i take this to mean little bargaining and generally higher prices. it has been five years since my last visit, so when i do have the opportunity i spend the entire day at the market, making sure i stop in to see what i can find at this particular shop. there are usually boxes of old letters and letterheads, but you have to ask to see them. so I begin there. as i mentioned, since it’s more of a store, you don’t get the same feeling of discovery. if there is a category you’re interested in, you just ask for it. it can be intimidating to ask for assistance, though the staff is always kind and helpful. i manage passable French, and often a little goes a long way. an assistant reaches for your desired category and kindly hands it over, then stands right next to you. this doesn’t make the experience as fun, as i certainly feel pressure—not necessarily to buy, but to hurry. since the price is marked I don’t worry about haggling. i select a few, note the color price category and simply pay. ten euros each for these letterheads. seems fair to me. these three examples are all engraved and rich with typographic detail. i wonder about the designer of this these letterheads. were the designs chosen from a style book? art directed by the owner of the company? did the engraver have artwork to copy? maybe the phrase “the printer did it” is appropriate. whatever the case, they are fine additions to my growing collection…though growing more slowly these days.
is it not wonderful when a letterhead says exactly what the company does, simply by its design? i guess this isn’t really designed, is it? that’s an issue for another post altogether. ‘specialist in perforating machines;’ yes, indeed. have you ever had the opportunity to specify perforations? believe it or not, we have, many times. there are specific machines that perf in different units, and finding the right one for your job is important. we would frequently perf a brochure so the pages with turn easily. so many details. this letterhead certainly doesn’t fall within my ‘modern’ letterhead design collection, but it’s still worth sharing. we’re all familiar with postage stamps being perforated, but you might not know that early u.s. stamps were not perforated and are thus called ‘imperforate stamps.’ the u.s. government would distribute these stamps for other companies to make their own perforations. the varieties are endless and within the stamp-collecting world adds another level to collecting. a quick read here can give you some idea of its depth. i have many letterheads that fall in my category of illustrated letterheads but not many have engravings of factories and the like. i try and confine my interest to the more typographically interesting ones. keep an eye out for my others.
once in a while you come across a design that just bowls you over. here is a piece of stationery designed by henrik nygren from stockholm, sweden, for atmosfär produktion. (see the whole program here.) in the photo of my desk pin board you can see henrik’s business card. the tiny white rectangle with the single ‘h.’ i met henrik years ago when he contacted me through an acquaintance. i believe he was considering moving to new york, and stopped by my studio to share his work and ask a few questions about design in nyc. the work was clean, spare, restful and above all inspiring. after his visit i did not maintain a correspond-
ence, but his card remained on my wall. years later, i was in munich, zurich, geneva—frankly i don’t remember where— but i bought a little book that was published in swedish. as far as i could tell, it showcased superb samples of graphic design and intimate photos of printing presses, a wonderful point of view. since i believe in looking everywhere, at everything for inspiration, i thought i had found a wonderful resource despite not being able to read it.
so many years ago now, i taught a few classes at parsons school of design, and i had a swedish student, mats hakansson. he’s a talented designer i don’t see enough of and who happily, for me, worked at our studio. unfortunately, new york has the habit of coming between friends. life intrudes, and there is a lot of life in new york city but we managed to have lunch and i asked him to stop by the studio. while he was there, i brought out this book and asked him to translate. he told me it was the work of one designer and the book was about his projects and, suddenly, it hit me, i knew this person—it was henrik. wow. i never made the connection until that very moment. i had poured over the pages and looked at each project carefully, and i did so again with renewed interest. later that week, i located his business card. it had been filed away to make room for a new wall collage. i sent him an email and told him that i had discovered the book somewhere and just realized it was his work. i mentioned how much i loved everything in it and asked if he could send me a copy of the atmosfär letterhead. it so happened he was coming to nyc the following month for a project and he would be happy to stop by and bring a few samples. needless to say i was thrilled. i’m now thrilled to share this wonderful letterhead with you.