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.
so many of the books and ephemera i have collected were bought with excitement and a sense of discovery. once examined and absorbed for design and reference, they are filed away. so many items left neglected for so many years. there is a scene in a mark walhberg movie, shooter, in which his character encounters an older man, an authority on guns and conspiracies. as they are talking, this man refers to a book on his shelf and says, “right were i left it 12 years ago.” that might be the case with this brochure designed by sutnar. the swann auction house auctioned some specific items of his from the cooper hewitt in 1998. i bid on many items at that auction and missed out on so many rare books and designs. this brochure was one that i did not win. i dropped out at a thousand dollars. i don’t think i had ever bid such a high price. so many things come into play when bidding on something you want. one factor that i could not have imagined was the feeling that you simply don’t want the other person to have it. that competitive spirit was unexpected. i decided then not to be present at future auctions and i have lived by that rule ever since. as i said, i did not win the sutnar brochure that day but it’s memory lingered for years to come. i had never seen this brochure before and knew very little about it. it was such a surprise to attend the antiquarian book fair at the park armory many years later and see that a dealer from london had it in his case. i asked the dealer if i could examine it. “are you familiar with sutnar?” he asked. i smiled. the price: four fifty. sold. i did not even try to bargain. after a quick look on the internet i found little more than other photos. the brochure designed by sutnar for canterbury printing falls in the category of promotion materials. when was the last time you received a paper promotion or a glossy elaborate printed promotion? here’s a bit from it: “only through good design and fine printing can you add that touch of distinction to your literature which makes it fully effective with discriminating people and economical in producing maximum sales results.” here’s another: “striking design and good illustration will assure attention for your message and make your sales points clear and convincing.” copyright 1950. can’t argue with either of these statements, now can you? what’s interesting about this brochure is the design, of course. not sure who would read the text as the graphics are so memorable. sutnar is at his best here. nothing more to say but “enjoy.”
when i started writing this blog i thought i was a modernist collector. it soon became apparent that i am simply a collector. i collector of all things. once upon time i thought i had a unique perspective on collecting and after all these years i have found many that share my same interest and passion. that said i really don’t collect post cards. i really don’t. whenever i attend a paper fair there are dozens of post card dealers. there are specific shows for post card collector. the categories are endless for these collectors; animals, photo cards, states, churches, specific counties…too numerous to list. however since i have attended these shows for years many dealers know my tastes and interests. this can be good and bad. the good part is that when i stop by their booth the dealer will often have put items aside for me. “i have a few things for you”, is how i am greeted after the initial hellos. this is a delight, then the feeling i am obligated to purchase their selections. happy this is rarely the case. there is little pressure other than what i have put on myself. every dealer is different of course and each one puts aside something completely different for me. one of my favorite dealer is michael meade. i see him at the stamp shows and i have been buying paper ephemera from him for years. an incredibly knowledge man. he has shown me patience and tolerance in helping
me build my collections. this particular post post card in fact was bought from him. when michael handed me an envelope of his selected items and i saw the image on this postcard i wondered why he had selected this. the i turned it over and saw the answer. wow. the handwriting, it’s just amazing. how do you feel about your handwriting? when was the last time you sent a post card? when my daughter went to summer camp she asked that i type my correspondence, that certainly tells you all you need to know about my handwriting. the post card begins with le sourire, l’amour, les larmes. the smile, the love, the tears, from my college french, i only knew two of the three and had to look up the third —les larmes. i have not tried to read the entire card, another thing on my to do this, but this card was pinned up at my desk once upon a time. as i look at it afresh. i marvel at the author’s handwriting. it lovingly it ends with “martinique avec 780 mots”, 780 words, that does say it all.
what do you do with things you for which you have no categories, or even collections? i often buy the darndest things: labels, scraps of paper, stickers. some i don’t even know their original use. what do i do with them? they are filed in a book designed for stamp collectors. i place these oddities without regard to topic, style or category. maybe they should be categorized under ‘what’s left?’
in this particular book, i have an old ration sticker, revenue stickers and an assortment of oddities. all bought with one thought: ‘typography.’ these books for stamp collectors are great. i try and buy old ones as they have more character then the new ones. i believe fewer and fewer companies make these books and the richness has disappeared. i have many stories about finding these books. in this day and age, with ebay, it’s fascinating to me how everyone thinks what they have is valuable. i have heard this from other dealers, too. professional dealers spend much more time going to flea markets, yard sales and estates sales than i. many individuals think because something sold for x on ebay, that is the price. as we know, it takes only two people to bid up an item. when a dealer (i mostly buy from dealers) suddenly realizes that he may have priced something incorrectly, the reaction makes me smile (or roll my eyes). Usually i get a ‘that’s valuable?’ look. he has a chance to reassess and then i hear, ‘not for sale’. i have to be careful since i am a very particular collector who doesn’t just go for the familiar.
being a paper clip collector, i am intrigued by the many different shapes. i will be looking through a box of old documents and often there is more than one box. if i’m up for it and have my patient hat on, i will dig in. i start pulling out documents with paper clips that i may or may not have and the dealer will come over and start examining my selections. now, he has never gone through this box and has already said so, but out of all this paper i have selected five things. why? this is curious to him. how much? ‘a hundred dollars.’ i say to myself, ‘i only want the paper clips.’ so i walk away after spending over a half an hour. the dealer looks at me harshly. ‘well, how much do you want to pay?’ of course i want to pay five bucks. ten bucks tops. i don’t even make an offer since we are so far apart. right before i leave the show, i swing back by the dealer and see that the papers are how i left them. no one has even looked through the box, so i offer the dealer twenty bucks and tell him i just want the paper clips. he says ‘get lost.’ nice, right? this happened at the allentown paper fair many years ago. i have learned from these experiences and it has to do with this book that contains these oddities.
in paris there used to be a philatelic dealer on rue due madeleine. right on the corner. it was a good size. i would always go in there and use my poor french and ask for odd collections and such. often dealers will buy old collections and these collections will be in these books i seek out. there will be stacks of these with a simple listing of what’s inside. such as, ‘algeria’ or ‘german pre-war’. of course i’m not interested in the stamps inside, just the old books containing them. these collections can be quite expensive and often prevent me from buying the book, but i remember asking the dealer—the daughter of the owner—if she had ‘new old stock’ of these books. i did not know this phrase in french. i should have learned it long ago. anyway, she pointed along the staircase leading to the basement (needless to say, i so wanted to visit the basement) were there were shelf after shelf of these books. all sizes. my face lit up. i gave myself away. she handed me one and i nodded: ‘perfect, j’aime ça.’ i recall it coast about ten dollars. then i asked if i could by more. ‘no. not for sale.’ the books had been sitting on that shelf for 40+ years. but once someone comes along and shows an interest, they bear consideration. i guess one is better than none.