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.
my motto, or one of them, is “you’re only a good as the obscurity of your sources.” when i begin a project—or, frankly, even before a even get a project—my head spins with ideas. what about this? no—that!? that’s too far out. where should the client take this? whom are they trying to reach? their brand is great but they have forgotten their core. i review myriad possibilities and have endless discussions with myself. generally i have a meeting with a client and gauge where they want to go, and that usually narrows down the avenues. many times, my collections come in handy as inspirations and a resource. i rarely buy things or books specifically as sources or references—“this book will be good for letterforms” or “this is good for patterns.” my collections serve me for visual stimulus and what i think will be the foundations for an interesting design somewhere down the line. my collections have also been a way for me to dream. i have dreamed of opening a store for years. (my daughter has even wished she would win the lottery just so she could give me the money to open that store.) many times my collections do aid in the design of a project or to just stimulate discussion with other designers. like this one: hundreds and hundreds of matchbook labels collected by one person. i love that this individual collector had taken the time to organize them topically and visually by color. i bought these because it was such a comprehensive collection, rich with design and history, and because i thought they would look amazing framed. imagine all the red, the black, each a blur of color, only to discover the nuances separating one from the next. many collectors of matchbook labels collect them topically; elephants, birds, deer, etc. but of course i love the typography, the illustrations and the color. we recently did a project for a men’s store in mexico city, silver deer. when the client came to us, he already had the name and a clear idea, however done by another designer, of what the store should look like. well, we tried (and i think successfully) to take him in another direction. we started here, looking at these old matchbook labels of deer, but after a while we felt it looked too specific and too familiar. we eventually presented a more clean and stark identity, a fresh canvas to sell the heritage brands the client was passionate about. i am proud of the design but my heart still has a soft spot for these matchbox labels. it’s wonderful to see the depth and richness that can be conveyed in something that is only 2 inches across. enjoy.
monday december 10th will be the last day of my exhibition at mondocane and there will be a closing party from 6-8pm. please feel free to stop by and say hello. this is a lovely picture of the show shot by my friend grant peterson. many thanks for those of you who have stopped by and sent emails. i learned that facebook isn’t really the best way to invite people, so next time i’ll send a proper invitation. please come and have a beer and tell me what you think of the show. i hope to see you there.
how many times do you walk pass something and not pick it up? how often have you been to a flea market, looked and examined something and not bought it? then later, the next day, the next week even, you can’t seem to get that thing out of your head. sometimes you regret it, other times you go back and it’s still there, waiting for you. here is one such item for me. the mw studio was located on wooster street, just south of houston, for 13 years. we were on the fourth floor right below a manufacturer of brass fittings for bathrooms. they had been there for 30-plus years. at the time, we lived on ninth street in the village, and i would walk through washington square park almost every day. walking home one evening, past dusk, i crossed houston and as i reached the north side of the street something caught my eye. i looked down and just lying next to the curb was this set of keys, splayed out pretty much like this. i stopped and stared. i didn’t reach down. i just looked for a few seconds and let the image imprint on my brain and continued my walk home. not sure why i didn’t pick them up, but as i walked i kept thinking about these keys. i don’t collect keys, so i saw no reason to pick them up. just an interesting artifact. as i walked up la guardia place, there at the stoplight was a locksmith’s truck. i continued on walking north through washington square park and, as i exited the park, there was the same truck at another traffic light. well, those keys kept calling. as I walked up fifth avenue, i turned left onto ninth street, reached into my pocket and pulled out my own keys. i looked hard at them, then i turned around and went back for these keys. as i got closer to where i first saw them, my step quickened. would they still be there? as i hit houston street, i found myself running. i could see when i got about ten feet away that they were still there, and they’ve been sitting in my desk drawer ever since. lovely, aren’t they?
here’s a little bit of everything. a bit silly right? stencils. string. playing cards. packaging. labels. some things just don’t amount to much until they are accumulated. then what? one thing i always go for is dennison gummed labels. on ebay i have seen one of these little boxes go for sixty bucks. i kid you not. whenever i buy a nothing book, usually from muji, i put one of these on the cover. you’d be surprised how it changes the complexion of a simple sketch book. i also have a weakness for string, twine, cord, fishing line. weird huh. i received an email from someone, a teacher somewhere, who uses my blog as an example of compulsive obsessive disorder. glad to know i’m an example to someone. i am particularly fond of osram lighting packaging. is it the orange? the simple design is always appealing. at some point i should file, categorize or just organize these disperse items, (there are many boxes like this) then they will be something more than just an accumulation, say a collection.
i have written before about a particular category of my collections which falls under ‘i just like it.’ here is another item from that category, or maybe i should start a new one entitled ‘why did i buy it?’ unfortunately, i believe i have quite a few things that would fit into this category. this cover was bought because i thought it might be useful in a design one day. imagine what arcane piece of graphic design would use such an item. maybe it could be part of a background on a poster. i am reminded of trompe l’oeil paintings. i have always admired them, but when I see them today i wonder why people paint them. i guess i can see how technically satisfying a painting like this could be and i certainly enjoy looking at them. if i recall my art history and the antique road show, as well as refreshed by google, otis kaye always did trompe l’oeil painting with us currency. maybe just framing this piece of paper would be enough. the merits of its color. its folds. the little dash of color. am i projecting? most likely. maybe you can tell me what you see.
my collection of letters starts with the envelope. up until the nineteenth century, most of the letters were folded to make the envelope. here is an example: you can see the wax seal which was used to hold the folded letter shut. what makes this envelope special to me, of course, is the label, “353 from rathwnow.” i haven’t shown this to a postal dealer, so i have no idea what or why this label was attached to this letter. i just loved the letterforms. loving type is an odd thing.
there are so many of us who share this passion. what make a letterform special? what draws us to a particular font? how many new typefaces are designed each day? do we really need them? i always look forward to working with interns or new designers and they bring in their favorite typefaces. often these fonts are completely new to me. many i don’t like, but i try and set aside my prejudices and see what they see. how does that particular typeface add to the design where another doesn’t? this is certainly the case with these letterforms. the surprise of finding these numbers on a letter amidst a pile of other nineteenth-century letters said buy me. wonderful, isn’t it?
handwriting has fascinated me for many years. i think even writing in my practice book as a kid was rewarding, although i do recall getting d’s in penmanship. i have a vivid image of my report card with c’s all across for my grade in penmanship. i have always written in an obscure hand. my sister is about the only on who can decipher it. in grad school, i had matthew carter as a teacher at a time when there were not too many fonts available for the mac. many of my classmates were designing fonts with the hope that adobe might use them. i looked around and felt bored by this thought. don’t get me wrong, there was some wonderful work being done. and i love type as much as the next guy, probably more than most. i spent hours in the type shop, but making individual letter forms did not speak to me. although i think part of my issue was with learning a new program. fontographer, to be specific. after a little thought, i decided on a typeface to design: my own script. this isn’t a big deal now, it’s actually rather mundane, self-indulgent. one classmates asked what i was going to call it. ‘mac-arrogant,’ i answered. seemed fitting. anyway, in my quest for letterheads, i have invariably come across some amazing samples of handwriting. i can never resist buying a letter with such a distinguished hand. here are several examples from my collection, each more remarkable than the next. when was the last time you wrote a letter by hand?
what a great word. not sure what it means, if anything, but i do know it is a company in france and they make these metal ‘signalisation.’ i love this little card. it’s about four by five inches when folded. i have never seen anything like. it is my practice when traveling to any country to visit not just flea markets but also stationery stores and hardware stores, large and small. finding this card was a delight. one reason i keep stopping in stationery store after stationery store is that i hope to discover old stock. old staplers, tape holders and especially paper clips which have been lying on the shelves for years, the longer the better. this card with its exhibition of many wonderful markers or ‘recommandes’ was found in a nondescript stationery store in paris. there was nothing remarkable or special about this shop; it was neither old nor distinguished in any way, but i went in nonetheless. rooting around, i discovered a small box of one of these ‘flambos.’ I approached the shop owner (it is always a good sign when the shop owner is present, as that means that the store maybe family owned), and asked in my best french (which is really the worst french) if he had any other types of these markers. he opened a drawer and pulled out some other ‘flambos’. what excited me most was this card. it wasn’t out for display but was his reference. i surprised the owner by asking to see it. how could anyone be so excited about such an ordinary thing? yet there are so many things to love about this little card. the flambo typeface. seeing essentially the same thing in different forms appeals to me. there always seems to be a need to take the same device and create such a variety. upon closer inspection, you can see there is a device for each day of the week, one for every month, every letter in the alphabet. there is a rich variety of shapes and colors. after my initial excitement i asked if he had any of these in stock. alas, no. i could hardly contain my excitement. i asked if he would sell me this card. the shop owner was now stupefied. why would anyone want such a thing? he looked at me and excused himself. he returned from the stock room with another card and announced that i could have it. this little card never left my breast pocket for the rest of the day. such a simple thing that provided such a wonderful memory.
what it says means very little other than being curious. pattern and color are what is appeal-
ing. where was this found? one of my secret places to explore is libraries at resort hotels. it seems travelers bring their books and leave them behind. fourteen years ago, when i was first married, we traveled to bali. that was the first of five glorious trips. after the first one, i realized that when you are relaxed, you wake up early, take part in an activity—in my case a hike through the rice paddies—return for breakfast and have the whole day to read. hence my rummaging through the hotel library. (don’t worry i left fourteen books behind.) i looked at this book and fell in love with its simplicity and beauty. i have talked about my love of repetition before and i just love orange. this is the most beautiful orange. as part of this blog, i need to give this a category. it is neither typography, series, nor anything other than a book. i have lots of books. i should have a category for ‘interesting’ or ‘i just like it.’ yes, that’s it:
i just like it.