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.
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.
where did you find it? who designed that? did you ever see this? so many questions and often not many answers. there is so much to love: books, collections, cancelation marks—too many to name. the hunt reveals many surprises. when i pulled this book from a shelf, opened it and discovered that someone had created his own book of collections, i was thrilled. of course the book had to be mine. i bought this in a random book store, possibly the strand here in new york city, though upon reflection it may have been the midway bookstore in st paul. i have mentioned before that in my past travels, when i arrived at the airport, i would simply tear out the used book section of the yellow pages (when was the last time someone mentioned that?!) and then i’d head off to the various bookstores with this list in hand. one of my favorites in the minneapolis/st paul area is the midway bookstore. i have had countless great finds there. many used books stores have sections devoted to ‘leather bindings.’ the value or interest in these books is primarily derived from their bindings (another amazing category of book collecting) and the subject matter doesn’t warrant it being placed anywhere. often this is puzzling to me. in any case, i will browse this section from time to time. when i pulled this slim edition off the shelf and peeked inside, i was rewarded to see it filled with cancelation marks. these were not cut from covers or letters but appeared to have been cut from a reference book and one that was fairly old. scott’s reference books for stamps and cancelations have been around a long time. since i collected coins as a kid, i was more familiar with the red and blue books of coin collecting, but i am also acquainted with scott’s. i am never bored by the world of philatelic collectors. the endless permutations fascinate me, though not enough to become a collector myself. recently, i have been reading a very interesting book, a history of britain in thirty-six postage stamps by chris west. i believe it was spawned from the bbc radio program, a history of the world in a 100 objects. if you’ve never listened to it, you should. it can be fascinating. looking at these pages and cancelations brings to light interesting design questions. who designed these? i know many special fancy cancels were designed by postal agents themselves. they cut them right into rubber. many of these scraps are from all categories of ‘marks’ that are placed on an envelope during its life in the mail. each one tells a story. just like this book does.
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 this one stands out. 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. i had more pressing things to do, sorry. 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.
covers, postal history and handwriting. i never tire of looking for these covers. unfortunately, i haven’t bought many covers for several years now. why? well, as i have said, my collecting has been mitigated these last few years, and also i try to ask myself ‘do i really need another example? these covers are not expensive‚ five to twenty dollars usually‚ although there are times when i choose a cover and the dealer looks carefully at it and names a high price. often the stamp or a rare cancellation contributes to a higher price. collecting covers is a fine art in itself, and there is so much information contained on them, generally revealing their history only to the trained philatelist, which i am not. however, to help clue you in, i once purchased a lovely example which a collector had analyzed and recorded the information about it. i think you will get a kick out of what is revealed: the st. petersburg/warsaw railway, the traveling post office marks. this letter was written on the 6th of july, 1863, and arrived in bordeaux on the 23rd of july that same year. awesome, right? the letter is written in french but I am unable to decipher it and unable to reveal to you what story it has to offer. thankfully a collector took the time to decipher the story on the outside for us, noting the hands through which this letter has passed. it was posted almost 150 years ago, and still it speaks to us. as much as i love the information revealed on this cover, i myself have never taken the time to decipher what is contained on those in my possession. for now, their only purpose is inspiration. maybe some ofthe covers i post this week will inspire you to decipher them.
i was fortunate to have taken chris van allsberg’s pen and ink classes at risd, in which you spent a great deal of time drawing—and i mean the most exacting kind of drawing. if you are familiar with his work, you know what i mean. i wasn’t terribly good, though i believe i was on the other side of competent. mind you, this was thirty years ago and long before chris had attained the stature he holds today. while drawing, i would often play a game with myself. i was using a dip pen then and occasionally a blob of ink would fall where it wasn’t supposed to. if this happened, i would stare at that blob and wonder what drawing could emerge from it. a face, a hand, an image that would come from the imagination rather than drawing what i saw. when i bought these cards, this memory returned to me. i have written about similar playing cards before but what makes this deck special is that each card is hand-drawn and unique. each card is a unique work of art. it’s a folk art deck and the cards, with the exception of the face cards, exhibit the most original depiction of each suit. every card is a canvas that tells a story: the fishermen; men riding donkeys; fencers and more. it’s like exploring someone’s truly wonderful imagination.
i don’t have an interesting story about these cards. i was not rummaging in an attic. i was not at some far-flung flea market. alas, they were found on ebay. evil ebay. it’s a love/hate relationship. i recall visiting a bookshop, a small one upstate, at a time when my partner still joined me in the hunt— a time long ago. i discovered a book with an alvin lustig jacket, one from the new direction series. lovely. not sure which one but they’re always hard to find and this one had no price. i brought it over to the dealer and he told me to wait a moment. he went to his computer—this was very early internet days—and brought up bookfinder.com. he typed in the title and voilà, a dozen examples of the book appeared. five dollars to fifty five. i was blown away. the search was forever altered. ebay has refined its search engine and now proposes ‘you might like.’ among the search results appear, i generally opt for ‘other items from seller.’ that’s how i found these cards. needless to say, i was in awe. i hope you are, too.
here is a rebus card that i have had for many years. these have always fascinated me, but i have never been very good at figuring them out. this one is pretty straightforward and easily translated, i think. give it a try. i remember a tv show growing up called ‘concentration.’ two players were required to solve a common phrase written as a rebus. this was one show i actually watched. this postcard was made sometime in the late nineteenth century, and i love it for the drawings as well as for the simple typography. the hand-engraving and hand-coloring are so seductive. i often say i don’t collect certain items that i’m sharing with you, but i often discover them in numbers when i start looking over my collections. there are moments in my collecting when i am asked by a dealer—whether at a flea market, paper fair or antique show—”what do you collect?” i smile, knowing he has no idea what exactly this question means to me. since there is not one answer, i usually say i’m a generalist and, if the dealer is more of a specialist, i will certainly ask if he has a particular item. (though i am embarrassed to say ‘paper clips,’ ’anything using a rebus,’ or ’19th-century examples of shorthand.’ the difficulty in buying paper is that it takes a great deal of patience searching through box after box. of course it is that one item that keeps you coming back. by the way, please keep coming back to visit me at amass.
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?