one designer who personified this minimalist doctrine was zdenek rossmann (1905 – 1984). his most famous book pismo a fotografie v reklame (lettering and photography in advertising) is not in my collection but i do own several examples of his wonderful minimialist typography of which this one. this example from 1936 is as fresh today as the day it was designed. the czech avant garde between the 20s and 40s is one of my primary collecting vices. i invite you to return and peruse others from my collection.
so much comes across my desk—what happened to a paperless society? i save too much. from the street. from the mail. torn from magazines. often these bits are pinned to my wall in front of me. this particular photo is one of the few times i recorded my wall collage. i remember where I found some of these items; others I don’t. the large “sud” is a page from an amazing type specimen book i will be sharing with you soon. it has special meaning for me since “sud” means “south” in french and i’m originally from alabama. my partner and spouse is from new york and, from time to time, i wish we had named our firm “nord & sud.” the handwritten numbers are a xerox from a book by robert doisneau; a lovely children’s book which is an inspiration in itself. the “h” business card is from a swedish designer I admire, henrik nygren. doesn’t it fit perfectly with the other items? sitting on the desk is an issue of typographische monatsblätter devoted to piet zwart. the p and black square was zwart’s personal mark. the red envelope is actually the most perfect shade of red and was bought at bell’occhio in san francisco. there is a page from a polish journal highlighting the czech avant garde and poking out from behind the large “e” is a label from the olivetti company designed from the ’50s which happens to be addressed to paul rand no less. to the right is a page from jan tschichold book, designing books, wittenborn, 1951. i bought a copy that was falling apart so many of the pages wind up pinned to the wall. i have since moved our studio and my desk now looks out the window. therefore my wall compositions don’t occur as regularly but instead are pasted in books. my own art. i’ll share these, too.
marianne lodge’s practice writing book from 1847 is full of wonderfully instructional old sayings: read good books, venerate old age, wisdom nourishes the mind, gain stimulates industry and, my favorite, quietly bear pain. over the years, i have come across many wonderful examples of ephemera but none quite as remarkable as that of miss lodge. since i collect primarily modern design books by tschichold, bill, sutnar, rand, bayer et al, miss lodge’s practice book stands out. yet it is one of my favorites.
i first moved to new york in 1989 and faithfully attended the antiquarian book fair each spring, a swanky affair for book dealers from around the globe selling rare modern firsts, maps and incunabula. usually there are just a few modernist dealers but each spring it still presents a thrilling prospect. i approach this fair as i would a visit to a museum. the difference being everything is for sale. it was here i happened upon miss lodge’s practice book. i first noticed the wonderful calligraphy horse on the cover but, upon further examination, i realized the practice book was made of real vellum, not paper. as i carefully leafed through the pages, i discovered that miss lodge, or someone at a later date, had carefully pasted a collection of wax seals onto the pages. i turned to page after page, each more beautiful than the next. the dealer was aware of my excitement and asked if I was interested. “sixteen hundred dollars!” he told me when i said i was. wow. a mighty sum. more than i had paid for anything in my collection. i thanked him and said it was way out of my league. i continued on my way touring the other booths. i eventually made my way back to visit miss lodge’s handiwork. the dealer spied me walking Continue reading quietly bear pain…
often a collection begins when i buy another collection. the ephemera society of america lists me as a “collector of collections.” however this collection began when i bought the first edition of eric gill’s an essay on typography at the strand book store in new york city. i was struck by the fact that the title was not an essay on typography but printing & piety, an essay on life and works in the england of 1931, & particularly typography. it is the dust jacket of this second edition that has been etched into my visual memory and i was surprised to note a difference in the first edition. the solid red of the second edition clearly signals us to take notice. as i collected the later editions, i discovered differences with each one. the third edition makes a huge shift from the second by eliminating the red front and green back—a mistake in my mind.
when i speak about my collections, it is necessary to qualify and categorize. this is because when i rate my collections, i always consider which i would keep should i ever have to purge. without question it would be my letterhead collection. i have many beautiful letterheads and i emphasize many. this bauhaus letterhead, signed by walter gropius on page two, is framed and exhibited at my home and holds a special place for many reasons. one being that i won it on ebay. yes, ebay. the second is that printed at the bottom of this letterhead are the words “wir schreiben alles klien, denn wir sparen damit zeit.” translated this means “we write everything small, thus saving time.” this translation comes via robin kinross‘ article from 8vo’s issue of octavo 88.5 from 1988. doris pesendorfer, an austrian graphic designer who used to work with me, translated it as “we are writing everything in lower case in order to save time;” while a german client and friend, korbinian kohler, translated it as “we spell everything small because we can save time that way.” i love these variations but what i love most is that herbert bayer, the designer of this letterhead, felt so strongly as to include it at the bottom, emphasizing the bauhaus philosophy in such a simple way. after reading kinross’ article, i grabbed the herbert bayer monograph he published in 1967 and rediscovered he designed the whole book in lower case. even better, he states on the title page “footnote, this book has been set in one alphabet only, according to the theories presented in the articles on pages 26 and 78.” both articles, one published in 1925 and the other in 1960, state bayer’s beliefs in a universal alphabet and legibility. so, roughly 40 years later, he is sticking to his principles. in honor of “saving time,” i have decided to use lower case for my blog. i hope you approve.