anton stankowski. more later…
i have been collecting registered labels since my first visit to a stamp show. it is intimidating walking around a stamp show. it’s a world unto itself of mostly men, old men. after each visit, i take away that i am getting older and i don’t like it much. of course it is not all old men. there are some women, and some children who are starting out with their stamp collections. but by and large, it is men. i think i have mentioned how many dealers call out and ask if they can help you: “what do you collect?” i rarely engaged with them in the beginning since i didn’t collect stamps and certainly didn’t know the terms or categories of collecting. i stumbled upon these at a new york stamp fair. i was looking at the rows of envelopes. i soon learned these letters were called covers. all categorized by country. i thought if i looked through different countries, i might find stamps designed by piet zwart or paul schitema. i dreamed of finding a letter or envelope addressed by them. in twenty years of attending these fairs, i have never found such a letter. the closest i have come is a letter from gerald murphy, the painter and one-time owner of mark cross leather goods. sadly, neither he nor the company is around any longer. the dealer i finally sat down in front of was michael mead of maine. though i think he now lives on cap cod. in any case, mr. mead asked what i was interested in. since i was not a stamp collector, i was a bit embarssed. i told him i loved interesting typography and collections of collections. he pulled out a binder with dozens upon dozens of interesting labels. all kinds. airmails. express. revenue stamps. and these wonderful registered labels. hundreds of them. just about everything you could image, even some matchbook labels. he explained that these were german registered labels and were removed by soaking them in water. “off cover” is the common term when describing these labels. i have too many of them to count but i fell in love with the different “r” being used, the line weights; the variety added such interest. of course i began collecting these that instant. mr. mead now knows me and is happy to add to my collection. i may not attend every show but when i do take one in, i make sure i visit his booth.
this piece might not be new to paul rand fans but i would like to think the envelope is. this piece can be found on the paul rand website, but not the envelope. i have confessed my collecting began back in 1981 while i was attending indiana university. a beautiful place it is, too. in my many years of collecting i always buy what i haven’t seen. i was attending a book fair over on hudson and morton. there is a public school there and every year it is rented for this particular book fair. i have never liked this fair for two reasons. coat check and bag check. rude beyond rude. i’m not sure what really bothers me more, the mandatory coat check or the “inspection” as you leave. often it is done with the utmost sensitivity but there is always someone who pushes my buttons. i’m pretty sure there is a huge sign on my forehead that says “push to agitate.” given this fact, i still look forward to this fair. though i no longer rush over there the first night. i have talked about the hunt and what it takes to make the find. most dealers at book fairs have case after case of books. makes sense, right? well, often the dealers i like more are the ones who overlap with paper or, rather, ephemera. most dealers have a table in front with highlighted items and often there is a glass case containing their rare or more valuable items. usually these give a clue as to whether i might find something interesting. though it is clear who speaks to me and who does not. i was and am reluctant to barge or muscle my way into a crowded booth. granted, it takes only three people to qualify as crowded. i have often reached for a book and had it picked right out of my hand. what i thought was my territory for those short minutes, was certainly my mistake. i bought this rand brochure from a dealer who was not strictly a book dealer. he had box after box of clear envelopes with white cardboard backing. in each clear envelope he had slid an item—pamphlet, brochure—within and marked the price on the upper right. there were categories for art, literature, architecture, 19th-century american, etc. i knew by his categories that he had edited with a sense of pride. there are dealers who categorize this way but often this is not the case, instead leaving the buyer to hunt. hunting is fun but sometimes it helps to jump right into the deep end of the pool. i was carefully looking through each box, so as not to miss anything, and low and behold I discovered this rand piece. it is always a thrill to find the unexpected. this piece sent out by the art director’s club showcasing rand’s work is a jewel. i am a sucker for the handwriting, the format and the surprise of the color inside. that orange. i have always called it bauhaus orange. i had never seen this piece nor seen it published. i made this find over thirteen years ago, on a friday night. i remember this because of one particular event. the police. (not the band but new york’s finest.) i remember running into friends at the fair. specifically fritz karch, now the collecting editor at martha stewart. (more here about fritz) he should be considered a national treasure. i happily went out with him after the fair, had dinner and talked into the late hour. (for me, midnight is the late hour.) i walked home thrilled with my purchase and sharing with my friends. upon reaching home, there was a police car in front of our building. this was not unusual since the deputy mayor lived in our building. i walked to the second floor and, standing in the doorway to my apartment, were two police officers talking with my wife. i think we were already married by then. it seems my wife thought something had happened to me, that i had gone missing, and called the police. i certainly didn’t have a cell phone. i got my first one just over a year ago. i said i would never get one until apple made one. the police officers were happy to see me alive. not sure she was so thrilled at that particular moment. the police hung around for a few minutes to be sure “everything was going to be ok.” needless to say, i didn’t share my find with my wife that night.
how many people look at cancelations. well this person obviously did. in the world of stamp collecting the art of cancelation is laboriously followed by some. the world of the philatelist is filled with countless and unusual titles about the subject: the cancellations of waterbury, connecticut from 1865 to 1890, twentieth century united states fancy cancels, the new york foreign mail cancellations 1870-1876, obliterations et marques postales des etats-unis. of this world one of my favorite categories is fancy cancels. before there were cancelation machines, the individual postal clerk or office would often make their own rubber stamp to cancel a stamp. some of these examples are glorious; carved pumpkin heads, skeleton heads, all types of shapes. this particular collection doesn’t have any fancy cancels but i love it nonetheless. believe it or not this is something i don’t collect. there is so much to love about this collection. the simple rows. the beautiful colors. the repetition. the care in which they were cut out. the handwriting at the top. order. simplicity. color. why did someone collect these cities? what was so special about them? it appears they were collected mostly around 1860. i expect a philatelist specializing in england could shed some light on this particular collection. i am only left to speculate and admire. i recall many of my purchases and this one is no different. this was purchased at the annual epherema fair held in greenwich connecticut. it is usually a high priced affair with few bargains. i don’t think i paid much for this piece. thirty five dollars i seem to recall. i didn’t haggle because i bought a few other things from this dealer. beauties in themselves. paul rand book jackets. no books just the jackets. in perfect shape too, but that’s another story. this little collection wasn’t displayed but was found in a portfolio with all kinds of items. i was thrilled to discover it. i have spoken about my desire to collect ‘collections’, this defines my category of ‘collections of collections’. i do not attend these shows with expectatios as i once did. i am no longer the first in line nor eager to make the definitive find. i have now subscribed to the mantra: whatever turns up. my approach to this blog too!
writing about my collections has turned out to be something altogether different than i thought it would be. what i thought was just modernist books and ephemera evidently encompasses just about everything. much to my displeasure, actually. i thought of myself as a focused and discerning collector, but now it seems i am all over the place. here is a perfect example: two spoons from the 17th century. three-hundred-year-old spoons. why spoons? i don’t have any others. have your ever seen jasper morrison’s book, spoons? these hand-carved pieces were such perfect examples of beauty and utility that i couldn’t resist. purchased in an antique shop in stockholm. they are delicately light but durable. beauty in simplicity. an admirable trait. these same attributes coincided in the launch of glutton for life, a new blog by my good friend laura silverman. she also contributes to amassblog. i have known laura for nineteen-plus years. she is a remarkable and talented individual who has been my studio’s copywriter for everything. she has been able to make the mundane exciting and the obscure clear. i have counted on her what is valium for many things. here is one particular instance: we received a call from a prospective client on a friday afternoon and were asked to submit a presentation in a very short time. the first thing i did after hanging up the phone was call laura and tell her to come in on sunday. i had no concept, no visuals and no idea were i was going with this project, but i knew whatever i pulled together she would make sense of it all. i worked feverishly until sunday afternoon and of course laura was able to weave a wonderful story line through the project. it turned out to be one of which i am most proud. However, what excited me most was that the next day laura received a call from another studio to work on the very same assignment. needless to say, calling laura first was my best creative decision. please enjoy her blog and maybe you will get from it some of what i have gotten from her over the years. fresh ideas, wonderful inspiration and, most of all, sincerity. certainly worth more than a spoonful.