rifling through boxes of old papers excites few. it is something i don’t do that much anymore but when i do there are many factors that lead me to start digging. the dealer and what else he’s selling is one. what’s on top. is it old? if so, how old? legal papers? letters? is this just one person’s stuff or has the dealer merely thrown everything together? often the dealer has never looked through the papers in question. i have carefully combed through the materials and discovered a little letterhead or old photo, something that i think has some wonderful typography or uniqueness, only to have the dealer say, “wow that was in there?! it’s not for sale.” crazy, right? and annoying. if i were a hobo i would mark the dealer’s booth with a sign saying “beware: untrustworthy.” this piece of stationery was found in just such a way. a box full of random papers and what seemed to be discarded papers. there was no rhyme or reason to what was thrown together, but i was familiar with the dealer and he generally had a good eye. i felt there might but something he had overlooked, though he’s not know for selling things cheaply. he expects a fair price and never gives stores that carry electronic cigarettes a deal. so running across this letterhead was a surprise. i had never heard of henry j stahlhut but just loved his letter of september 17, 1934. almost 80 years ago. doesn’t it inspire you to write such a lovely thank you? it seems mr stahlhut and gus traveled to jackie’s and heyworth’s for dinner and stayed over. he lovingly illustrates the highlights for us. as you might suspect, mr stahlhut is an illustrator. google images turns up many wonderful examples of his work. he has done many gourmet magazine covers, cookbooks and the like. i can’t help but love each little drawing. the cats are my favorites. how could you throw this away? i recall discovering the second page and spending a significant amount of time trying to find the first page of the letter. often i don’t like to buy just one item after searching for so long. that’s because it puts too much emphasis on the one item, causing the dealer to examine it much too carefully, and his price usually goes up. the price turned out to be twenty dollars. more than i wanted to pay, but i didn’t argue. contentment comes in many forms, and happiness is finding an overlooked treasure in a big pile of papers.
die form. november 1926. the only issue i own of this marvelous journal. this particular copy was designed by joost schmidt. stunning, don’t you think? you normally see the magazine in this design configuration. walter dexel, if i understand mr. weider correctly, designed the format in subsequent years. moma’s collection of joost’s items has one design in a similar vein, also done in 1926. lovely, too.
collecting can be so gratifying but until i started this blog i never spent enough time really looking at my collections. i have forty or so archival boxes filled with stuff that i have found over the years, and i am only beginning to share them. this journal is certainly one of the specific pieces of modernist design and typography in my collection. at the beginning, it was my wish to focus on this particular window into my collection, and i found along the way that my collection tends to ramble this way and that. i’m not the strict modernist that i thought i was. this issue of die form was bought from another collector-friend in germany. he is Pokies an avid collector, more active than i. he knows what i collect, and when he comes across something that’s not too expensive he gives me a call. he is responsible for many of fine examples of letterheads i own. buying from a dealer has a similar feeling to buying on the internet. it’s missing the flea market or the book fair experience. there’s no dealer telling you the merits of the piece, why you should buy, showing off his knowledge and trying to impress you. it’s devoid of that sense of discovery.’i found it!’ however, i do recall walking thought the paris flea market six years ago and seeing a stack of this journal; over a hundred issues. needless to say, i was speechless. i did not look through them nor buy them, though i should have done both. i see individual issues priced at a hundred dollars each. this group was priced at several thousand dollars. i try and forget these moments but they continue to haunt me. for now, i’ll just keep staring at this one. time to frame it, wouldn’t you say?
martha graham. merle armitage. an alliance i love. not sure how many of you out there know mr. armitage’s work. he made his way, his own way. the linked article fills you in and gives you a nice overview. i discovered his work after buying an annual of aiga’s fifty best books. these are amazing references for any book collector. (the current fifty best books exhibition is up now.) i sought out early copies of these books and then tried from the illustration of each book to determine its value and sought out the ones that looked interesting to me. i discovered many book designers i had never heard of. i think there should be a show of fifty books from fifty years. the best of the best. that’s one jury i would love to be on.
as you can see in this book on martha graham, mr. armitage has a flair for the dramatic. i would never say his designs were subtle; expressive would be more like it. this is my favorite of the books he designed. it was the first book on graham and he does it right. i have not read it, though, so i can’t opine on the prose. in the article i reference, he says he often wrote the books just so he could design them. his books are not expensive to collect. i don’t know many people or designer friends who collect his works or have heard of him, for that matter, but i’m happy i started collecting his book designs twenty years ago. maybe you’ll enjoy discovering his work.
i’m a sucker for seals especially when they have been collected in a single book. as i have said before, my official listing with the ephemera society of america is as a collector of “collections of collections.” i just love when things of all sorts are placed carefully in a book and form a collection. this particular book has page after page of wonderful city and business seals. this is a huge area of collecting with the postal label and stamp groups but what does it for me is the book itself. old and messy, which says someone spent the time to collect these, place and number them. the numbers have no obvious reasoning or meaning to me, but they surely did for the collector. i am always thrilled when i visit a book fair and start looking at the spines and shelves. there is always a shelf with books that have no reference to them. common labels are: new york; printing; philosophy; world war two, just to name a few. i take note when a shelf is not labeled and contains books that have no particular category. i start from right to left and start pulling each book out a few inches to determine if it’s worth opening. usually they are offbeat titles but once in awhile, as with this one, there is no title on the cover and I am intrigued enough to see what’s inside. when it has a collection of some sort, i am hard pressed to contain my excitement. then, of course, comes the price. i don’t remember how much this book was. that’s a good thing that usually indicates i didn’t pay too much.
yes, i interviewed with massimo but was not offered a job. actually, this card comes from the third time i met mr. vignelli. the first time i visited the office of vignelli associates, i interviewed with michael bierut. i remember it and still have his card, too, but that is another story. the other card is from simon johnston, from his 8vo days. again, another story for another post. i include it only for size comparison, since simon’s card is a standard 2″ x 3.5″. this card was presented to me while i was the art director at bergdorf goodman. it was decided that the seventh floor home section of the store needed a designer to overhaul the specialty food packaging, so a list was drawn up and massimo’s name was placed on it, along with a few other notable names. i was surprised to see his name. the date was early 1992. the seventh floor of bergdorf’s had a marvelous reputation for outstanding one- of-a-kind items. it was run by an amazing woman and i was thrilled when i heard they wanted to revamp the packaging. i learned one of the buyers had suggested massimo for the project. a day was set aside for the various designers to make presentations. as the in-house designer i was not asked about designing the program or even consulted, although two years before i had designed the identity and packaging for the new men’s store. i sat through the presentations—some good, others surprisingly embarrassing. thank goodness slide projectors are a thing of the past. mr. vignelli arrived, sat down and said, ‘what do you have for me?’ well, the store president sat there blank and unmoved. the buyers explained the problem and massimo spoke eloquently, not just about the need for unique packaging but about lighting, display and shelf presence. i knew he was expanding the problem beyond the immediate needs and losing the president. what made this meeting memorable was not massimo but one of the bergdorf’s buyers, who, after sitting through the previous presentations of slides and specific samples of the work, asked to see massimo’s work. she had no idea of the volume of his work nor his reputation. my colleague quickly snapped, ‘visit the moma!’ i’ll never forget it. i smiled, massimo smiled and the meeting ended. thank yous all around and business cards were exchanged. i’m pretty sure he doesn’t have my card but i am thrilled to have his.
i wish to thank everyone who stopped by my booth at the pop up flea back in december. i had a terrific time and i especially want to thank one particular visitor. the reason being, he gave me a hard time about not writing. he was aware that my writing had almost stopped. he simply said, “post damn it” and walked away. well some time has passed and i have cleared my desk of a few projects and photography accomplished, i therefore i have no excuse. so i am determined to write more and tell you of some up coming events and sales.
in may i will be doing a pop up store in brooklyn where i will selling original and vintage items, as well as some art pieces related to my collections. i will keep you up dated as the details become formalized. should be a lots of fun. please keep checking in and i’ll try and keep my promise to “post damn it!”
how often have you heard “the printer did it”? when i first started out as a designer there would a stream of paper promotions arriving at the design studios i worked. usually followed up by a call from the paper company’s representative, “did you get our latest promotion?” when was the last time that happened? the promotions which were luxuriously printed would be passed around the studio and later in my own studio, the most deserving of these promotions were placed in a box labeled ‘beautiful items’. since I collected letterheads, whenever a promotion landed in the studio which had letterhead samples, usually to highlight a specific paper stock, i took special notice. if a desirable letterhead appeared i would put it aside. here is one such example. the law firm of shook, hardy & bacon. i don’t remember when i obtained this example, most likely in the 80s, but it has been a favorite from the school of ‘the printer did it’. this letterhead is beautifully engraved, listing over a hundred lawyers. certainly a letter received on this letterhead conveyed a formable message. a google search to their website reveals it is apparent that they have since hired a designer and now have a ‘logo’ and i expect the letterhead is ‘more’ considered but i would not expect it be have quite the same impact. each time i look at it and marvel at the simple and straightforwardness of it’s design. dare i say it’s ‘honest’ intentions. i recently designed a logotype for a boutique insurance broker firm but initially the client had the printer do it, engraver actually. i made a presentation with various degrees away from what the engraver had done to a rather expressive design using baskerville italics. the client narrowed it down to two designs; one which was just slightly but clearly more considered typestyle than what the engraver had done to one which was obviously ‘designed’. the client asked me which i preferred and i summed it up like this, ‘clearly one designed you paid a lot for and the other looks old school, more straightforward — honest.” guess which one he selected. honest it is!