black is not my favorite color, but when it comes to piet zwart, black means something completely different. here are three letterheads he designed. the first is his own invoice, the others he designed for bruynzeel. what excites me is the defined space. there is so much that can be done within that space, and learning to control that space always excites me. zwart’s own letterhead, typical of the neue typographie of the period, is one of the favorites of my collection. i especially like the bold black rule highlighting the name and town of voorburg. its positioning on the bottom third works nicely in the confined space. zwart’s personal invoice is such a bold statement in contrast with the two bruynzeel letterheads. these two letterheads are both more subtle, but nonetheless masterful. most of the items in my collection usually come with a story, some more interesting than others. the first two letterheads were bought sight unseen. i subscribe to a host of auction house email updates. i used to get their catalogs, but if you don’t purchase anything they stop sending them. anyway, these two letterheads were purchased in a lot of other dutch items. the listing was for “materials designed by zwart.” actually i had to have the listing translated, and fortunately someone in the studio could read and speak german. i emailed the auction house and asked for some pictures of the items. this was quite a few years ago and that process was not as seamless as it is now. i received the pictures: they were of a bunch of papers lying on a table. nothing was completely clear, but I could make out the zwart letterhead and that was all i needed to convince me. i don’t remember how much i paid, but 360 dollars seems to rings a bell. there were a dozen or so items, so i felt it was really good deal.
the third letterhead, with the dynamic red arrow and photo illustration, was a real find. i have mentioned the book fair that takes place each year at a public school in the west village. although i have not attended for the last few years, in the past i eagerly queued up on opening night. the entrance fee is usually higher then, but getting the first look is thrilling. i have always felt i was searching for items, books and paper that other collectors either weren’t interested in or overlooked. (everyone always likes to think they were there first. “i bought that when they were just fifty cents,” goes the boast.) the fair is divided into three rooms. as you enter there is a winding group of dealers, a connected room with six or seven dealers and the main auditorium that holds the majority of the dealers. at that time, there was only one book dealer, irving oaklander, with books on typography and design. oaklander books has been around since i came to the city and his shop on west 26th was a delight. he knows his stuff. mr oaklander has been the recipient of much of my hard-earned money over the years. you will never meet a nicer individual.
once the doors open, we’re off like racehorses. i’m usually methodical and visit each booth. if i see a familiar book, i check the price. i am amazed that some books have remained the same price for the twenty five years I have been collecting. as i walked around the book fair that day, i spotted the bruyneel, but only the side with the hands and door lock was visible. i tried to contain my excitement and not give away that I just peed in my pants. i casually looked at the other things on the display table before asking about the invoice. i don’t remember my exchange with the dealer, but i know i was overwhelmed to find such an item at an american book fair. i was rewarded further when I turned it over. I knew at once it was designed by zwart. the dealer only knew it was dutch. such a wonderful addition to my collection, and i am thrilled to share it with you.