sutnar. certainly one of my favorite designers. i have posted about him before, but included only one of his letterheads. here are two that i attribute to him but cannot confirm that definitively. i suspect they are sutnar, but they lack a certain forcefulness that i have come to expect from him, though these are early, ’37 and buy viagra online from canada ’38 respectfully. sutnar was art director of prague’s largest publishing house, drustevní praise, at that time, so it’s feasible. no matter who designed them,they represent another study in the evolution of the avant garde letter-head that ihave come to love. simple, ordered and exhibiting all the sighs of tschichold’s ‘neue typographie.’ these were a real find. ebay strikes again.
i enjoy searching for vintage ibm materials. i recently purchased a new book (at least new to me): ‘the interface, ibm and the transformation of corporate design.’ i have only skimmed it, but it has already heightened the pleasure i take in that period of design. i started out as a lover of corporate identity, long before the phrase ‘branding’ was used. i often prefer to use the word ‘identity.’ it’s more manageable, in my mind, and often more relevant to many of the clients with whom i work. i’m not sure if rand designed this letterhead, but i expect so. i would guess it’s a relatively early design given the logo. rand was designing pretty much all ibm’s materials himself tramadol with prozac during the early years. there should be an exhibition of just the ibm stationery materials. there were vast quantities of them. i believe at one time ibm was responsible for using more paper for promotional materials and company literature than any other company in the world. incredible. i remember interviewing at saatchi in the ’80s. i was told that i would be working primarily on the ibm account and was asked how i felt about bodoni. since it was the ibm house font, i gathered i wouldn’t be using anything else. this letterhead is certainly before those days. i love the use of city typeface, too. it works perfectly for me. and that blue edge….hey, i’m a happy collector.
the letterhead. in my mind, it remains my most active collection. that is to say, if i see or am offered one, i usually buy it. the finite piece of paper—either eight and half by eleven or a4—gives me infinite pleasure. i never tire of looking at letterheads, albeit old ones. i recall while working in my second job in houston, texas, i had the opportunity to design a program for a company called milpark that made drilling products. ‘mud,’ in fact. i learned that ‘mud’ is a lubricant that aids in drilling for oil. the logotype was already set when i arrived, but the application had not yet been completed. the colors were black and red, and i happily set to work. i recall taking out my ruling pen, mixing red gouache and using a red rule for the design element. i went to town, working on it for a couple days. the creative director was a designer from cranbrook named craig minor. super great guy. (though he fired me after six months, a story for another time.) this was the feeling-out process for the new designer: a simple project with narrow constraints. after a few days, i pinned all the designs up in the conference room. they filled a whole wall. i remember craig coming in and being a bit surprised. i had done very little editing. hell, i was having fun. i didn’t care about the client, i just loved moving that little red rule around the page. the letterheads i’m sharing from my collection use the square much more successfully than i used my red rule. these designs by max huber are from the 60s or 70s, i believe, though i’m not sure. my apologies, as i do not have access to my reference books to check if these letterheads are included. they were bought at auction along with a pile of other items by max huber. i have always enjoyed the a4 format over the u.s. format. the slightly narrow vertical just seems right. there is an art to placing something on a piece of blank paper. i recall the 2d assignments of my freshman year. a small black square on a ten-inch white square. then, in the spring semester, learning in art history about the story of two squares. i even use this image as my skype picture. (yes, I carry design way too far). the swiss style is always comforting to me. i love the order. i love the simplicity. everything has its place, and moving anything on the page changes it altogether. it was obvious when i made my presentation to craig that my designs did not have this sense of completeness or uniformity. i was learning then. i still am.
it doesn’t have to be old nor found at the flea market to find its way into one of my collections. i have a box, several in fact, filled with tear sheet after tear sheet. (sadly, when we moved out of our studio and into our loft, i threw out 20 boxes filled with tear sheets.) unlike most of my collections, these tears sheet are easily categorized—stills, home, portraits, interiors, beauty—and all of these have subsets. for portraits, there are folders for women’s fashion, men’s fashion, kids, etc. then there are the specific photographers: richard burbridge, miles aldridge, raymond meier, hans gissinger. all favorites of mine. the tears sheets serve as inspiration and are used for concept work. i have many instances where these images—mostly photography, though there is a category for illustration—actually drove a particular design.
once we were hired by the pr firm kcd to work on the pr materials for isabella rossellini. the ad agency leagas delaney in london was handling the positioning and they had come up with the name ‘manifesto.’ it coalesced ms rossellini’s idea of individual beauty into a basic concept of ‘accept who you are no matter what race, size or color, and celebrate yourself.’ (and buy the cosmetics behind this concept, of course.) it seemed simple enough to me. upon getting the assignment, i pulled out folder after folder and looked through my trove of tear sheets. (this was before flickr and google search.) i am one of those people who garbage-pick magazines, and subscribe to way too many, and i still love tearing out my favorite images. i found a beauty image by mile aldridge in allure magazine of a young girl, 14 or so, wearing braces and bright red lipstick. his lighting is just amazing. everything about this image was a home run and it spoke directly to the core message. the braces juxtaposed with the lipstick was so perfect. so we built our brochure around this series of images that miles had done in allure. the design was presented and accepted. everyone was happy. (you can see a bit here and here.) but there’s a twist to the story. the agency in london did the casting and selected the perfect model with braces for the shoot. a week before the shoot, she came in for another go-see and she’d had her braces removed. oops. it was too late to find another model with braces so we had to pay to have this young girl’s braces replaced. she wasn’t too happy about that. ah, the things we do for fashion.
now, these tears sheets. wieden and kennedy, circa 1993. sports illustrated. odd, since i rarely read sports magazines, but they are a ten in my book. for content as well as photography. the photographer is kenji toma. after seeing these images, i hired him to shoot some 18th-century tureens for a magazine i was designing. ‘classic home,’ now long defunct. you might not be able to read the text on the twinkly. it says “ingredients: who are you kidding? you know what this stuff is made of, nothing. it’s not good for you. you know what’s good for you? tennis. a nice healthy sport. fresh air, exercise, sweating, and no partially hydrogenated animal shortening.” great, right? how often do you find this level of design in advertising? makes you work harder, doesn’t it. it did me.
examining my collection over the last couple of years has opened my eyes to how much i have (so much so that one psychologist has actually put my blog on his reference list for ocd. funny, right? though not sure i’m in agreement.), and to the fact there are so many wonderful examples of design out there, many of which i own. the idea of ownership and collecting is a problematic one for me. as someone who has collected from a early age, who has been a shopper and worked in the retail environment for over twenty years, i don’t fully embrace the idea or the act of being a consumer. i admire making. sculptors like martin puryear, james turrell and the early work of the painter ellsworth kelly make me go weak in the knees. i have dreamed of stepping ‘off the grid,’‚ although not the typographic one‚ to fly to japan and apprentice with this japanese master. why? well, i would be forced to learn japanese, for one. also, i would work with my hands. i would make something i could give my daughter. ‘see? i made this.’ rather than ‘say, look what i found today in the street. look what i bought at the flea market.’
i once posted a cartoon from the new yorker about art direction. to this day, i still struggle to answer the question, ‘what do you do?’ when i travel or find myself meeting new people, i rarely ask this question of others. i prefer to start a conversation with a women by asking, ‘what scent are you wearing?’ as an aside, i once had the pleasure of working with chad lavigne, a man of amazing ability, the designer of perfume bottles and so much more. he was visiting our studio and reviewing a presentation with one of our designers. he turned to her and said ‘is that helmut lang you’re wearing?’ indeed it was. it was impressive. not just for the ability to remember a scent (unfortunately i do not have that ability; dates are another matter) but for how that knowledge transformed the interaction between our designer and chad. there was an ease in the conversation; a softness and openness. chad’s ability to communicate was appreciated and received.
now, what does all of this have to do piet zwart? take a look at this booklet, for a door manufacturer no less. it is an amazing tour de force of typographic and design skill. remember, this is the 1930s. this man zwart was an architect. a typographer. a photographer. i highly doubt he ever paused when asked his profession. when i pull this brochure off the shelf to admire it, i can recall exactly when i bought it. i came to new york city in august of 1989. i was invited to apartment-sit two cats and i never returned to new haven. i bought this at the famous ex libris, from michael sheehe and elaine lustig cohen. i paid six hundred dollars in january of 1991. six hundred. crazy. this is certainly one of my most expensive purchases of design ephemera. i would expect there are few examples of this booklet, i have never seen another. zwart designed it, did the photography and, i would expect, worked extremely closely with the letterpress compositor. i have read that this is how he learned typography. for me, he made this. just as puryear makes his sculpture. or karl martens does his design today. he would call it being authentic. i would like to think my blog is authentic. chad was authentic when he recognized doris’s perfume. zwart’s designs are authentic, of his time and his profession.
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.
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 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 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.