sometimes it’s just about typography and typefaces. i am not one who can look at a typeface and immediately identify it. although i did find myself looking a billboard and saying to myself that’s franklin gothic. the ‘g’ is the give away. it is harder and harder for me to distinguish specific fonts, the reason being…there are more good ones than ever before. i loved drawing letter forms when in school. i enjoyed the process of designing fonts too and having had the opportunity to study with matthew carter cemented that for me. these qsl radio cards of mine are from a small collection. i have maybe twenty, give or take. these cards are not rare. they are not hard to find, nor expensive. they are not particular special, though i expect they are to the specialist collector, but they do provide inspiration. a quick look on ebay and i find over six thousand listed, not a small number. when i attend paper fairs or flea markets, i see these cards often. i cannot help but to look thru the pile and see what i can discover. maybe i’ll find something that stands out or speaks to me at that moment. i think i gravitate to clean and more stark examples. i recall a few years ago paul share and danny gregory wrote a book called hello world: a life in ham radio, that featured qsl cards. i don’t often buy these types of books but i thought it was well done and i’ve been a fan of share’s for a long time. i urge you to buy a copy. the next time you see a pile of these cards, take the time to investigate and see what treasures you’ll find.
the letterhead is always exciting to me. i recall designing a letterhead for a company called milpark, when i worked in texas. i spent a few days on a design and created dozens upon dozens of layouts. i went to town using my ruling pen and red gouache. i just loved it. i pinned all the designs on the wall of the conference room, filled it completely. the creative director came in and was…..surprised. or was it overwhelmed? there was so much to see. too much in fact. i do not recall the specific design selected but the next step was to apply the design to a business cards. the design applicational process was and is thoroughly fun. the design of the business card is something i still enjoy. that finite space requires all your design abilities. i believe the business card is still the one piece of collateral that matters. i give out my card often and am interested to see if i get a reaction. i often do. mostly i hear, “you must be a designer”. i can live with that. i assume that means i did my job. i did communicate who i am, or at least what i do. our studio, design mw, has always had an interesting business card. our card is not the standard size of two by three and half. people notice this first. second is the paper and third the printing. i once had the oddest thing happen. i came into the office early one morning, it was my usually practice to arrive at my desk before everyone else came in and have a tea and a scone. on this occasion i checked my phone messages, there was a message from someone, a designer calling from miami. the message was left late the night before and the designer had a question. he has was calling from a bar and was with two other designers. they wanted to know how the card was made. the card was engraved on both sides, but since we had duplexed the paper stock, you could not see the bruise from the engraving plate. they couldn’t figure it out. you have to love that. another designer calling about your business card. these cards pictured are all engraved. all bought at the vienna’s naschmarkt. it’s about typography in the end. these are all exquisitely hand engraved and rich in detail. the subtle detail of information. i never tire of looking at these cards. enjoy.
all things related to design ephemera interests me. running across collections of things fascinates me. in my wanderings i often find these monogram scrapbooks. i waste no time buying these books. after all i do collect ‘collections of collections’. it was quite a common practice to write letters and request replies to get the monograms from a variety of places: individual, institutions, official offices and the like. this particular scrapbook has the many lovely examples of 19th century monograms, primarily engraved initials. i am never bored in trying to decipher the intwined letterforms, some more complex than others. however what makes this book special is the pages of signatures and addresses. the contrast between the regular grid of the monograms versus the random collage of the these few unusual pages compelled me purchase this crest scrapbook. i have a couple dozen of these books, this example is typical of the majority of what i find. over the years i find less and less of these. ebay used to be a resource but i rarely check there anymore and my collecting maybe more specific at the moment. these scrapbooks are a great resource for me. when my studio did a hotel identity they proved extremely helpful and inspiring. i found this book in a book stall off portobello road in london. i had the chance to walk portobello road last october. it was a beautifully sunny and full of people. it has always been crowded to my memory and i can always find something. i recall items that i missed out on too. as there are many high end dealers along the road. often there is some dialogue when you are purchasing an antique. the dealer is interested in your collecting. the dealer parting knowledge about what your buying, telling you it’s valuable and they have priced it too low. when there is no price the dealer will look you over and the priced is determined by more than just the object in hand. this time the owner wasn’t around and twenty pounds was the price. i was happy with that and i was off to the next stall. now to my next post.
where did you find it? who designed that? did you ever see this? so many questions and often not many answers. there is so much to love: books, collections, cancelation marks—too many to name. the hunt reveals many surprises. when i pulled this book from a shelf, opened it and discovered that someone had created his own book of collections, i was thrilled. of course the book had to be mine. i bought this in a random book store, possibly the strand here in new york city, though upon reflection it may have been the midway bookstore in st paul. i have mentioned before that in my past travels, when i arrived at the airport, i would simply tear out the used book section of the yellow pages (when was the last time someone mentioned that?!) and then i’d head off to the various bookstores with this list in hand. one of my favorites in the minneapolis/st paul area is the midway bookstore. i have had countless great finds there. many used books stores have sections devoted to ‘leather bindings.’ the value or interest in these books is primarily derived from their bindings (another amazing category of book collecting) and the subject matter doesn’t warrant it being placed anywhere. often this is puzzling to me. in any case, i will browse this section from time to time. when i pulled this slim edition off the shelf and peeked inside, i was rewarded to see it filled with cancelation marks. these were not cut from covers or letters but appeared to have been cut from a reference book and one that was fairly old. scott’s reference books for stamps and cancelations have been around a long time. since i collected coins as a kid, i was more familiar with the red and blue books of coin collecting, but i am also acquainted with scott’s. i am never bored by the world of philatelic collectors. the endless permutations fascinate me, though not enough to become a collector myself. recently, i have been reading a very interesting book, a history of britain in thirty-six postage stamps by chris west. i believe it was spawned from the bbc radio program, a history of the world in a 100 objects. if you’ve never listened to it, you should. it can be fascinating. looking at these pages and cancelations brings to light interesting design questions. who designed these? i know many special fancy cancels were designed by postal agents themselves. they cut them right into rubber. many of these scraps are from all categories of ‘marks’ that are placed on an envelope during its life in the mail. each one tells a story. just like this book does.
i have written before about the various permutations of one particular book and i recently learned about an interesting variation within another book i own: karel martens’ printed matter/drukwerk from hyphen press. karel martens may be my favorite designer working today. i eagerly collect his book designs, read his interviews and envy those who study within his program at werkplaatz typografie. i don’t always like the designs from the werkplaatz but they always encourage me to consider the possibilities of typographic choice and investigation. i immediately purchased printed matter/drukwerk when it was first issued in 1996. a second edition appeared in 2001 and an expanded edition in 2010. many years ago, i bought an edition i had never seen before. a book dealer in germany who knew i collected contemporary dutch book design sent an email saying he had something special for me. it was printed matter/drukwerk, but with a white jacket. at the time i had never seen this edition—not in articles or publications, nor did i have any info on this edition. permutations in book editions is a facet of book collecting that i just love. there are historically subtle differences in the title pages or a misprint on a specific page that will separate a first edition from a second edition. i noted a special difference in rand’s designer art in this blog. when i first obtained this ‘white’ edition i did not look into its origin but simply placed it on my shelf with, admittedly, materialist pride. a first edition has its special allure. ‘first edition’, two words fraught with meaning. i’m not sure if when buying a book you care about whether or not you’re buying a first edition. i often do. i still prefer reading a hardbound copy of a book over a paperback, though i do purchase paperback editions, but i haven’t been seduced by the ipad or kindle. i attend book shows, both antiquarian as well as commercial. this past fall i attended the art book fair at ps1. each year, publishers and independent book sellers are organized by printed matter, one of my favorite book stores in manhattan. it is a wonderful book fair. i still prefer to purchase books at these events and it’s important to arrive there early, which i don’t always do. at this particular fair, i walked around eagerly and discovered many wonderful editions that i had seen on the internet. i ran across a dealer from holland who was selling karel martens’ new book, full color. i immediately bought five copies. yes, five. christmas was just around the corner and i like to give gifts to the designers working with me. not everyone is as manic as i am about the latest books released and so many people just buy their books on amazon. but i try to support the local booksellers, so i was thrilled to buy these copies of martens’ book. as i was chatting with the bookseller, i was excited to learn that mr martens would be in attendance the following day to sign copies. i rearranged my saturday schedule and, when the time drew near, i gathered together a bunch of books designed by martens for him to sign, including his latest book i had purchased. i arrived and waited my turn. i introduced myself. i had never met him before but i knew we were just one degree apart so i mentioned the person we had in common and we spoke briefly about him. i handed over my pile of books for him to sign. the bookseller had already sold out of martens’ new book and, when i pulled out my copies, a few people standing nearby asked to purchase one. i thought it odd that the bookseller had not brought enough copies. after mr martens signed his new books for me, i presented the ‘white’ edition of printed matter/drukwerk. he looked up and asked how i had obtained this particular copy. i told him and he said this was a rare edition and was done especially for the day he was awarded the heineken price. only a small number were printed and i was lucky to have one. as a book collector, i already knew that a rare edition is desirable and a signed copy even more so. it was nice to hear mr martens tell me its origin and have the answer to a question that had long lingered. soon after, i did a quick search and hyphen’s press website provides a clear and interesting breakdown of all the editions of printed matter/drukwerk. so fulfilling for a manic collector like me.
book design. page design. title pages. dust jackets. binding. every book i buy, new or old, has these elements. however very few are designed better than this book, the tables of the law by thomas mann designed by paul rand. with all the things written about rand, it’s amazing that none dissects or highlights his ability. i mean really examines it critically. i can look at his career and tell you some of the high points (like this book) and certain low points (his logo for amex) and see inspirational design. the book jacket, binding and book typography were all done by rand in 1945, almost 70 years ago. shit. it remains fresh, except maybe the jacket color, which is a bit drab. but read the book and the color makes sense. i’ve bought countless books for their design, many in german, dutch, czech, japanese…but this one from knopf is translated from german for the american market. thankfully, i can read it and that helps informs my understanding of the design. the tables of the law is about the early life of moses and rand’s design evokes restraint, refinement, sophistication and reflection. what i love most about this book is the grid. the lovely grid. rand once said in class, “a grid is like a musical instrument. it’s only as good as who’s playing it.” well, the grid for this book is a classic mirrored symmetrical design, with generous proportions. it never bores me to examine it. the typographical hierarchy is rich and detailed.
as a design student, i visited the cheat, not with the line depth count but in the number of lines between chapters. instead of six, there are times when just five lines are used. what i love most is the page numbers as they relate to the chapter numbers. the relationships are amazing. size, scale and placement move the eye around the page. it makes me laugh to express such enthusiasm for typographical details. one of my favorite books on book design is by Jost Hochuli <http://www.typotheque.com/authors/jost_hochuli>, an amazing book designer of whom I have long been a fan and whose work I also collect. there are many other memorable design elements about ‘the tables of the law.’ the binding is simple and rich with a lush green cloth and gold foil stamping on the cover and spine. what is under the dust jacket is also wonderful: the religious iconography and the spine all covered in gold, which is often rubbed away. i heard about that ms. knopf complained about the production costs of the books designed by rand. it seems they were expensive to produce. i can totally see that. this is 1945 after all. i have no idea as to the truth of this story, but i do believe there was great care given to these designs. i had rand sign all the copies of the books he designed that i had collected, but i never discussed them with him. he was always surprised when i brought him something that he had designed. “where did you fine that? still damn good.” we would spar about whose tschichold collection was better. his was, of course. you can’t compete with personally inscribed editions. back to ‘the tables of the law.’ another wonderful aspect of this book is the title page. one of my favorites. a tour de force of asymmetrical typography. don’t forget the year is 1945 and check out the vertical type of the date. also keep in mind this is metal type. this book is printed with letterpress—metal type. which means the title page would have be laid out by hand. no polymer plates then. when i first started collecting in the ‘80s, i checked out many of the printing houses where these books were made. i had dreams of visiting their archives and discovering correspondence from designers like rand, with marked-up galleys, instructions made and corrections reviewed. Alas, by the time i checked they were long gone. maybe just a little is saved here.
my motto, or one of them, is “you’re only a good as the obscurity of your sources.” when i begin a project—or, frankly, even before a even get a project—my head spins with ideas. what about this? no—that!? that’s too far out. where should the client take this? whom are they trying to reach? their brand is great but they have forgotten their core. i review myriad possibilities and have endless discussions with myself. generally i have a meeting with a client and gauge where they want to go, and that usually narrows down the avenues. many times, my collections come in handy as inspirations and a resource. i rarely buy things or books specifically as sources or references—“this book will be good for letterforms” or “this is good for patterns.” my collections serve me for visual stimulus and what i think will be the foundations for an interesting design somewhere down the line. my collections have also been a way for me to dream. i have dreamed of opening a store for years. (my daughter has even wished she would win the lottery just so she could give me the money to open that store.) many times my collections do aid in the design of a project or to just stimulate discussion with other designers. like this one: hundreds and hundreds of matchbook labels collected by one person. i love that this individual collector had taken the time to organize them topically and visually by color. i bought these because it was such a comprehensive collection, rich with design and history, and because i thought they would look amazing framed. imagine all the red, the black, each a blur of color, only to discover the nuances separating one from the next. many collectors of matchbook labels collect them topically; elephants, birds, deer, etc. but of course i love the typography, the illustrations and the color. we recently did a project for a men’s store in mexico city, silver deer. when the client came to us, he already had the name and a clear idea, however done by another designer, of what the store should look like. well, we tried (and i think successfully) to take him in another direction. we started here, looking at these old matchbook labels of deer, but after a while we felt it looked too specific and too familiar. we eventually presented a more clean and stark identity, a fresh canvas to sell the heritage brands the client was passionate about. i am proud of the design but my heart still has a soft spot for these matchbox labels. it’s wonderful to see the depth and richness that can be conveyed in something that is only 2 inches across. enjoy.
1869. germany. caspar moos. there is nothing modern about this letterhead, however the typography speaks to me. the many covers that i have written about this one stands out. why is that? do they teach penmanship in school anymore? i know i was graded on ‘writing’ in elementary school. i remember my report card—all c’s. this letterhead is in german and i tried to make out the handwriting to translate it for you but i gave up. sorry. i had more pressing things to do, sorry. whenever i think about handwriting i make a mental note. actually, michael sull comes to mind. i’d like to take one of his classes or workshops one day. i already have the tools. i’ve told my daughter we should do this together. of course i get the roll of the eyes and the ‘what planet are you on?’ look. i am interested in acquiring this skill. some day. just another thing for retirement.
here’s a photogram of my paper clip collection. yes. i collect paper clips. i’m sure i have mentioned this collection numerous times before. and yes i made this photogram—in a dark room. they still exist for my pleasure.
paper clips. a perfect collection for new york city. they don’t take up much room and they are pretty cool. i have written about this collection before, in that, when i attend paper fairs, i look at old documents hoping to discover a paper clip that i don’t have. there are many different discover a shape i have never seen before. i thought the best way to display my collection was in the form of a photogram. the last time i was in a dark room was in grad school, twenty five years ago. quite a while ago. wow a generation in fact. my daughter came along and actually kept things going when i would got too obsessive. nice to have a level headed person around. an amazing fact about new york is that there is just about everything for everyone. i went to this great brooklyn studio where theo, the owner, had prepared a proper darkroom for me and my daughter. the chemicals mixed. proper instruction and everything in it’s place. we spent the next three hours getting the right density of black and making several compositions. at twenty bucks an hour it was well worth it. spending three hours with your daughter and doing something cool. a wonderful memory. she added a great deal to the experience and what a wonderful result it is. i put one of the photograms in my show but this particular one did not make it. the one that did is gridded and shows a more taxonomy-like approach to the clips. happily, gladly, surprisingly someone bought it. how about that. my show ends on the tenth of december do stop by.
for those of you who made it to my first opening, thanks so much. i was so worried that i would need to stand on the corner and hand out ten dollar bills. it was lovely to see old friends, current friends and make new ones. a special thanks goes to andrew, patrick, lulu, laura, brad, pedro, marlene, and stephanie. all of which, without their help, this event would not have taken place. these last few years have been trying ones for me. i have had support from friends and family which is so important. i am not an easy person to live with and i often cannot see the forest for the trees. i hope everyone enjoyed themselves. for those of you who didn’t make the opening, here are a few pictures. i do hope you can stop by and see it. tell me what you think and most of i hope you enjoy it.