by the hand

handwriting has fascinated me for many years. i think even writing in my practice book as a kid was rewarding, although i do recall getting d’s in penmanship. i have a vivid image of my report card with c’s all across for my grade in penmanship. i have always written in an obscure hand. my sister is about the only on who can decipher it. in grad school, i had next guy, probably more than most. i spent hours in the type shop, but making individual letter forms did not speak to me. although i think part of my issue was with learning a new program. fontographer, to be specific. after a little thought, i decided on a typeface to design: my own script. this isn’t a big deal now, it’s actually rather mundane, self-indulgent. one classmates asked what i was going to call it. ‘mac-arrogant,’ i answered. seemed fitting. anyway, in my quest for letterheads, i have invariably come across some amazing samples of handwriting. i can never resist buying a letter with such a distinguished hand. here are several examples from my collection, each more remarkable than the next. when was the last time you wrote a letter by hand?




what a great word. not sure what it means, if anything, but i do know it is a company in france and they make these metal ‘signalisation.’ i love this little card. it’s about four by five inches when folded. i have never seen anything like. it is my practice when traveling to any country to visit not just flea markets but also stationery stores and hardware stores, large and small. finding this card was a delight. one reason i keep stopping in stationery store after stationery store is that i hope to discover old stock. old staplers, tape holders and especially paper clips which have been lying on the shelves for years, the longer the better. this card with its exhibition of many wonderful markers or ‘recommandes’ was found in a nondescript stationery store in paris. there was nothing remarkable or special about this shop; it was neither old nor distinguished in any way, but i went in nonetheless. rooting around, i discovered a small box of one of these ‘flambos.’ I approached the shop owner (it is always a good sign when the shop owner is present, as that means that the store maybe family owned), and asked in my best french (which is really the worst french) if he had any other types of  these markers. he opened a drawer and pulled out some other ‘flambos’. what excited me most was this card. it wasn’t out for display but was his reference. i surprised the owner by asking to see it. how could anyone be so excited about such an ordinary thing? yet there are so many things to love about this little card. the flambo typeface. seeing essentially the same thing in different forms appeals to me. there always seems to be a need to take the same device and create such a variety. upon closer inspection, you can see there is a device for each day of the week, one for every month, every letter in the alphabet. there is a rich variety of shapes and colors. after my initial excitement i asked if he had any of these in stock. alas, no. i could hardly contain my excitement. i asked if he would sell me this card. the shop owner was now stupefied. why would anyone want such a thing? he looked at me and excused himself. he returned from the stock room with another card and announced that i could have it. this little card never left my breast pocket for the rest of the day. such a simple thing that provided such a wonderful memory.


peter black

aka piet zwart. there is little doubt that the work of doors down was what I thought was a book store but turned out to be the auction house scheider henn. coincidentally, they were having an auction featuring bauhaus-related materials. needless to say, i was pretty excited. i was able to view many of the lots and there was a group of items from holland, including this simple brochure for the door manufacturer bruynzeel i am sharing today. zwart did a great deal of work for bruynzeel. there is so much to this little jewel. the lower case—no surprise i like that. the transparency. the use of color. all combine to make a rich experience for a mundane subject. there were several other items in this auction which i will share another time. enjoy.

pin it, hold it, clamp it, staple it

how about an exhibition about how documents were attached throughout history? would this be of interest to anyone other than me? maybe you have pondered this very question. most likely not. here are five examples from my collection of such items. the far left example is a 19th-century example, a simple pin, before the invention of the clip. the others are variations on the clip or staple. i just love to look for these. i recall visiting a paper fair and combing through a box of old documents. you must be dedicated to do this. i am always looking for the unusual clip. when i find one that i don’t have it is usually attached to a document but all i want is the clip. the price, however, is for the document. i’m usually too embarassed to tell the dealer that i collect paper clips, but if the document is five dollars or less, i’ll buy it. if he says ten or twenty i’ll often pass or ask if he will sell just the clip. i have on two occasions been asked to leave with rolling eyes from the dealer. i have also been simply handed the clip gratis, though this is rare. these fine examples were bought from one dealer for less than ten dollars, i believe. i was especially pleases since at the time I didn’t have two of these styles. the evolution of the clip is so interesting to me. mr. petroski, who wrote ‘the evolution of useful things,’ has a wonderful chapter about the history of the paper clip. i was familiar with his books, ‘the pencil: a history of design and circumstance,’ and ‘paperboy: confessions of a future engineer,’ but didn’t know about ‘useful things’ until a visit from a group of designers from byu. each spring, professors linda sullivan and adrian pulfer bring a group of dedicated and talented students to visit new york and tour some design studios. they have been kind to me and have visited my studio many times. on one of these visits, i shared my love of the paper clip. afterwards, i received a wonderful thank you note and a copy of the petroski’s chapter on the paper clip. i was thrilled. there are many more in my collection, but just exactly where they are is the question.

three inspirations

all these wonderful examples were won on ebay. i love each one more than the next. two of them fall into two of my collecting categories: german book design and the czech avant garde. the third, well, is just wonderful type. i don’t really care much about who designed these or their provenance. they provide inspiration. over the years i have found it extremely helpful when discussing a design direction with a designer to pull something that he or she might not have seen. you often hear that a designer shows up with his or her portfolio and it is obvious that they have never heard of such and such a designer. i recall being asked by my teachers if i had every heard of this designer or that designer. since i studied art history first, i think my method for studying graphic design took a more historical approach. does that mean knowing design history is important to being a graphic designer or a creative director? i recall working in a studio years ago. it was a wonderful place, an amazing carriage house. next to the entrance was a framed josef albers print. one day a messenger came in and asked if it was a josef albers. i was standing there with a young designer who had graduated recently from art school, so i thought i would let her answer. she said she didn’t know. of course i was shocked. i thought every design student would know josef albers. the ensuing conversation that took place among the designers in the studio was about whether it was important to know who josef albers was and did it actually matter. i felt it was important to know what had come before, and that the knowledge would imbue your design. however one designer disagreed completely. he didn’t see what value it would add. well, the conversation divided into two camps. this was twenty five years ago, and i felt pretty strongly that design history, art history, architecture history, hell, history in general, is pretty worthwhile. do I still feel as strongly? i don’t think I would argue with quite the intensity i did then. i certainly would not get bent out of shape about it. i don’t know the individual designers of these pieces. however not knowing might be just fine.