from the shelf


so many of the books and ephemera i have collected were bought with excitement and a sense of discovery. once examined and absorbed for design and reference, they are filed away. so many items left neglected for so many years. there is a scene in a mark walhberg movie, shooter, in which his character encounters an older man, an authority on guns and conspiracies. as they are talking, this man refers to a book on his shelf and says, “right were i left it 12 years ago.” that might be the case with this brochure designed by sutnar. the swann auction house auctioned some specific items of his from the cooper hewitt in 1998. i bid on many items at that auction and missed out on so many rare books and designs. this brochure was one that i did not win. i dropped out at a thousand dollars. i don’t think i had ever bid such a high price. so many things come into play when bidding on something you want. one factor that i could not have imagined was the feeling that you simply don’t want the other person to have it. that competitive spirit was unexpected. i decided then not to be present at future auctions and i have lived by that rule ever since. as i said, i did not win the sutnar brochure that day but it’s memory lingered for years to come. i had never seen this brochure before and knew very little about it. it was such a surprise to attend the antiquarian book fair at the park armory many years later and see that a dealer from london had it in his case. i asked the dealer if i could examine it. “are you familiar with sutnar?” he asked. i smiled. the price: four fifty. sold. i did not even try to bargain. after a quick look on the internet i found little more than other photos. the brochure designed by sutnar for canterbury printing falls in the category of promotion materials. when was the last time you received a paper promotion or a glossy elaborate printed promotion? here’s a bit from it: “only through good design and fine printing can you add that touch of distinction to your literature which makes it fully effective with discriminating people and economical in producing maximum sales results.” here’s another: “striking design and good illustration will assure attention for your message and make your sales points clear and convincing.” copyright 1950. can’t argue with either of these statements, now can you? what’s interesting about this brochure is the design, of course. not sure who would read the text as the graphics are so memorable. sutnar is at his best here. nothing more to say but “enjoy.”

turn it over

when i started writing this blog i thought i was a modernist collector. it soon became apparent that i am simply a collector. i collector of all things. once upon time i thought i had a unique perspective on collecting and after all these years i have found many that share my same interest and passion. that said i really don’t collect post cards. i really don’t. whenever i attend a paper fair there are dozens of post card dealers. there are specific shows for post card collector. the categories are endless for these collectors; animals, photo cards, states, churches, specific counties…too numerous to list. however since i have attended these shows for years many dealers know my tastes and interests. this can be good and bad. the good part is that when i stop by their booth the dealer will often have put items aside for me. “i have a few things for you”, is how i am greeted after the initial hellos. this is a delight, then the feeling i am obligated to purchase their selections. happy this is rarely the case. there is little pressure other than what i have put on myself. every dealer is different of course and each one puts aside something completely different for me. one of my favorite dealer is michael meade. i see him at the stamp shows and i have been buying paper ephemera from him for years. an incredibly knowledge man. he has shown me patience and tolerance in helping
me build my collections. this particular post post card in fact was bought from him. when michael handed me an envelope of his selected items and i saw the image on this postcard i wondered why he had selected this. the i turned it over and saw the answer. wow. the handwriting, it’s just amazing. how do you feel about your handwriting? when was the last time you sent a post card? when my daughter went to summer camp she asked that i type my correspondence, that certainly tells you all you need to know about my handwriting. the post card begins with le sourire, l’amour, les larmes. the smile, the love, the tears, from my college french, i only knew two of the three and had to look up the third —les larmes. i have not tried to read the entire card, another thing on my to do this, but this card was pinned up at my desk once upon a time. as i look at it afresh. i marvel at the author’s handwriting. it lovingly it ends with “martinique avec 780 mots”, 780 words, that does say it all.

well done

i recently started working with a graphic designer who also happens to be a type designer.
a talented guy. working with him and talking about design have brought back memories about my design education, primarily about its formalism and especially the ‘manual’ part of my education. that is to say, the making. i was trained to make, to execute special formal exercises: drawing a letter, mixing a color, setting lead type. all to ensure we could present our ideas, understand the process and make a beautifully executed design and so that we would be knowledgeable about the myriad trades we would encounter as a designer. we were graded specifically on craftsmanship. i had wonderful opportunities to witness great designers do their magic. armin hoffmann stands out as one who had an extraordinary ability to execute his ideas. i once watched him cut out of black paper the perfect ’n’. truly, it was a marvel. the ’n’ was the first letter that we would start with in drawing a new typeface, but before we would get to the letter ’n’, we first had to master drawing straight lines, then diagonal lines, then a half circle and full circles, before we could even begin to start drawing a typeface. i have always enjoyed the making. for years, it was i who made the comps for our presentations. 

the images collected here are just that—comps. these are renderings, little paintings of book covers. remarkable, in fact. another find from the 26th street flea market here in new york. i have spent many an hour at this flea market and have seen it decrease in size over the years. it used to encompass four parking lots and one interior garage. you could wander for most of the day. these are just a selection of the many pages of book covers painted by an unknown chinese designer or artist. the skill and execution are remarkable. my days at making never resulted in anything quite this amazing.

question marks


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.




a first


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.



what’s left?


what do you do with things you for which you have no categories, or even collections? i often buy the darndest things: labels, scraps of paper, stickers. some i don’t even know their original use. what do i do with them? they are filed in a book designed for stamp collectors. i place these oddities without regard to topic, style or category. maybe they should be categorized under ‘what’s left?’
in this particular book, i have an old ration sticker, revenue stickers and an assortment of oddities. all bought with one thought: ‘typography.’ these books for stamp collectors are great. i try and buy old ones as they have more character then the new ones. i believe fewer and fewer companies make these books and the richness has disappeared. i have many stories about finding these books. in this day and age, with ebay, it’s fascinating to me how everyone thinks what they have is valuable. i have heard this from other dealers, too. professional dealers spend much more time going to flea markets, yard sales and estates sales than i. many individuals think because something sold for x on ebay, that is the price. as we know, it takes only two people to bid up an item. when a dealer (i mostly buy from dealers) suddenly realizes that he may have priced something incorrectly, the reaction makes me smile (or roll my eyes). Usually i get a ‘that’s valuable?’ look. he has a chance to reassess and then i hear, ‘not for sale’. i have to be careful since i am a very particular collector who doesn’t just go for the familiar.
being a paper clip collector, i am intrigued by the many different shapes. i will be looking through a box of old documents and often there is more than one box. if i’m up for it and have my patient hat on, i will dig in. i start pulling out documents with paper clips that i may or may not have and the dealer will come over and start examining my selections. now, he has never gone through this box and has already said so, but out of all this paper i have selected five things. why? this is curious to him. how much? ‘a hundred dollars.’ i say to myself, ‘i only want the paper clips.’ so i walk away after spending over a half an hour. the dealer looks at me harshly. ‘well, how much do you want to pay?’ of course i want to pay five bucks. ten bucks tops. i don’t even make an offer since we are so far apart. right before i leave the show, i swing back by the dealer and see that the papers are how i left them. no one has even looked through the box, so i offer the dealer twenty bucks and tell him i just want the paper clips. he says ‘get lost.’ nice, right? this happened at the allentown paper fair many years ago. i have learned from these experiences and it has to do with this book that contains these oddities.
in paris there used to be a philatelic dealer on rue due madeleine. right on the corner. it was a good size. i would always go in there and use my poor french and ask for odd collections and such. often dealers will buy old collections and these collections will be in these books i seek out. there will be stacks of these with a simple listing of what’s inside. such as, ‘algeria’ or ‘german pre-war’. of course i’m not interested in the stamps inside, just the old books containing them. these collections can be quite expensive and often prevent me from buying the book, but i remember asking the dealer—the daughter of the owner—if she had ‘new old stock’ of these books. i did not know this phrase in french. i should have learned it long ago. anyway, she pointed along the staircase leading to the basement (needless to say, i so wanted to visit the basement) were there were shelf after shelf of these books. all sizes. my face lit up. i gave myself away. she handed me one and i nodded: ‘perfect, j’aime ça.’ i recall it coast about ten dollars. then i asked if i could by more. ‘no. not for sale.’ the books had been sitting on that shelf for 40+ years. but once someone comes along and shows an interest, they bear consideration. i guess one is better than none.

on the grid

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 <>, 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.

it all comes from somewhere

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.

the write stuff

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.

last day of little things….

monday december 10th will be the last day of my exhibition at you who have stopped by and sent emails. i learned that facebook isn’t really the best way to invite people, so next time i’ll send a proper invitation. please come and have a beer and tell me what you think of the show. i hope to see you there.