Friday, September 30, 2011

The Play Primer

I found this ad for childrens' books with educational value near the back of a 1950s Sunday school supply catalog a while ago. The books in the ad are quite small. No more than an inch tall, yet someone took the time to illustrate them with spot CMYK colors. The printing quality is marginal, mostly because of the newsprint paper, but this adds to the charm. The books themselves looked vaguely familiar until I realized I had a copy of the one titled a e i o u  Play Primer. Just like the catalog, the primer is printed on cheap pulp paper that is yellowing—probably printed by the same printer. The rebus below with the Futura text and simple line illustrations is one of my favorites from it.

:: From the Letterology Archives.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Buttolph Menu Collection

Diamond Jubilee Luncheon Menu for delegates held by the New York Life Insurance Company at the Waldorf-Astoria in 1905.

Dinner held by Champlain Hotel at the D&H Dining Car Service between Rouses Point, Hotel Champlain and Whitehall in 1900.

Annual dinner hosted by the New England Society of the city of New York in 1894. 

The Sons of Delaware annual banquet at the Union League Club, Philadelphia, 1896. 

Daily bill of fare at Mart Ackerman's Saloon in Toronto from 1856. 

1886 menu held by the Provinzial-Quartetts during several days at the Furstenhof in Magdeburg, Germany.

Dinner held by Nippon Yusen Kaisha aboard the S.S. Kamakura Maru in 1900. 

1900 bill of fare at the Lager Beer Saloon on Whitechapel Road, in London.

Menu from the Hotel Timeo in Taormina, Sicily from 1900. 

20th Century Anniversary dinner for CCNY class of 1880, Hotel Manhattan in NY, 1900.
Luncheon held by Philitscikoma at Hotel Savoy in NY in 1900. 

Banquet for President William McKinley held by the citizens of San Francisco at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco in 1901.

Dinner held by the Waldhaus Arosa (in Switzerland?) in 1900. Menu text is mimeographed.

Curious little hand-painted menu with a pink ribbon for a bachelor dinner held by Dr. F.Martin at a private club in Ohio in 1897. WTF, is this dude being a gentleman or a rogue?

All of these menus are from a collection at the New York Public Library collected by Miss Frank E. Buttolph (1850-1924) whose curious mission in life it seems was to collect menus. In 1899, she offered to donate her existing collection to the Library, and she continued collecting on the Library's behalf until her death in 1924. Miss Buttolph was rather persistent in her efforts, and would write to every restaurant she could find, requesting they send her menus. When this failed, she would often march into a restaurant and plead her case in person. She also placed advertisements in trade publications and received contributions of specimens from around the world when news of her menu mission was published in The New York Times on several occasions. The Times noted that "she frankly avers that she does not care two pins for the food lists on her menus, but their historic interest means everything". Today, the collection is one of the largest menu collections in the world and it continues to grow through additional gifts and donations. 

Blackletter in Fall Colors

The newly published Fall issue of T Magazine, a supplement of the Sunday New York Times, commissioned the work of Los Angeles landscape designer Judy Kameon and photographer Erik Otsea for their monthly T design. I couldn't help but notice how handsome this iconic blackletter T looks in the beautiful Fall colors, and it reminded me of its' elder gothic cousin, the rustic old growth T you see just below. I've included a snapshot of other extended family members of this woodsy gothic alphabet as well. I'm no genealogist, but I'm quite certain this family tree has roots that go way, way back. ;^)

:: Rustic Old Growth Gothic Alphabet via the Letterology Archives.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Mash-up of Chromolithography, Meat Extracts and MacArthur Fellows

No. 1: The artist composing the image in his studio.
No. 2: Extracting the limestone.

No. 3: The studio for lithographic reproduction. 

No. 4: Making press proofs.

No. 5: Printing the final large press sheets.

No. 6: The final trimming and collating of the cards.

The highly regarded German chemist, professor, and a founding father of organic chemistry, Justus von Liebig (1803-1873), invented a way to produce beef extract from carcasses (hmmm) as a cheap alternative to real meat. In 1865 he formed the Leibig Extract of Meat Company and like many businesses of the 19th century, he advertised his business with beautiful sets of trade cards. Nearly 2000 Liebig cards have been documented since the Liebig Company began issuing them around 1872. They continued to produce them for over 100 years on everything subject from famous Belgian scientists to masters of illusion, usually in sets made up of 6 cards. The earliest Liebig cards were printed using a method called chromolithography, and are prized among collectors for their fine quality of printing and design. 
       This set of 6 cards displayed above, from User Online, illustrate the actual production of chromolith printing of the day. The process of chromolithography was invented in the late 1790s, 40 years before the invention of photography, and it was an alterative to the woodcut or engraving process where you carve into the surface in order to create a relief image. Chromoliths, (sometimes referred to as chromos), are known as planographic prints, meaning the images and text were drawn on a flat, limestone surface with a greasy crayon and when it chemically treated, the drawn areas would attract ink and the stone would repel it. Each color represented a different stone and press run, so the task of producing this method of lithography was not only extremely labor intensive, but an art that few mastered. The subtle texture of each print comes from the irregular grain of the stone. Some of the finest printers were in Germany and France where much of the best quality limestone was mined.
       The set of 6 cards above illustrate the entire chromolithography printing process in consecutive order. In one corner of each card is a small infographic of ink colors next to a portrait of Mr. Liebig. Each card progressively adds 2 more colors resulting in a combination of 12 ink colors for the final portrait. The background on each has an illustration of the one step of the print process beginning with the first card of your average long-haired, pointey-beard artist at his drawing table. Next, in consecutive order, is the extraction of limestone (a nice word for mining); a factory of artists painting stones; making press proofs; the printing; and then the final trimming, collating and packaging. I regret that I could not find larger versions of this set of Liebig cards, but the Princeton University Library reported on a larger rez which I've included below. It is a German version of the same French card No. 4 you see above. Interestingly, they were probably printed at two different printing houses and you can see some dissimilarities in color and detail. The text at the bottom of the German version is also much nicer, which leads me to think it was likely the original or first edition. Granted these are at 2 different resolutions, but it does appear that German card has more definition and detail overall. 

Another version of card No. 4, but in German this time.
Below is a photo of 2 litho stones which I took this past summer at the wonderful Museum of Printing in N. Andover, MA. The people at the museum actually printed from the stone recently and you can see an example of it next to the original.   

Below you can see a 1907 Liebig card on Venezuela from Four Ages of Sand. A magnified portion of it displays the extraordinary detail and combination of colors in a typical Liebig color chromo. 

If you are interested in learning more about the stone lithography process, you must visit The Museum of Modern Art's site, The Printed Picture, hosted by noted author, former Dean of the Yale School of Art, photographer and MacArthur "genius grant" recipient, Richard Benson. In addition to a video on chromolithography, Benson has a total of 8 hours of videos there discussing every printing process from early Lumière autochromes, Japanese woodblock printing, wood engraving to printing processes such as the old piano roll. It is an incredible archive of material and extremely well-documented. His beautifully designed companion book to the MOMA site and a 2008 exhibitThe Printed Picture is one of the most comprehensive guides on printing processes I have ever seen and an essential resource for printers of all stripes. You can read a great book review of it by Jerry Kelly on AIGAs site.
As a side note, Richard Benson just happens to be the uncle of Newport, RI stonecarver, Nick Benson who is also a recent MacArthur fellow. For those not counting, that is two "Macs" in one family! Nick was honored with a "genius grant" just last Fall for his lettering and stone carving work. I reported on Nick last Winter here on Letterology and for AIGA's Voice series, and I had the wonderful honor of visiting him and his brilliantly talented father John Benson in their RI shop in July. John's father, John Howard Benson began the family stone carving business at The John Stevens Shop in 1927. He was an artist, calligrapher, teacher at the Rhode Island School of Design and author of The Elements of LetteringAt the time of my visit I learned of yet another talented Benson; Nick's brother, Christopher, who lives in New Mexico and is a very fine painter in his own right. He also designs and publishes some very fine-editioned portfolios of artists work at The Fisher Press. I found it hilarious that each one of the Bensons will independently claim the other is more talented than the next. They are a one-family art colony—the art gene runs very deep in that family! 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Typewriter Accordion

From the 2005 New York School of Visual Arts exhibit, The Next big...Ding! which took place at Grand Central Station. Will the student who created this gem please come and reclaim it? 
::Via Poetic Home

Accordion in Typewriter Tin

Using an old typewriter tin for the container, Patricia Sahertian created an accordion structure tale of a proficient office typist who could type with lightning speed. The story was adapted from a 1952 educational film from Encyclopedia Britannica Films posted at the Internet Archive titled Office Courtesy: Meeting the Public. You can see more stills from Sahertian's book, Mayor No Match for Girl Typist here. She also has several other typewriter tin books here.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Emotional Characters

Andrea D'Aquino has an uncanny ability to make her stories come to life with her playful and expressive artworks as evidenced by The Secret Life of Books I and II above. 

From Andrea D'Aquino's self-promotions series, A Modern Guide to Punctuation, exploring the imagined personalities and neurosis of various punctuation marks. This series and other cool prints of D'Aquinos' are available for purchase at Big Cartel.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Happy 29th Birthday Mr Smiley-moticon! *<|:-)

Through an exhaustive archeological dig of old back-up tapes sponsored by a crack Microsoft research team, it was determined that September 19th, 1982 was the exact date of the birth of the Smiley emoticon. (Not so celebrated, was the birth of his evil twin, the frowny face with the smile-turned-upside-down, who was born seconds later). The original message seen here was sent by Scott Fahlman 29 years ago today to a bulletin board community of Computer Scientists at Carnegie Mellon. At the time, it was intended to be a solution for graphically displaying the tone of a sarcastic comment to the reader. Critics complain Mr Smiley degrades our written communications, but Fahlman argues the Internet is a different medium than traditional publishing and we need to clearly define a joke or invite chaos and misunderstanding in this call-and-response atmosphere. Personally, I'm just so relieved I don't have to spell out "insert laugh here" anymore. :-) Read more on Smiley Lore here from Mr. Fahlman, the father of this happy little sideways ascii character. 

Linen Letters

From a long out-of-print unnamed Italian book on beautiful monogram embroidery. Many examples in the book were embroidered for royalty over the 20th century, which accounts for the many crowns in a number of the monograms. The ornate designs are lovely, but I cannot even imagine the painstaking amount of handwork involved in making of each of them. With monogrammed bed linens such as these, it would be sweet dreams in Letterland for me every night.
::Via the Townmouse Flickrstream