Monday, July 29, 2013

The Lost and Found

This post goes out to my friend Tom Boucher, who gave a memorable "Tom Talk" to my experimental type class several years ago. He spoke for an entire hour about finding a bell hanging on a hedge and in short, relating it to a philosophical approach to design; to always be open to wonder, and to discovery, as this can lead to creative solutions.
     Historical fragments are found everywhere, just as illustrated in this lovely animated poem. This video fragment was found by way of Peter Mendelsund's site, Jacket Mechanical. It is the animation work of his new right-hand man, Pablo Delcán. The two minute video, Historical Fragment was written by Éireann Lorsung and included in her book of poetry entitled Her book (real name, no kidding) from Milkweed Editions. With story credits by Pablo Delcán and Brian Rea (who also has drawing credits), this animation is a lovely story about finding cards; or that lucky charm and historical fragment which ignites wonder. Designers take note: this should be a lesson and reminder to continually explore; be receptive; and be a vessel for new discoveries; as you just never know what juju will fuel creativity.
     Many years ago, I stumbled upon this juju on a wooded trail in my neighborhood: two different series of trading cards. One with Christopher Reeve as Superman; Man of Steel, Man of Action and Man of Lycra, issued by DC Comics in 1978, and another of 1977 Star Wars cards with a puzzle on back. Both series were originally part of a Topps Bubblegum package of photo cards which included ten cards, one sticker and one lousy stick of bubblegum. While they never triggered any creative solutions—yet—there is no reason they couldn't. I may yet design a series of trading cards for Letterology. Who knows? And to whomever discarded these lost or stolen trading cards; I surely hope you enjoyed the stick of bubblegum.  

Turning to other serendipitous fragments just discovered as I write: For those of you in my hood...the poet, writer, and designer Éireann Lorsung will be doing a reading from Her book at Seattle's Elliot Bay Bookstore in Seattle this Tuesday, July 30th at 7pm. Find out more details about this event and other readings here.
     Designer Pablo Delcán's recent work is also not to be missed. As one of his first exercises at Pantheon Books, aside Peter Mendelsund, Delcán took on Vladimir Nobokov's The Tragedy of Mr. Morn with great success. Read more about it on Jacket Mechanical where you can follow links to many more fascinating fragments.  


Thursday, July 25, 2013

Special Delivery

People have always been compelled to decorate their correspondence as an expression of love and friendship, or to commemorate a special event. Here is a bit of colorful postal history featuring some advertising and hand-illustrated and lettered envelopes which went up at auction about a decade ago at Grosvenor Philatelic Auctions in London. The Torquay & South Devon Rose commemorative envelope, above was postmarked in 1872.

A bewildering illustration of an orange seller being trampled. Postmarked 1865.

Miss E. Quarmby was indeed a very lucky woman to have received these beautifully inscribed envelopes in decorative rustic hand-lettering from the hand of a talented admirer. Postmarked 1883 & 1884.

Considered to be a propaganda envelope, but none-the-less lovely. Postmarked 1852.

Hand-illustrated strongman by Hugh Rose, postmarked 1898.

An advertising envelope for Lord George Sanger's Circus, postmarked 1893.

Arthur Granger's safety envelope, postmarked 1862.

Another letter for Mrs. King-Harman, this time with a faux fly on it. Postmarked 1897.

Hand-illustrated coorespondence to Miss Monshall, postmarked between 1887-1937. 

A Welsh mountain watercolor illustration postmarked 1948. Some lovely hand-lettering hasn't gone unnoticed either. 

Another advertising envelope with some great illustrations for Lord George Sanger's Greatest Circus at the Hippodrome, postmarked 1891.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Table for Four

I'm bringing out the fine chinette today, as it's picnic season. These paper plates are actual diecut advertising trade cards from the late 19th century. The first paper plate at top with the Japanesque design, is from Whittmann & Cole Printers & Stationers, circa 1898. The source is from the Evanion Collection of the British Library. The hand lettered type for the Edwards' Desiccated Soups card is far more appetizing than the name implies. Dated approximately 1887, it is also from the Evanion Collection at the British Library. The Drawing Room Cigarettes & Smoking Tobacco might have made a better ashtray than a plate. It was found on eBay some while ago. Lastly, the Gay's China Palace diecut plate is a nice find from Sheaff Ephemera who is a never-ending source of fine ephemera. Gay's China Palace was a fancy goods store in Philadelphia, though I doubt they sold paper plates.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Recreational Lettering

Martin O'Neill's playful lettering and collage work is a delight. It always puts a smile on my face. His found type is reborn again in these colorful artworks. From the top: Old Filth book jacket and details for Little Brown / Abacus; Last Friends also for Little Brown Publishing; Cover for The Independent MagazineCollage for Found show at the Unlimited Editions Gallery. Not only that, but O'Neill also happens to have a nice collection of old pool chalk from his days playing pool in Pubs n bars. And he is gladly accepting donations if anyone has more to contribute to this pool. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Some Smoking Hot Label Design

The heyday of cigar production began in 1870 and continued to increase until about 1920 when there were over 350,000 registered brands. As cigar manufacturing increased in the later 19th century, so did the demand for increasingly sophisticated packaging. Cigar manufacturers were also discovering the necessity to improve their packaging designs in order to prevent counterfeit knockoffs of their brands. This demand led to some enterprising lithographers offering “sets” of labels for their cigar boxes. According to Maurice Rickards in the Encyclopedia of Ephemera, “They were available as related four- or five-piece ‘sets’, comprising ‘ins’ and ‘outs’, flaps, seals, edging, etc., as designed. Brand names featured on the labels were purely notional, Spanish phrases—‘Gran Fabrica de Tabacos’, Elaboracion Especial’, ‘Primera Calidad’; they conveyed nothing more special than atmosphere and their many gold medals and awards were fictitious.”

With the emergence of chromolithography, cigar manufacturers could rely exclusively on the visual appeal of the label to promote their product. The colorfully ornate labels appeared on the top, ends and sides of the cigar box, and served as a point of sale. The practice of displaying the cigar box with the lid open led to an additional branding label, which was often less colorful, but no less stunning (much like the many examples displayed here.) Looking at many of these simpler one and two color labels, one can more fully appreciate these artists' fine lettering and design skills. Each of these labels are part of some original sets printed in Germany in the late 19th century, and available from this eBay dealer     
     Decorative cigar box trim was used to wrap the edges of the entire box such as those below. The first group below is from my own collection, the source of the others are from Artfully Musing.

The larger printing companies sought out some of the finest artists of the day to illustrate the labels on the large litho stones. They soon began the practice of preparing sets of sample books containing the various labels, bands and trim designs for each cigar manufacturer. In the US, the leading printers were The American Lithographic Co., The Consolidated Litho Co., and the George Schlegel Lithographing Co. in New York which continued operation until 1960. In Europe, the trade was primarily in Germany, with major firms such as Gebruder Klingenberg, Gebruder Weigang and Hermann Schott who printed the majority of the labels featured here (with exception of the decorative trims and the cover of the Schlegel label set below.)