Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Joyful Holiday Greetings

I could not let the holiday season slide by this year without some seasonal best hits from some of the 20th centurys' most notable designers. Leading off here is an accordion four-panel card by Alex Steinweiss, the inventor of the album cover. Steinweiss (1916-2011), who spent much of his career designing for Columbia Records, preferred to just put a bow on it. I'm just sorry I didn't put this on my own xmas list, but it's still available here if anyone is feeling overly generous. 

This 1958 holiday card by Dutch designer Dick Bruna (b.1927-) was designed for Pastoe, a furniture company in the Netherlands. 
::via Centraal Museum

This undated Christmas greeting found here was illustrated by Erik Nitsche (1908-1998.) Though there is little record of its origin, Nitsche often signed his work which to a small degree, has helped to preserve his legacy. This seasonal design is rather unusual for Nitsche, who is more widely known for his bold, daring, and modernist artworks produced for the General Dynamics company in the 1950s and 60s. Below is another unusual holiday piece found here, which he designed as a circular in 1936 for the F.A.O. Schwarz Toy Company, titled the St. Nicholas Special. These are both great examples illustrating Nitsches' broad range of styles and lettering. 

Last up is a particularly handsome holiday card from 1955, designed by Scottish designer, Robert Stewart (1946-1995) for the famed Dovecot tapestry studio in Edinburgh. 
     You can find a seasonal sampling of last year's best hits here. May all of these timeless holiday treasures brighten your day!  

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Bring on the Dancing Bears!

Hello again from Letterologyland! I happily return after many long months of hibernation. My sincere apology for not surfacing much earlier after abandoning my post rather suddenly last August. I'd like to say I was working on a fine print edition of Letterology musings, but this was not entirely the case. For the past year, I've been struggling with severe episodes of vertigo related to an ear disorder. At worst, the unpredictable episodes have been frequent and debilitating, with no relief but to sleep it off for a day or more. Lately, they are just as frequent, but less severe, and I'm slowly learning how to anticipate them. When I feel dizzy, I mostly just lie low and agonize until my balance returns. When I'm good, I feel like dancing! 
     I am very grateful to all the loyal Letterology readers who sent me their kind notes and queries while I was away, and I'm happy to have the support of good friends and family. It has been quite a humbling experience on many levels, and I savor all the good days, yet regret the continual loss of time. It is now all about finding balance, and that dang, yin-yang symmetry of life. As I struggle to keep balance in my equilibrium, I also struggle to find balance in my work, sleep and play time. I wonder if I will ever get caught up entirely, but as someone wiser than I once said, "there is never enough time unless you're serving it." Life goes on with or without us, and it is all I can do to keep the balance and dance.
     Enough about me however...I am eager to share so many exciting new and old things I have discovered recently, so please watch this space. The first feature I'd like to share now is of a lovely 19th C hand lettered ABC album I stumbled upon at the Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair in October. It was displayed at the booth of White Fox Rare Books of Vermont, and owner Peter Blackman was kind enough to show it to me just at closing time. This unusual book is presumed to be created by a Maryette Shepard Bennet of Des Moines, Iowa around 1884, and contains her handiwork of dried seaweed letters, a popular pastime in her day. Her large, roughly six inch tall pressed seaweed letters nicely mimic the bifurcated wood type of posters and signage of this era, however her attention span dwindled some before completing it. Near the end, she chose to watercolor U, V and X, and then rendered Y & Z only in pencil. Over the years, I have seen many fine examples of dried seaweed images—often referred to as "nature printing"—but I have never seen such a charming book of mostly seaweed letters. For more information and sale price, contact Peter Blackman here

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Got Religion?

Get yours at the Church of Type in Santa Monica. Some great work goin' on there by owner, printer, illustrator, typographer, Kevin Bradley; formerly of Yee-Haw Industries in Tennesee. I'm guessing the racoon cap designates Bradley as an ordained fundamentalist printer in LAs only Church of Type. 
::Thanks Steve, for passing the good word along!

Monday, July 28, 2014

The Needle Makes a Fine Point for Printing

The Needle is an odd name for a periodical on the printing arts, but the publishers evidently had a really good point to make, as their subtitle suggests. This monthly print journal began as an advertising medium for Young & McCallister, one of the largest print and advertising firms in Los Angeles in the early 20th century. The Needle's first issue was published 100 years ago, in April, 1914 and continued its run for another 12 years. This nearly complete set of 15 bound leather volumes of The Needle once belonged to the editor and publisher, Bruce McCallister and just sold at auction. The journal was heavily illustrated and included typographic examples, pochoir and stencil colored plates, and tipped-in samples of their fine press work. 

Bruce McCallister (1881-1945) was a letterpress tramp printer who came out to California from South Dakota to find work. He arrived in San Francisco in 1906 on the day of the Great San Francisco Earthquake, and soon after made his way to Los Angeles where he found work at Senegram Printers. In 1912, he formed a partnership with letterpress printer, Frederick Young who emigrated to the states from England. Their timing dovetailed nicely with the Los Angeles real estate boom and by 1919, they dominated the advertising field with many colorfully printed promotional materials. McCallister was a fine pressman, salesman and innovator. He launched an in-house bindery and a separate screen printing department to meet the demands for colorful sign and poster printing. 

Image via sign industry

In 1927 McCallister hired a young typographer and book designer, Grant Dahlstrom and pursued the printing of fine press books. Their first book together, The History of Warner's Ranch and Its Environs was chosen as one of AIGAs 50 best-designed books of 1927. A second AIGA award was received for the design and printing of California Hills and Other Wood Engravings by Paul Landacre in 1931.

Image via Bonhams

Although Young & McCallister achieved great success in the printing field, they did not survive the Depression. In later years, Bruce McCallister continued to find success in the printing of books for The Huntington Library, Los Angeles bookman Jake Zeitlin, and his friend, Grant Dahlstrom who went on to acquire The Castle Press in Pasadena. Through his associations and mentoring of young printers such as Dahlstrom and Ward Ritchie, he set the stage for Los Angeles to become the West Coast center of fine press printing and publishing for a good part of the 20th century.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Bavarian BonBon Bags

Kirstein cough drops originated in Nuremberg, Germany in 1899 when pharmacist Dr. Carl Soldan combined eucalyptus and menthol to create a soothing lozenge for sore throats. Malted sugar cough drops were added to the company product line in 1932 and are still being produced today from the original recipe of boiling the malt sugar over an open fire and breaking them into chunks. Soldan's cough drops have been enjoyed by many generations and long considered to be a Bavarian treat, however I would argue that their glassine bags are the sweetest treat. These examples have no date, but could be as old as the 1930s when anthropomorphic advertising characters were routinely popularized for marketing purposes. Early in the 1930s, the Soldan company began printing their paper bags in their own print shop which was considered as an innovative move at that time. I presume they also had a small in-house art department of accomplished illustrators and lettering artists as well. Each of these glassine bags are currently available from this Viennese dealerBelow is an undated advertising postcard for Kirstein's cough drops from Vintage Postcards.

Below are two metal signs introduced in 1955. These Bavarian malt sugar characters are taking to the hills to promote the Kirstein cough drop family enterprise. The images were designed by Margit Sidonie-Doppler (born Kovaks), a student of Austrian-born designer, Joseph Binder. Via Genuin.

And here are two more BonBon bags from another Viennese sweet treat manufacturer also available here.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Biggest Catch of Fish Lettering

Although several nice versions of this Prichard & Knoll trade card with novelty fish lettering were produced in the later 19th century, you might say they are now endangered. These two came from the same dealer and recently sold at auction for handsome sums. They are equally nice, however the first card has much finer detail held in the rainbow trout artwork and fish lettering. It was printed by Stahl & Jaeger Artistic Lithographers in NYC. The second card has the name reversed and several alternate letters, along with some clever wave-like handlettered text with flourishes below the fish which add to its appeal. They each have an eel ampersand. 
     Directly below is another unrelated trade card from 1871 with similar novelty lettering of fish. This particular card from Fisher Ice Boxes and Refrigerators of Chicago, found here, is sporting an amphibious eel for the letter S. Although this Fisher card is nowhere near as elaborate as the two above, the artist did provide some level of detail to the three-colored fish. I guess the imaginative art of fish lettering requires a fine line and some reel angling, just like fishing.

The art of fish lettering actually goes back much further than I had ever imagined. To track its amphibious influences required some further fishing of my own. Much to my surprise, I discovered this decorated initial S from a 7th or 8th century manuscript. The scribe likely had fun creating this with the aid of a compass. 
     For a completely different take, there is this contemporary Golden Fish alphabet created with goldfish tails by Lauren Nash

Dutch designer Monique Goossens uses actual fish called "sprats" to create her amphibious alphabet. And a bolder version you might want to wrap in newspaper from Handmade Font. Refrigerate after serving.


Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Greatest Cake on Earth

This edible oversized cake is nearly too sweet for words. It is a remarkable replica of one of the 20th century's greatest Russian children's books, Tsirk (Circus) written by Samuil Marshak and illustrated by Vladimir Lebedev. It is also the culinary creation of Eleanor Ionis of Ella's Cakes. In the publishing world, this book facsimile might be considered an infringement of intellectual property, but in this instance, she has artistic license to thrill. No detail was overlooked, including the headbands and page leaves. And just as every book has a story, this "greatest cake on earth" is no exception. 
     To honor the publication of a long-awaited book catalog and exhibition of early 20th century Soviet children's books, this magnificent cake was recently presented to book collector and author of the catalog, Pamela K. Harer by her husband, family and friends. Long an avid collector and scholar of early 19th and 20th century children's books, Pamela Harer has spent years researching and assembling this prized collection of Soviet children's literature, and beginning this week, her curated collection will be on display until October 24, 2014 at the Allen Library, University of Washington, Special Collections in Seattle. Both her collection and breadth of knowledge about these spectacular books are an achievement few others have gained, making it a highly recommended visit. Earlier this week I had a brief opportunity to see the exhibition, and I promise to report on it in much greater detail in coming weeks.

Like any great book, this one was devoured from beginning to end and will not be on display at the library. A 1928 edition of Tsirk (Circus) will do nicely in it's place however.

The poster for Harer's exhibition "From the Lowly Lubok to Soviet Realism" also features Lebedev's cover illustration. Below is a photo of Pamela Harer staring in stunned surprise at the presentation of her wondrous cake.