This spring I spent a day with Paul Shaw sifting through the Strathmore Archives. We were looking for samples to include in the book that Mohawk was producing to accompany Paul's talk at the 2015 How Design Live conference.
We were focusing on work from the early days of design—specifically from Strathmore's founding in the 1890s through the 1930s. We were surrounded by work from design luminaries like Will Bradley, Lucien Bernhard, W.A. Dwiggins, T.M. Cleland, Walter Dorwin Teague and Oswald Cooper. As I marveled at the design, typography, colors and textures I felt a tickle at the edges of my memory.
Over lunch I confessed to Paul about the time, back in my college days, when I was sorely tempted to steal a book. Deep in the Carnegie Library on the campus of Syracuse University I had stumbled upon a beautifully designed, early 20th century book, full of trademark designs. Paul knew the book immediately—A Book of American Trade-Marks and Devices compiled by Joseph Sinel, published in 1924.
To an aspiring corporate designer the influence of Swiss design was very strong in the 80s. Refined minimalism, strict grids and sans serif fonts ruled the day. Great stuff that I will always love but this book showed me another vision—one full of rich illustrations and bold type. Not only that but the book opened my eyes to the rich history of logos in the U.S. and I immediately fell in love with it.
I have a vivid memory of crawling on my hands and knees to look under the copier that day for loose change so I could photocopy as many pages as possible—even though the copies failed to capture the quality of the paper, the colorful engraving and the rich, dense black ink.
I pulled out those photocopies last month. Encouraged by Paul's putting a name to the source. I began an online search. Surprisingly I found a copy that the Hastings' Public Library in Nebraska was selling through Amazon. And for under $35, volume 1540 of 2000, was on it's way to my office.
The illustrations may have been what grabbed me in the 80s but today it is also the typography. So much of it feels fresh and relevant 90+ years later.
Some of my favorites:
White Elephant — W.A. Dwiggins
Cammeyer — Gustav B. Jenson
Fawcett and Fawcett
Square D — B.D. Horton
Japan Paper — Thomas Nast Fairbanks and Jay Chambers
Ohio Steel — J.E. Galvin
I want to leave you with some of the author's thoughts about logo designs:
—Always it is the arrangement of form, the carefully conceived units of design that make the distinctive emblem or device
—Simplicity is the keynote of a good mark
—flexibility…is next in importance…in order that a mark may be executed in metals, fabrics, electric signs, transparencies and the like
—A device or emblem is generally more impressive and individual when its form is not controlled by the circle, square, diamond, triangle or other such usual shapes
This all sounds familiar, right?