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Lasts and patterns

Lord and taylor shoe sale card 1914

Shelf Appeal doesn’t contain a lot of American graphics and design. It’s a world of nice things I know very little about. And because I don’t know the material, researching becomes so much harder to kickstart. I have no sense of this person did this so that person might have done the other. But some few bits and pieces – usually related to American department store history –  have snuck on to the shelf.

This beautifully preserved fold out advertisement for a men’s shoe sale at Lord & Taylor has had me on a chase across the big old internet. As Lord & Taylor told me they knew nothing about any archive of theirs.

I thought this card was from the 1910’s. The layout, text and typography said it was so. Even if the illustration was rather more modern looking. Clicking about I came across the work of the American illustrator Coles Phillips, known for his use of ‘negative space’, which made me think. That chair our chap is sat on is very nearly a use of negative space, most unusual and distinctive. Phillips designed some beautiful magazines covers but I found nothing to connect him to Lord & Taylor. Yet chances are he might still have designed this; those department stores were no slouches when it came to using the commercial artists of the moment.

I did manage to date this to 1914 from a newspaper advert in the New York Tribune of that year, though. Which made me happy. All hail the Google search.

Whoever drew it – it is a cracker. The young man is owning his shoes, bowler and everything in between. And the way the slight sway of his walking stick echoes the curve of the chair. Joy.

Clackity clack

Gunnar Lundh photograph of two girls on sledges,1944

You wouldn’t have to click far through Shelf Appeal to spot the toys. Toys r us. The arrival of a new book (an equal favorite thing) about toys is as good as it gets. A smile for Swedish Wooden Toys, then.

The last toy book of substance to arrive on the shelf was the catalogue for the MoMA exhibition Century of the Child in 2012. Swedish Wooden Toys has a much tighter remit, yet its smaller geographical ground is approached in more interesting ways. Chapters on retailers and toys in Swedish photographs look especially tasty. That last because I have followed the Flickr group Playthings of the Past for a long time.

The Swedish wooden toys themselves are stunners, photogenic and completely moreish. I have a Brio toy I love longtime, a wooden stacking toy chef whose character is delivered through simple and beautiful design. And there are many more examples of that sort of winning toy formula in this thick juicy tome, most beautifully photographed.

The image of the two girls above, also in the book, is a beaut. From a photographer I have come across before – Gunnar Lundh. Look at those mini sledges for the toy rabbits. Just look.

Photography allowed

Mickey mouse puppet in Brighton Toy and Model Museum

I like a museum stuffed to the gunnels. Independent museums are often displayed that way. None of your curated cases with 3 things placed just so.

The Brighton Toy and Model Museum is tucked directly underneath the train station in a small claustrophobic space that is, indeed, packed to the gunnels. No visible space left. Meccano boxes double-stacked, Steiff animals sat on one another’s laps, Pelham puppets vying for stage space. And even more display cases snuck in tightly underneath these, leaving hardly room for labels.

When I visited the museum there where a lot of men looking at trains. And there were a lot of model trains in the small space to look at. Some of them needed 10p before they would do anything. Alongside, underneath and probably behind the trains, lots of toy cars were piled into cases. And closing the space down even more, model airplanes flew low overhead.

I like other toys; toys with faces and toys that are small versions of bigger things. I like taking photographs of them. It keeps me quiet for hours. So I was in my element with all the dolls, puppets and lead toys. Some were fallen, some dusty, all rather melancholic, faded – like the museum itself.

But me, I like a crowded messy display case, musty if at all possible. I like the challenge of pulling out a detail to make a photograph. I have got pretty darn good at getting the glass out of the picture, as it were. And letting the surreal visual of a thing I have noticed come through.

Small ones

Red Riding Hood stamps, 1960 by Hans Michel and Günther Kieser

It has been stamp week here at Shelf Appeal.

I’ve been ogling the suggestive stamps that have been released to celebrate Tom of Finland’s work. I can’t help wondering if they are stick-on or lickable stamps. And I can’t help feeling we have somewhat lame stamp alternatives in Britain. Most of the time.

And then these super lovely little Red Riding Hood numbers appeared, a present from Present and Correct.

The Red Riding Hoods were part of a series of stamps based upon tales by the Brothers Grimm and were designed in 1960 by Hans Michel and Günther Kieser. Those two were cranking out stamp designs for the German Federal Post Office for years, as well as posters and what not for others. All in a very pleasing graphic style.

I had a thing for stamps as a child. My Galt Toy Post Office was laid out for business in my bedroom. And those free charity Christmas stamps that were posted through the door occasioned a little too much excitement.

Since then the stamps that most made me happy were the Michael Peters and Partners Ltd 1990 Smile series and Johnson Banks’ interactive set of vegetables and stickers. I have a set of both, unused and unstuck. Small, splendid little graphic wonders.

Lastly, whilst I may be in danger of protesting too much, obviously all this does not a stamp collector make me. Obviously.

Rosie’s walk

Fox by Pat Hutchins from Rosie's Walk book

Books from one’s childhood are incredibly evocative. At least they are for me. My mother was a primary school teacher, so we had books. We went to the library. Words and pictures, words and pictures.

I have maybe one or two books saved from being small. But some I have bought back again. As I was small in the late 1960s a lot of the books were published then. But some crept in from before, reprinted. Orlando’s Evening Out of 1941 was one. Oh that gorgeous ginger cat. And then there was Tintin mania, that which I have written about elsewhere.

Rosie’s Walk by Pat Hutchins was one of my childhood favourites. Beautiful ink illustrations of scenery and a fox and a hen called Rosie, all drawn slightly scandi in style. A lusciously tasteful sage colour palette. Not much text. It was her first book and although I haven’t read them, she wrote and illustrated many more books. Hutchins had a Yorkshire childhood – during which she was ‘encouraged by an elderly couple who would give her a chocolate bar for each picture she drew’ – then travelled via Leeds College of Art to Bodley Head publishers in 1968.

In the late 1960s and 1970s the children’s arm of Bodley Head were on a roll. Children’s editor Judy Taylor was responsible for printing up my childhood. From Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are to the ever-hopeful fox out to catch Rosie. It may be a case of rose-coloured glasses here, I give you that, but these still look like corking children’s books.

The original Rosie’s Walk book has been squashed (and cropped) down into a Mini Treasures book. And odd things have been done to some of the typography. It’s a nice trick for finding new audiences. But it’s not the treasure that the original book was, with its unadulterated paperback cover, generous size and super clean layout. Letting the illustrations shine out over everything.

NB He didn’t catch Rosie, of course he didn’t.

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