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Design trolley dash

Arabia ceramic factory in Helsinki

A lot of the things on these shelves are of Finnish origin. So a long weekend in Helsinki was always a pleasing idea. Rolling around in their design heritage was the plan.

Iittala, Arabia, Fiskars, Marimekko and the rest. I live with bits and pieces of this Finnish stuff every day. And me, I always want to see where they made it. After that I want to see where they sell it. And if there is a museum where they exhibit it, even better. London has several Finnish design shops so I’m quite spoilt. But nothing on the scale of Helsinki. The iittala covered whole walls there. There was a Marimekko department store (or what felt like one) and even the hotel had stacks of Kaj Franck pottery in the breakfast room and iittala glasses in the bathrooms. Almost design obscene it was.

And whilst Helsinki effortlessly embraces their lovely design heritage, the seeing of it was something we should have made more of an effort to plan. Pre-booking of factory tours was compulsory and odd opening times were ubiquitous. We missed the summer opening times bonanza and became the tourists that just missed it.

The city itself was hard to love in some ways – not my taste in architecture, all that grand stuff. Not built on a pedestrian scale. And built a little bit, it seemed to me, with it’s back to the lovely surrounding waters.

But it was no hardship at all to tram it to, and worship at the gates of, the Arabia factory. All my Franck pottery came from there. And to squeak in delight at the pots on show in the delightfully dusty Arabia Museum that we had to ourselves. Is there anything more lovely than a factory building? One that is still in use?

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.



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