Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Appreciating history & art in a paper salesman’s catalogue June 18, 2014

Specimens, an incredible collection of fine papers and printing.

Specimens, an incredible  leather-bound collection of fine papers and printing.

I AM SETTLED ON THE SOFA, over-sized hardcover book weighing heavy upon my lap as I wade through the massive volume.

PRINT Magazine cover designed by Andrew Szoeke, printed silkscreen at Pied Piper Press, New York; caption and colophone designed by Ben Lane, printed letterpress at The Lane Press, Burlington, Vermont. Handmade natural wood veneer paper.

One of the pages in the Specimens Catalogue: PRINT Magazine cover designed by Andrew Szoeke, printed silkscreen at Pied Piper Press, New York; caption and colophon designed by Ben Lane, printed letterpress at The Lane Press, Burlington, Vermont. Handmade natural wood veneer paper.

Slowly I turn each page, studying the fonts, the colors, the graphics, the details that have me giddy as a kid flipping through the J.C. Penny or Sears Christmas catalogs.

Except I’m not wishing for something. I already have my gift, this 10 x 12-inch, one-inch thick book, this 1953 Stevens-Nelson Paper Corporation Specimens Catalogue found on the basement floor at an estate sale and immediately tucked into my arms and clamped against my chest.

The boldest print in the book, designed by Thomas Davenport; engravings by Knapp Engraving Company, Inc. and printed letterpress by Aldus Printers, Inc., New York City; handmade TSUYUKO paper.

The boldest print in the book, designed by Thomas Davenport; engravings by Knapp Engraving Company, Inc. and printed letterpress by Aldus Printers, Inc., New York City; handmade TSUYUKO paper. On the right you can see the ragged edges of some of the 100-plus paper specimens.

I’ve never seen anything like this collected sample of fine printing and handmade, or handmade with mould machines, art paper. Ragged-edged paper that is so fine and rich feeling that I can’t stop brushing my fingers across the surfaces.

An Exhibition

Designed by William Stobbs for an exhibition “showing the development of Sailing Ships from the Santa Maria to the Cutty Sark” at the Science Museum, South Kensingston. Printed letterpress in two colors by London School of Printing and Graphic Arts.

Letterpress and lithograph. Well-known designers and printers, American and foreign.

Ford Motor Company

Fiftieth anniversary booklet title page designed by L. J. Ansbacher.

In my hands, I am holding art and history.

Fernand Leger's art printed for the Container Corporation in 4-color Gravure by Draeger Freres, Paris, France.

Fernand Leger’s art printed for the Container Corporation in 4-color Gravure by Draeger Freres, Paris, France.

The program cover from Dwight Eisenhower’s installation as 13th President of Columbia University, printed on paper that can be cleaned with water or kerosene. A Picasso lithograph printed on handmade SHOGUN heavy weight paper suitable for letterpress and silkscreen. Colorful art by Fernand Leger created for the Container Corporation of America.

Designed and printed letterpress by Connecticut Printers, Incorporated, Hartford, Connecticut on handmade NATSUME 4002 paper.

Designed and printed letterpress by Connecticut Printers, Incorporated, Hartford, Connecticut on handmade NATSUME 4002 paper.

My favorite—a block print of trees celebrating Pine Acres Farm’s 30 years of tree farming in Hampton, Connecticut. James L. Goodwin, one of America’s first professional foresters, started the farm in 1913, eventually gifting the property to the State of Connecticut in 1964.

McCall

Designed by George Maas for McCall; screen process printing by Roycliff Associates, Inc, New York City; letterpress printing by Pandick Press, Inc., New York City. Printed on handmade NATSUME paper.

I rapid-clap my hands with untethered excitement.

I inhale the smells of time, wood and ink bound within the pages of this book once carted from place to place by a 1950s paper salesman from Minnesota.

Leonardo

Catalogue cover designed by Aldo Novarese, types by Alessandro Butti, of Societa Nebiolo Torino. Printed letterpress in Nebiolo’s “Augustea” by G. Canale & C., Tornino, Italy.

A Leonardo da Vinci catalog cover and the cover of the White Swan Hotel’s wine list. Neiman-Marcus fashion awards for 1949. An illustration of George Bernard Shaw. A die-stamped Christian Dior letterhead. And so much more. All here, in this catalogue.

Catalogue, ships

Designed by Walter Howe, with illustration by Joseph Low and printed letterpress at The Lakeside Press, R.R. Donnelly & Sons Company, Chicago, Illinois. Handmade HOSHO paper.

I wonder if I should be handling such finery, such opulence, with white gloves.

Signagture

A series of headings for the cover of SIGNATURE, A Quadrimestrial of Typography and Graphic Arts, edited by Oliver Simon. Designed and printed by letterpress at The Curwen Press, Plaistow, London, England.

This is my kind of book, one which combines my love of the printed word with the art of printing it. I care about paper and fonts and graphics. Clean lines and simplicity.

Art flows beneath my fingertips as I turn page after page, examining the specimens once showcased by a Minnesota paper salesman.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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12 Responses to “Appreciating history & art in a paper salesman’s catalogue”

  1. Dan Traun Says:

    Art comes in so many forms. Graphic design, much like photography, has changed dramatically over the years. So has the different mediums you can print on and printing methods themselves. What a cool book.

  2. Karen Says:

    Audrey, I feel like I’ve just viewed an entire episode of Antiques Roadshow. What a treasure, and how fortunate that this treasure now resides with one one who values it. Enjoy.

  3. Jackie Says:

    This is right up my son’s alley, He loved studying all these things at the College of Visual Arts. Like you Audrey his appreciation for fonts, textures and design are similar. He would LOVE this book…just like you!

  4. WOW Great Find – thanks so much for sharing this Beautiful Specimen of Art 🙂 Happy Hump Day!

    • I didn’t realize how great a find this was until I got home and really had time to sit down and look at each page of this book. When I initially picked up Specimens, my plan was to remove and frame some of the art. You can bet I’ve dropped that plan and intend to keep this collection intact.

    • Could you take a picture or even better scan some of the art to hang around the house. I think it is wise to keep the book intact too. I love flipping through old books – some have great illustrations. The book you found is a TREASURE!

  5. Norma Says:

    Absolutely fantastic find. I agree with Karen about the Antiques Roadshow comment.


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