Beautiful industrial and architectural letterheads from a bygone era

Bibliodyssey has curated a beautiful collection of letterheads from 19th century and early 20th century architectural and industrial firms, doing a lot of cleanup and posting the hi-rez images to Flickr. The originals are from Columbia University's Biggert Collection.

The images in this post all come from Columbia University's very large assortment of commercial stationery (featuring architectural illustrations): the Biggert Collection.

The vast majority of the images below have been cropped, cleaned and variously doctored for display purposes, with an intent towards highlighting the range of letterform/font and design layouts. The underlying documents are invoices (most), letters, postcards, shipping records and related business and advertising letterhead ephemera from the mid-1800s to the 1930s.

Architectural Stationery Vignettes (via Kottke)


    1. The text “TERMS CASH” looks like a precursor to Helvetica especially in the C, if not the R.

  1. Bibliodyssey is great for this kind of thing.  Previously Peakay posted a big trove of title blocks from maps.  They are unaccountably elaborate, laboriously made and beautifully designed. 

  2. In those earlier days, intricately made logos were made in an effort to imply both fine artistry and a sense of being an everlasting institution. They were appealing to a culture prepared to buy something and keep it for as long as possible. Having a somewhat baroque logo conveyed a sense that their products may outlast their owners.

    Nowadays, you just see some stylized company name on the letterhead. There’s no human element in their logos. No sense of pride or of striving to be an institution within their field. Instead, it clearly reveals the company owner’s purpose: to make as much money as possible as quickly as possible, quality and service be damned. After all, if their shoddy junk falls apart, you’ll just throw it away and buy another. Why bother trying to make a superior product, these days? Why bother using a logo that might suggest superiority?

    1. Good points.  Here’s an interesting neatorama story on the evolution of tech companies’ logos.  I sort of want to find out why Nokia’s had a salmon head poking through it.

    2. Why bother wearing an onion, on your belt?

      It’s not that people don’t try as hard, it’s that there’s so much oil and electricity, our work is just not worth as much.

      It’s okay, we’ll run out of oil.

    3. That’s all very romantic and all that but it really doesn’t jibe with the actual history of logos and graphic design. Logos and corporate design in the 20th century, up until perhaps the early 1980s, is actually a fascinating history and what modernist designers were doing — essentially cleaning the clutter of the Victorian era — made for some beautiful, well-crafted design.

  3. I bet that building still exists at N9th and Driggs in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  I’ll have to go check next time I’m in the neighborhood.

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