Used as we are to graphic design histories featuring hero’s like Paul Rand, Wim Crouwel and that German named guy who is into self mutilation, we tempt to forget that there are also other histories possible. Critics originating in the field of visual culture studies have pointed this out frequently. Still they fail to construct an alternative. Which makes sense if deconstruction is your specialty.
An early example of an alternative history that I find interesting was written by designer and educator Tywman made in 1969. It is a history of the development of print production and ephemera. It shows for example the interdependence between technical developments and the development of new genre’s and audience’s.
What I find the most visually stimulating part of the book is the second half showing hundreds of pictures of ephemera. Here the most common and the most technically challenging pieces of printed matter are shown. It has sections dedicated to: Ceremony, Rural Life, Transport, Wars and Exhibitions.
Ceremonial imagery shows for example official invitations for balls, concerts, and coronations and funerals. Rural life specialises in public notices for example regarding criminals and poachers. Also announcements for sales, and fairs are included. Transport shows timetables, posters, tickets and instructions for airplanes, railway, trams cars and ferries. The War section shows propaganda, recruiting bills, and a large section of guides for visiting battle fields, death lists and second world war information leaflets. Finally Exhibitions shows examples of tickets, posters, booklets for art, country and international exhibitions.*
The variety of images is lust for the eye and it clearly shows how print (used to) accompany all activities in life. Sadly a book like this is missing for the Netherlands. It might be an interesting project though for the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam possibly collaborating with Special Collections at the Library of the University of Amsterdam (UVA).
A reprint of this book appeared in 1998. These copies go for hundreds of dollars. This is an utter waste since an original can be acquired secondhand for a fraction of this amount. I bought mine for 15 euro.
*The only thing Twyman regretted, as he told me, was that he did not include Isotype in the book. At the time he came in touch with Marie Neurath who was on the verge of retiring. He secured her Isotype archives that now rest at the University of Reading.