Archived posts: Ephemera

Olivetti – Beyond form and function


We nipped over to the ICA at the end of last week to catch their exhibition, Olivetti – Beyond Form and Function, showcasing the spatial and graphic design of typewriter manufacturer Olivetti during the post-war era.




The show featured a mix of advertising posters, magazine adverts, and ephemera from Olivetti, courtesy of the Associazione Archivio Storico Olivetti. Many were designed by Giovanni Pintori, who worked in-house with Olivetti for over 30 years, eventually becoming the company’s Art Director.

It was interesting to see how photographs of the typewriters were kept quite small, if shown at all, letting simple abstracted graphics to do most of the work instead.


(You might recognise the image above from some adverts for The Guardian by Weiden + Kennedy back in 2007. This post from Simon I’Anson about the similarity between those ads sent us off to this fantastic Flickr album of graphic design work done for Olivetti.)

The show also featured some actual typewriters, including the beautiful lightweight and portable Lettera 22. We have one in the studio, and love it:



Here’s what the text from that looks like once it’s typed out:


We were wondering who designed letters themselves. Courier, the standard typewriter typeface, wasn’t designed until 1955, and the Lettera 22 dates from 1949. We’re guessing that quite a few similar typefaces were around at the time – but were wondering where the first one came from (do get in touch if you know). As you can see from the sample above, the characters are monospaced, so they each take up the same amount of space, allowing the creation of tabular information to be done really simply. (Read more about typewriter typefaces over on this Typographica page.)

The first commercially successful typewriter was the Sholes and Glidden Type-Writer, also known as the Remington No.1, which went on sale in 1874. It introduced the first QWERTY keyboard, which lingers on today, despite attempts to update it.

However the Remington was slightly limited because you couldn’t see what you were typing while you typed, and it only had uppercase letters.


Even on the lowercase and uppercase typewriters, some characters were still absent. If you look at the keyboard on our Lettera 22 above, you’ll see there’s no numeral 1, no exclamation mark, a dollar symbol but no cent symbol, and no maths symbols (addition, multiplication, division, equals).

Using a typewriter necessitated some clever tricks – here are just a few:


The dumb quotes we mention there are a massive bugbear of ours. They still linger on modern computer keyboards, when they were only created as a space saving device on typewriters. They should have disappeared years ago. (Read more about that on this old post about dumb quotes.)

If you’re looking for more Olivetti Lettera goodness, check out this Flickr album from Ed Cornish,  showcasing the machine’s instruction manual.


Lovely stuff.

British Hardware Federation


We stumbled across this little paper bag the other day, and crikey it’s peculiar.

It features branding for the British Hardware Federation, the national trade association for independent hardware and DIY retailers in the UK. We’re not quite sure when this particular bag dates from, but we’d guess it’s the early 1970s. (We’ve been in touch with the BHF to ask them if they know anything about the branding, but they’ve not got back to us with any answers yet.)

So that symbol. That’s the male gender symbol right?*

So, hum, was the British Hardware Federation really suggesting, as James Brown would have it, that DIY is a ‘man’s man’s man’s world’? Because that seems kinda outrageous, even in the 70s.


The symbol itself, the circle with an arrow pointing outwards at an angle, and its equivalent female symbol, the circle with a cross below it, have an interesting history.

Their use as markers of gender dates back to the work of Swedish Botanist Carl Linnaeus, in his dissertation Plantae Hybridae (1751), where he used them for male and female parents of hybrid plants.

But Linnaeus didn’t invent the symbols, he just appropriated them from the scientific study of alchemy, where the male symbol was originally used to refer to the metal iron, and the female symbol to the metal copper. In fact he’d previously used them as such in his 1735 piece, System Naturae.

The symbols’ use in alchemy derived from a shorthand for the names of the planets, each of which was associated with a metal. Iron (a hard red metal used to make weapons) was associated with Mars (big red planet, god of war); and copper (a soft metal that turns green) was associated with Venus (goddess of love). Read all about that over on this Today I Found Out article.

Which is all well and good, but doesn’t perhaps explain why the male gender symbol was used to brand a DIY trade body. It’s possible it was something to do with iron, but it feels like most people would have connected the symbol with maleness way before they thought about a hard red metal.

Of course, there’s a much more contemporary instance of the symbol being used as a key part of a much larger brand identity…


Volvo refer to their mark as ‘the iron mark’, so they’re definitely anchoring (sorry) the symbol with that meaning. As opposed to subtly suggesting that cars are just for men.

*If anyone knows any more about the British Hardware Federation identity, get in touch. It’s always possible that the symbol refers to something very DIY specific. We’d love to know.

Wynkyn de Worde Society


Founded in 1957, the Wynkyn de Worde Society is ‘dedicated to excellence in all forms of printing’. It’s a rather fantastic society which gets together regularly to eat, drink, talk about design and printing, and drink some more. The membership is made up of talented and frankly fascinating folk from right across the graphic arts spectrum – printers, graphic designers, calligraphers, publishers, typographers – all sorts. Each year they ask a different member to be their Honorary Designer, and this year they asked Alistair, creative director of We Made This, to take on that role.

The society holds a series of wonderful lunchtime and evening events across the year, and one of the Honorary Designer’s jobs is to create the booking forms for those events. Alistair designed each leaflet to respond to the theme of the respective event. We thought we’d share a few of them here.

In March, Daniel Mason gave a wonderful talk about recreating the packaging for Joy Division’s albums. Having found a copy of the original image used to create the Unknown Pleasures cover art, Alistair created a Factory-style booking form. This was printed onto Colorplan Pristine White. Alistair also created a memento for the event.





In July, the Society held its annual Members’ Garden Party. For this Alistair created a botanic pattern based on a Gunnera leaf.




The leaflet was printed onto Colorplan Pistachio with a leaf-like embossed texture.



In September, Professor Lawrence Zeegen gave a fascinating talk about the history of Ladybird Books. For that Alistair created a leaflet that matched the exact size of the Ladybird books, and reworked type from one of the original books to create a text page inside it.





Later this month, Nick Newman will be giving a talk about The Wipers Times, the newspaper written, printed and published by British soldiers in the trenches in the First World War. Alistair carefully replicated the typographic style of the newspaper for the booking leaflet, and reworked some text from the newspaper too, making it specific to the event. (He’s also worked with Matt Mackenzie at Paekakariki Press to recreate a letterpress printed edition of the newspaper – we’ll tell you all about that next month.) The leaflet was printed onto Colorplan Stone.





And finally, for the Christmas party, which is held at the Garrick Club, Alistair created a leaflet that looked like an old theatre playbill, playing with some of the lyrics from the ‘Deck the Halls’ Christmas carol.




If that’s whetted your appetite, take a look at the Wynkyn de Worde Members’ Handbook too.

The Cinema Museum

cinema museum

There’s something incredibly special about the experience of going to the cinema. That initial moment of walking in from a hectic high street to a quiet, dim auditorium. Sinking down into the comfy embrace of your seat. The gentle and excited buzz of chatter through the adverts and trailers. The sharp focus that being in a darkened room in front of a huge screen provides. That magic moment you sometimes get when the screen widens before the main film. The expectant hush of a crowd as the first titles begin to roll. The collective and audible expression of shared emotion during the film – gasps, laughs, screams, whimpers, sobs and occasionally even applause. Basking in the afterglow as the credits drift up to the heavens at the end of the film.

Nowadays of course, cinema, as a way of spending your precious leisure time, competes against myriad other forms of screened entertainment: TV. Netflix. YouTube. DVDs. The vast depths of the internet.

But back in the 1940s, cinema was the main form of public entertainment. No TV. No Internet. In 1946 alone, in the UK, cinema audiences hit 1.64 billion (that’s 1,640 million). That’s a vast number of people going to the pictures. Since then there has been a massive decline, principally because of television; and by 1984 audiences had dropped off a cliff, to 54 million (though since then they’ve been gradually climbing, back towards 200 million).

A huge number of cinemas closed over the second half of the twentieth century. And that rich social, architectural and cultural history could all too easily have been lost with their closures. Fortunately, a few people had the foresight to save as much as they could, preserving that history for us.

And one of the very finest collections can be found at the fantastic Cinema Museum, in an old Victorian workhouse where Charlie Chaplin spent time as a child, tucked away in a corner of south London.

cinema museum exterior

cinema museum sign

The museum’s unique collection has been put together by Ronald Grant and Martin Humphries, and is the result of a life long passion for cinema. Starting as an assistant projectionist with Aberdeen Picture Palaces, Grant went on to work at the BFI, and the Brixton Ritzy, not far from the museum’s current home. He and Humphries established the museum in 1986, and it moved from place to place until they settled at The Master’s House in Kennington in 1998. It is maintained there thanks to Grant and Humphries, and a small and dedicated force of volunteers.

We went along to the museum earlier this week to have a rummage around, and to take a few photographs.

The museum is a glorious mix. You step through the front doors into a hallway stuffed to the rafters with an incredible collection of projectors and beautiful typographic cinema signs.

projector lens

standing sign

stalls sign

seating indicator

the majestic

prices of admission

cinema house sign

odeon saftey first

seating board

ABC manager

pathe news

secret of blood island

mrs wiggs of the cabbage patch

Odeon Car Park sign

balcony full sign

high fidelity

They also have other bits of cinematic ephemera: uniforms, equipment, playbills, newspapers, magazines…


cinema newspaper

Castle Bolton

pathescope box

projector lenses

35mm projector sign

On the ground floor there’s a small screening room with a stunning set of original cinema seats.

cinema seats

There’s also an extensive library and archive, with more than a million photographic images; film sheet music; books; magazines; catalogues and other ephemera. They also have more than 17 million feet of film.

filing room

filing boxes

filing drawer

cinemas room

From there, you make your way through the building, and upstairs, past a huge Granada cinema sign, to a truly magnificent main room.


granada sign

illuminated sign

cinema museum interior

It’s quite the most incredible place. It’s preserving a vital part of our cultural heritage, and doing so with warmth and love. As well as providing an archive, they are open for pre-booked visits, host a programme of events, work with educational institutions, make items available for loan to other institutions, and are available as a venue for hire.

We went along to a screening there a few weeks back, and the atmosphere was really wonderful. It is absolutely worth a visit.

The museum is set up as a registered charity, and remarkably receives no public funding, relying instead upon donations. And, worryingly, they have no guarantee that they’ll be able to stay in their building beyond next year. For such a wonderful institution to have such an uncertain future is nothing short of scandalous. And peculiarly, it feels like the UK film industry haven’t really realised what a precious treasure trove they have right on their doorstep.

We can only hope that this marvellous place is secured for generations to come.

If you’d like to help, pop along to their Support page, or get in touch directly.

Anthony Burrill + Harvey Lloyd


Well now, this is all kinds of lovely.

The good folks at Harvey Lloyd Screen Print in East Sussex have just sent us this promotional booklet, showcasing their services. Designed by Anthony Burrill (who has his own work printed by the team there), it’s an absolute cracker. 14 pages of stunning printing and design on a range of heavyweight substrates (greyboard, acrylic, die-cut 2000 micron Cairn Eco Kraft and more). It even smells fantastic – that stark industrial smell you only get from screenprinting.





They also sent us a couple of promotional flyers – one on a slab of 10mm birch faced plywood, the other on a slab of 10mm thick cork, each of them printed with two flouros and white and black to the front, black only to the reverse.



Fantastic stuff – it’s made us hungry to get busy with a squeegee again.

See more of their work over on Instagram.

Wellcome Photographic Exposure Calculator

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A couple of weekends ago we dropped in at the Bloomsbury Ephemera, Postcard and Book Fair, and picked up this wonderful little piece of print: The ‘Wellcome’ Photographic Exposure Calculator – Handbook and Diary 1939.






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It’s a wallet sized handbook packed full of information for photographers. It’s divided into three sections – up front there’s a section on developing and printing your photographs (using Wellcome’s branded chemicals of course) – this is followed by a notebook and diary section, and then there’s a final section which details the specifics of getting the right exposure using the exposure calculator inside the back cover.

It’s quite a treasure-trove.

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general trade mark


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There’s a great bit advising budding photographers on how to sell their prints:

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selling photographs


There’s also a page detailing the full kit needed for a photographic tour:

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things you may need


The notebook section is just delicious, printed on a now-yellowed glassine-style paper:

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No of negative

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Just lovely stuff.

The diary section of course has added poignancy given that 1939 was the year that war broke out in Europe.

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The inside back cover features the exposure calculator (as well as a great promotional tag for Tabloid / Rytol developer tablets, glued around a printed ribbon). The preceding pages of light tables are perforated so that you can tear them off at the end of each month – keeping the most up-to-date information easily to hand. Brilliant.

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exposure calculator



Driving: The Department of Transport Manual

Is it safe?

We found a copy of an old HMSO book lying around over the weekend, and thought we’d share some of the brilliant images from its pages.

The book was first published in 1969 by the Department of Transport and the Central Office of Information. Our copy is the third edition, from 1979, and the tenth impression, from 1987.

There’s more than a hint of Scarfolk in the photography and captions:

Heading for trouble


Red car

Red car 2

The illustrations are wonderful too:



Feet per second

Dead Ground


The back of the book advertises some films on road safety – we’d love to see DRIVE CAREFULLY DARLING.

Unknown Pleasures and CP 1919


Last night print guru Daniel Mason gave a brilliant talk at the Wynkyn de Worde Society about his work researching, developing and manufacturing facsimile record sleeves for Joy Division, including their album Unknown Pleasures. We’re working as the honorary designers for the society this year, and created the piece above as a memento of the talk.

Unknown Pleasures was Joy Division’s debut album, and featured Peter Saville’s fantastic and iconic sleeve design:


Famously, the illustration used on the cover came from The Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Astronomy, and represents successive pulses from CP1919, the first ever discovered pulsar. More recently, Jen Christiansen, art director of information graphics at Scientific American, did a bit of detective work, and found out that the image was originally created by Harold Craft for his PhD thesis.

We wanted to make a piece for Daniel’s talk that referenced the source material, reuniting the graphic with its caption, so we did a bit of digging around and found a copy of the Encyclopaedia for sale on AbeBooks. A few days later we had the book open on page 111, and there was the original image:


We scanned the page, vectorised the image, and reset the type from the caption (using Elsner+Flake’s Modern Extended) so that we could create a foiling die.

We worked with Benwells and Mason to create the finished piece, which uses a holographic foil on Colorplan Ebony Black, all set at the same size as the original. The holographic foil picks up the light brilliantly against the black:


Find out more about the Wynkyn de Worde Society here.

Potter prints

Yesterday, at one of the Clerkenwell Design Week events, we bumped into the very lovely Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima, who worked on the graphic design for all eight of the Harry Potter films. Collectively known as Minalima, they’ve recently launched The Printorium, an online market place for a series of lovely fine art prints based on their work for the films.

The prints come in two formats – limited editions of 1,000, embossed and signature stamped; and limited editions of 250, hand signed, which have additional hand-worked details like gold foiling. Where possible, they’re delivered by owl.

It’s really great to see this stuff living on after the movies, and heck, they’d make the most amazing gifts for Potterheads (we had to look that up).

The print below features some ads from from The Daily Prophet, the wizarding newspaper in the films.

Miraphora and Eduardo also have a selection of self-initiated prints available on the site, which are equally lovely.

There’ll be an exhibition of their work at The Conningsby Gallery in London from 17 to 28 June.


London Transport Museum Acton Depot

We made our way over to London Transport Museum’s Acton Depot yesterday – it’s where they house the majority of the collection that’s not on show at the museum itself. As part of the tube’s 150th anniversary they’re having a series of events there, and this weekend was their Open Weekend.

The depot houses a selection of retired tube trains, buses, trams, trolleybuses; and a densely packed mezzanine full of an incredible selection of old signs.

It’s an amazing treasure trove.

And there’s a host of other wonders too. Back on the ground floor there’s a cabinet of woodblock letters, featuring various versions of the Johnston typeface designed  in 1917 by calligrapher Edward Johnston (who actually lived not so far away from Acton, in Chiswick). This was the typeface used throughout the London Underground, and still in use today (in the slightly modified form of New Johnston).

There are some bits of metal type lying around too:

There’s also a model of Strand Station, a now defunct station which you can occasionally take tours around.

There are also examples of the logo designed for the Victoria Line:

and some lovely old ticket machines:

How binary are those? Put your money in, get a ticket. Or don’t put any money in, push a button, and get an Authority to Travel. Brilliant.

Fantastic stuff.

If you missed it this weekend, they’re having a series of guided tours throughout the year.

If you’d like to find out more about the London Underground’s design history, then you should really get yourself a copy of Mark Ovenden’s truly marvellous book London Underground By Design.