The 21st Century Object Poster

In 1906, the Priester Match Company held an open contest for the design of a poster. Art Nouveau was in full flower, so surely the judges expected to receive decadent renderings of languid smokers, things perhaps in the style of Toulouse-Lautrec or Alphonse Mucha. What none of them expected was a shockingly bold drawing of two matchsticks, almost antagonistically free of nuance: this winning entry, by a twenty-three year old designer named Lucian Bernhard, would come to be recognized as the world’s first Sachplakat, or “object poster.” It was arguably one of the most important design artifacts of the twentieth century, and came to define an entire approach to design that lives on in everything from corporate logos to desktop icons.

104 years later, Austrian designer Albert Exergian has explored this ever-modern idea in the creation of a marvelous set of posters offering witty reductions of television shows. Some of them have Bernhard’s brash disregard for subtlety (Twin Peaks is a pair of mountains), most are considerably more sophisticated and wry (I hadn’t considered how essential the red and blue stripes are when representing a Ziploc bag: see Weeds, above.) Each matches the cleverness of the show it portrays: Exergian’s X-Files is a not merely an X, but the secret signal masking-taped to Special Agent Mulder’s window. Is it possible not to love an interpretation of Charlie’s Angels that features not the girls, not the guns, but the speaker on Bosley’s desk? Is there any better symbol for MacGyver than a bent paperclip? Some of my favorites are above, but the entire collection is worth a look: if nothing else, you’ll be delighted by Exergian’s interpretations of Boston Legal, Miami Vice and Lost. —JH

Voting Irregularities Already!

The donkey is universally recognized as the symbol of Democratic Party of the United States. Except inside voting booths in New York State, where affiliation with the Democratic party is marked by a five-pointed star. Midwestern voters indicate the Democratic ticket with a rooster, except in Missouri, where the symbol has traditionally been the Statue of Liberty — coincidentally also the symbol of the Libertarian party, which appealed to use the symbol when they joined the ballot in 1976. They’ve settled for using the Liberty Bell instead, though some Missouri Libertarians also use the symbol of the mule. Not the Democratic mule, mind you, the Missouri mule. The mule is the state animal of Missouri.

Those who suspect that Republican iconography will show the same mastery of political organization as the rest of that party are correct: Republican candidates are always signified by an elephant, except inside voting booths in Indiana, New York, and West Virginia, where an eagle is used instead. And in these states, as well as the 47 others, the eagle is also the national symbol of the United States itself.

The Chicago typefoundry of Barnhart Brothers & Spindler showed these “Election Typecuts” in their Catalog 25-A, published around 1930, and 78 years later I think my district is still using this same art. Cheerily Barnhart Brothers accompanied their samples with this legend:

When changes in the political situation — the birth of new parties, revision of election laws, or other causes call for new emblems or characters other than shown above, our facilities enable us to produce the material promptly at moderate cost.

I’m ready. You? —JH

Holiday Gifts for Typophiles

An office full of type designers is already a dangerous a breeding ground for the highly contagious chronic arrowmania, but H&FJ alumnus Kevin Dresser has taken things to the next level with the DresserJohnson Arrow Ring. A chic adaptation of one of the duo’s great icons (their logo for Brooklyn Bunny is one of my fondest memories of modern logodom) the Arrow Ring makes possible marvelous moments of unwitting self-annotation such as this. A great stocking-stuffer, available in sizes 2–13. —JH

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