Vintage Military Design: “United States Service Symbols”


Front cover of “United States Service Symbols” (1942)

I’m a big fan of little esoteric books. I’ve grabbed them up since starting to roam through resale shops and used bookstores in Jr. High School. They could often be had for a song, and it wasn’t until the 1980s that these cultural oddities began to command a higher price.

I’ll be doing a future post that collects a variety of these titles together, but for now I’m presenting the vintage military design of “United States Service Symbols” by Cleveland H. Smith and Gertrude R. Taylor from 1942 (published by Eagle Books and distributed by Duell, Sloan and Pearce, Inc. NYC). Sold as a handbook for wartime citizens, this colorful 5 1/2″X 8″ 117-page edition describes and illustrates the insignias and graphics used by the various divisions of the armed forces.

The polychromatic wraparound cover printed on cardboard won’t tolerate being ignored. It’s difficult to refuse how it beckons you to open it up and browse through the graphic visuals. The illustrations are simple, even clinical, but charming nonetheless with fun little silhouetted symbols of the various departments. The typography on the cover makes me chuckle. Again, a clinical approach with all sorts of awkward touches, but they’re human touches, and actually add a hands-on warmth, as far as I’m concerned …

The chapter on “Squadron Insignias” is especially tasty. You’ll see examples of popular cartoon characters like Felix The Cat, George McManus’ “Jiggs,” and Walt Disney Studios’ “Pluto.” Later in 1942 Disney would dive in with both feet and contribute multiple examples of character-driven symbols. Walton Rawls’ “Disney Dons Dogtags” (Abbeville Publishing Group, 1992) does a fabulous job of telling the story of Disney’s involvement in designing scads of logos used by the WWII armed forces. Soon, additional popular characters like Bugs Bunny and Alley Oop would join in the effort.




Wraparound cover.


Front end papers.



Not my favorite depiction of “Old Glory” …




(Click here for an in depth profile on the designer of the CD logo.)


The book's closing endpapers. . .

The book’s closing endpapers. . .


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