Dead Heads and Letter Heads

You’ve heard of Dead Heads (followers of the Grateful Dead), well now there are Letter Heads (grateful followers of letterhead designs). I don’t think there are as many of the latter as there are of the former, but I heard a rumor that Jerry Garcia might have collected letterheads (but then again, it is just a rumor).

Jeff Roth, a man of extensive pop culture knowledge and researcher par excellence, loaned me a collection of letterheads from the 1940s. Individually, they have certain graphic charm, but in a critical mass (only a few are displayed here), they speak to the typographic style and graphic history of their times.

As a typographic and design road map, I’d follow these letterheads anywhere.

(Nightly Heller: Yesterday’s announcement that Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is offended by the 2012 London Olympics logo. Maybe it is good after all.)

17 thoughts on “Dead Heads and Letter Heads

  1. Pingback: Letterheady | David Airey, graphic designer

  2. Mindy

    Very inspirational! After reading all of your comments, it began to make me wonder if companies did their own letterhead that wasn’t very creative just because they have winword software to do it themselves? Most people try to do it usually because it’s free and quick. I don’t know what it’s like back then (I’m almost 30) but maybe it was different back then because the companies did not have special tools to do it and asked graphic design companies for help on letterheads?

  3. Anne Leigh

     This does not surprise me. Jeff, the dapper dresser of another era (who today was wearing a particularly wonderful vested outfit in violets and browns that could have suited a worker from Noble and Noble Publishers), is always there to bring us down from our twitterific world and remind us how beautiful was the past.

  4. RWordplay

    Lovely. We’ve lost something important if not critical in our corporations’ desire to express a certain professional calm and anonymity. Odd to think corporations increasing want to limit one’s experience of their brand. Of course, fewer and fewer have something to be genuinely proud of producing. One can still fine this kind of invention in synthetic brands and, of course, graphic novels.

  5. jason bush

    the lesson learned here for me is the timelessness of compositional fundamentals.
    Today we have headers on websites. In those days all opportunities for brand recognition and communications were seized with vigor. Puttin on their top hat to make a lasting impression.

  6. Trevor

    These are brilliant. I am so impressed at how many of them integrate images into the letterhead. As mentioned before, it probably took more time and money to have someone illustrate but I really think some of these tell the company’s story better than if they’d just slapped a logo on the top of the page.

  7. John Judy

    These papers are entertaining in a way that most letterheads do not even attempt today. Perhaps there are so many other ways to communicate (email, blogs, etc), perhaps these took more time and money then many companies are willing to spend today. Either way, they seem to cry out “look at what we’ve forgotten”.

  8. Carol VanderKloot

    Just adore this. I have loads of 1940s stationery w/my grandmother’s initials on them as I share the same ones. 
    Wish someone would also do one w/matchbooks.
    Wait, let’s all run out + do it. Who’s with me now?

  9. Spencer M

    Steven, thanks for sharing those. That is quite a collection. I love when clients have pieces like these from when their business was first established. I always try to integrate an element or two from the original designer into their current materials.

  10. mike steele

    What an awesome collection! I’ve always considered letterhead an underutilized, graphic opportunity. These samples show no fear of expression, unlike the restrained, simplistic and boring samples of today. Thanks so much for sharing!

  11. john lauer

    Really interesting and fun for me, i love the artifacts! I guess everyone just considers it “hokey” nowadays, but so many businesses had “taglines” and they included them in their letterheads. Not saying it was better that way, but there is a certain “warmth” to the tag. THank You once again!