The Daily Heller: The Confessions of an Irrepressible Collector

Posted inThe Daily Heller

Collecting graphic design has become a competitive sport—and a bloody one at that. With the incredible rise of social media platforms, not only is it simple to locate rare gems, but to buy them. This not only elevates the price of once-affordable artifacts, but it makes rarities into common commodities. Moreover, this easy accessibility has made the thrill of the kill, if you will, much less thrilling. I grant that it makes studying and developing design histories considerably more democratic—however, the satisfaction of being the one to locate a particular holy grail, as elitist as it may be, has increased scholarship at the expense of ownership.

I was always ecstatic when I found a rare piece of known and unknown history. It was a high. Now, perusing Instagram, the leading outlet for the collector’s catch, is a real downer. Having so much at everyone’s fingertips may increase awareness, but at what cost?

Matt Lamont is among a growing new breed of self-styled archivists who for the past 10 years has swooped up a huge amount of materials of various distinctions and pedigrees. And he loves showing his trophies to all. Judging by his Instagram following, people like being shown.

Lamont was born and raised in the Yorkshire city of Bradford, and resides there today. He’s worked for over a decade, embodying design practice, research and advocacy. He specializes in brand and design for print at his Out of Place Studio, founded in 2020 during the pandemic.

His personal archive exists in his studio at Assembly Bradford, a creative co-working space, and spans several bookcases and over 4,000 items. I am usually so competitive with other collectors that I tend to keep my distance, but in Lamont’s case I was curious to know whether his purpose and goal are the same as my own …

When did you start collecting graphic design artifacts? 
I’ve been collecting for over a decade, an addiction that started around 2011 during my graduation year. I spent countless hours in the library scanning books and magazines to make my own personal mini monographs, and had the desire to create my own library of resources. 

The collected became an obsession—sourcing out-of-print books, midcentury magazines and exhibition catalogues from around the world. It’s great to have a central place for all my finds that have been collected from sources around the world. 

Is the goal preservation, documentation, developing a history, and/or simply aesthetic pleasure?
Defining a goal can be problematic, as a goal signifies an endpoint. I see the archive as a living, organic vessel, continually growing and evolving each season. I tend to have a seasonal interest or a definitive theme/list, fueled by both passion and the desire to gather additional artifacts. 

Preservation and documentation are the basis of my website, but the allure of the midcentury and aesthetically pleasing covers inspires both my audience and practice as a designer. I also use a digital output to ensure the works of designers are referenced correctly; websites such as Pinterest have failed to preserve and document artifacts correctly, as the open platform allows users to curate albums with no parameters or validation checks. 

Do you believe, as I do, that social media has made collection and display something of a competitive sport?
Social media has definitely made collecting both more expensive and less spontaneous. It has also opened the door to the digital curation of themes, formats and periods. Many accounts I peruse post a collection of objects with a similar aesthetic or focus on a set geographic location. 

I’ve noticed an increase in the designer as collection, and designer as publisher, over the last few years. As well as a revival in handlettering, screenprinting and use of the analog—a revival of the tactile, a hands-on revolution. This could be linked to social media dominating our lives and the satisfaction of creating and handling design with our hands.

Other than delight, what does making a terrific find do for you?
The finds that give me the greatest satisfaction are bidding on objects where the designer is not documented, and on arrival I find they are by the greats, but not documented online. Two of my favorites were travel ephemera produced by Max Huber and Karl Oskar Blase, which were found looking through travel paraphernalia of a certain aesthetic. 

Finding something unique and significant fills a gap in history on the shelves. It connects fragments of common aesthetic and bridges the gaps between other artifacts in the archive as well as preserves a piece of design history. 

What are the areas you are most interested in acquiring?
Currently, my collection is focused on the Japanese magazine Idea. I have slowly been buying issues for over five years, with the goal to complete the full run. Magazines tend to be my main focus of collecting in the archive. They’re time-specific, representing a month, a quarter or a full year, with unique articles, opinions and advertisements. They are, within themselves, a fragment of history. 

I am also hoping to complete runs of other magazines such as Graphis, Gebrauchsgraphik and Typographische Monatsblätter, which are well on their way. The cost of items tends to vary; I tend to source items that I could resell for more if needed, such as my recent purchase of Typographica New Series, which I could sell for four to five times the price I paid.

Why do you show your images on social media? Is it a matter of “see what I have,” or learn from what I have?”
I use social media to spark discourse, whilst providing snippets of inspiration. I tend to include articles and essays from other sources to strike a balance between personal gratification and education. Social media has helped with building a professional and personal network, connecting me to design historians, practitioners and teachers. It also provides me with a documentation tool, as I scan the covers and catalog the artifacts as I post them online.

I hope to create a more curated social media feed and respond to issues in society such as gender underrepresentation, undocumented histories and political responses, using design artifacts as the medium. 

What is your most surprising find?
Every so often I find items not documented online [that] have a certain aesthetic that appeals to me. A few years ago I bought an Italian travel brochure purely for its geometric forms, and to my surprise, it was a Max Huber original, alongside a brochure designed by Karl Oskar Blase. It’s great to know the design masters of the past, designed for outputs which are often referred to as “the bread and butter” today. 

Another one of my ultimate finds was 100 Idea magazines for £100. This kickstarted my desire to collect publications and content from Japan, a country not often documented in design history books, particularly the covers of magazines.

You must have a wish list. What is it? What are you hunting for?
There are always a few books and magazines that remain on my list. I would love some work by Emory Douglas, early OZ magazines, and to source the first 14 Idea magazines. 

The spontaneity of chance brings me great satisfaction. A recent example of this was finding over a dozen Typographische Mitteilungen from the 1920s at £5 each, magazines I have collected slowly over the years and remain eagle-eyed in search of …

How do you organize your collection? And do you intend to make it available to students or scholars?
The organization of the archive remains completely in my head, but I have a set system in place. Magazines purely published to document graphic design and typography remain in chronological order, followed by annuals on graphic design and design history. I have a typography section that leads to page layout and publication design. Theory and rare books remain nested together, with monographs following. Additional bookcases contain industrial design and architecture, pop/counter-culture, and catalogues and ephemera remain in varied places/boxes and piles. 

Within the last year, I have been using the archive for in-person and digital lectures. It brings me great satisfaction when the archived materials inspire others. It validates my passion and makes me hungry for more artifacts. For people who are unable to see the archive in person, I plan to write more articles for Design Reviewed and showcase my findings, research and curation to the best of my ability.