Who Did That? And Why?

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Ever wonder who designs everyday “stuff”? The stuff that is virtually invisible in plain sight? The stuff in, on or behind the counter in delis, drug and discount stores? The stuff like Cosmos Combs (below)? What I want to know is the rationale behind the choices of type, color and pattern. Why a die-cut and why not something more flamboyant? So I asked Jim Barber, who worked as a salesman in a New York novelty distribution company for 40 years, to speculate on who, what and why.


Who do you think did this?Well, that’s a stupid question, son. It says on the bottom that it was made in the U.S.A. at Art Display Printing Corp. Not sure where they were or are located but you know as well as I do that in addition to Asia, there are hundreds of these companies that make point of purchase displays. So this was done by that, I figure in the late ’50s or so. Incidentally, I think “For Pocket – For Purse” is a darn good slogan and “Cosmos” gives it a kind of modern touch. Also, I recall a bunch of hair cutters and diners with the name Cosmos.

You don’t know Art Display, but can you speculate on why this looks the way it does?Well, the combs probably came from Asia. Nice variety of colors, probably manufactured for less than a penny and sold for a nickle or dime each. I recall these display shops always had one or more commercial drafting people on staff. They usually set their own type from what they had sitting in drawers. Sometimes they’d copy letters out of books. [In] “combs,” [it looks like] the “s” might have been hand-done. Probably the manufacturer either gave the printer a sketch or sample or swatch, or said, “make it stand out in a store.” The kid who did this probably knew how to work with Techno or Rapidograph pens. It is a two-color job—twice through the press—and, of course, red and blue are patriotic colors. Getting things in register was not important. It should attract the eye, which I’d say it does. Although the combs do that as much, if not more.

What about that die-cut at the top … I presume it’s made with a die?I can’t really say. You may be right. Probably. But I can say this was made as two attached panels that sat open on a counter. Having a rounded corner and a bit of cardboard sticking up just gave it a touch of, well, class.

How do you like it?It’s good. I could sell it. I think any design is great as long as it gets me my commission.


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