The Glaser Nobody Knows: Milton Dabbles in Phone Book Design

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The Glaser Nobody Knows is a column featuring work by Milton Glaser that you may never have seen before. There are countless projects by the master, both produced and unpublished, that are unfamiliar even to design aficionados. All of the items in this column are part of The Milton Glaser Design Study Center and Archives at the School of Visual Arts, the chief repository of his legendary work.

Perhaps in an attempt to jazz up the notoriously most-boring book that ever was, New York Telephone embraced the psychedelic/pop art popularized by Push Pin Studios in the 1960s. It began in 1970 when Peter Max designed the cover for that beloved artifact, the Manhattan Yellow Pages. (The Yellow Pages, of course, being the phone book for the city’s businesses.) Milton Glaser’s fanciful cover arrived the following year, with Michael Doret supplying a trippy illustration in 1972, and Max designing another edition in 1973.

Glaser’s design is a veritable smorgasbord of motifs he loved and returned to frequently: bountiful flowers, comic-inspired figures, surrealism, wings, round-frame spectacles, unlikely trees in a landscape—and don’t forget the cat. Glaser’s typeface Baby Teeth makes an appearance, as well.

We have a sketch and the original art for this project in the Archives (unfortunately, like many pieces from this period, the art is stained by rubber cement).

The Yellow and White Pages are invaluable time capsules, documentary evidence of a specific time and place. It seems funny to designate Glaser’s cover as an unknown work, since it would’ve been seen by millions of New Yorkers (perhaps the greatest level of exposure of anything he’d done up to that point in his career). And yet, since new phone books were printed annually, the previous year’s quickly became obsolete and were inevitably discarded without leaving a trace. For the New York City phone book scholars out there, Brooklyn Public Library digitized many years’ worth of telephone directories and uploaded them to the Internet Archive.

Beth Kleber is the founding archivist of the Milton Glaser Design Study Center and Archives and the School of Visual Arts Archives in New York City. Kleber also curated the exhibition “Primary Sources: Documenting SVA and the New York Art World 1966–1985.” She lectures on design history and research, and assists students and researchers with inquiries on everything from Push Pin Studios to the activities of the renowned artists who have taught at SVA. Kleber has also worked in trade publishing and began her librarian and archivist career at New York Public Library. For more from the Glaser/SVA Archives, head to Instagram.