• J. J. Sedelmaier

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. . .

Malcolm Gladwell. Seth Godin. Debbie Millman. Daniel Pink. Johnny Cupcakes. Stefan Sagmeister. Many, many more. Don’t miss the amazing lineup for HOW Design LiveRegister now and save.

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About J. J. Sedelmaier

As President/Director of J. J. Sedelmaier Productions, Inc., he is responsible for launching some of the most talked about broadcast animated productions of the past two decades – MTV’s “Beavis and Butt-Head”, SNL’s “Saturday TV Funhouse” series with Robert Smigel (“The Ambiguously Gay Duo”, “The X-Presidents”, etc.), Cartoon Network/Adult Swim’s “Harvey Birdman - Attorney at Law”, and the “Tek Jansen/Alpha Squad Seven” series for The Colbert Report. Sedelmaier has produced over 500 film and design pieces. He has been a professor at NYU, teaching Intermediate Animation and History Of Animation courses, and has curated design and animation exhibits at The Society Of Illustrators, Milwaukee's Grohmann Museum and Westchester Arts Council. In addition, he’s a very organized hoarder.View all posts by J. J. Sedelmaier →