Everything is collected by somebody, and I’m grateful for that. Ephemera, the fragile snapshots of everyday design, would be lost without collectors.
Old cigar boxes were a fascinating pile-up of typography, with labels or stamps on every surface. They variously identified the manufacturer, described the goods and certified their authenticity, revealed any possible tampering or intrusion, and attested to regulatory compliance. It was a precise hierarchy, like a tobacconist’s version of half-title, frontispiece, title and colophon. We get to enjoy all of these labels in pristine condition because manufacturers would order a larger print run than was actually needed, to allow for errors in assembling the boxes.
The humblest member of this troupe was certainly the “edging”, the paper strips glued over the nail heads and splintery edges of the thin wooden boards. At about one inch across, they only had space for a few lines of lettering and perhaps some ornamentation. The engravers and printers could break out the flashy embossing and foil stamping elsewhere on the box. But here, they had to be more concise, compressing the brand identity down to a looping pattern. The big labels are captivating in their ornate finery, but I find these edge strips fascinating in a wholly different way.
Design history is made of these moments just as much as the famous exhibition posters and private press books. If we can ever get a complete history of our craft, we can thank the collectors.