I wonder what is was like to be a traveling salesman hauling
around hundred-pound barrels of pig bristles?
We don’t really find out the answer to that question in Origin and Development of the Paint Brush (1938),
but that remarkable, far from the maddening crowd question does present itself in
the text. And that is why I love
pamphlets like these.
Spending my professional life with the book, and being a
reader, I’ve come into contact with and have been exposed to a good, solid, Big Number of books, a Big Book of Big Numbers of
books. And so when the unusual creeps in
or is stumbled upon, they shine like little novas in my book-sky. And the ones that shine with their own
special light are the titles come in three favorite flavors: the Sublime Mundane, Outsider Logic, and
Fantastic (and Impossible). Today’s
selection are from the first category, and exhibit titles and texts that look
like non-luminous and uni-dimensional but turn out to be anything but mundane.
Earlier in this blog I’ve written on pamphlets entitled Flagpole Painting, School Safety Pioneers, Fortunes to be Made with Frogs, Where are the Dead?, How to Repair a Zipper, Mud’s Romantic Story, Soap in Everyday Life, The Fine Art of Squeezing, Salt Salesman’s Manual, Know Your Groceries, The Book of Envelope Facts (and others),
and they’ve all shown a terrific inner quality that is completely hidden by
their so-sleepy and yet strangely-compelling titles. Like the paint brush history pamphlet. Here are a few other new examples:
The Otis Elevator
pamphlet (1947) is efficiently designed beneath its semi-bizarre cover,
floating in odd typeface, completely lifeless design, mannequin humans, and
washed-out pastels. The Chinese coloring
book style of its covers hides a superior content, complete with schematics and
beautifully supplied with photos of elevators long-since removed from sight and
The Hooking pamphlet is not about its obvious contemporary
counterpart, but is a luminous, luxurious introduction and stylizer to the
science of hooking large objects to cranes via giant hooks and chains, and especially
about how to keep yourself from being
crushed by tons of steel not hooked properly.
The Mystery of Filters
charm is wholly in its title and cover design, its text describing nothing
but camera filters. It is still a cool
published by Travelers’ Insurance Company, tried to protect themselves a little
further by ensuring safe practices of elevator operation, mostly in industrial
settings. This was published in 1926 and
was already in its seventh printing from its inception in 1913 when the
elevator was just in its second decade of popular, relatively widespread usage.
The haven’t-given-this-cover-design-a-moment’s-thought hides a thorough (and
bland) treatment of elevator safety; too bad, the cover photosnap-art promises
something more. Its not there, except
for this beautiful photo of an industrial elevator op with a tie.
And coming back to wood barrels that are not necessarily
filled with pig (or wild boar) bristles but with something else less advanced
comes this manual on making wood barrels.
Everything is there, everything you’d need to make a barrel (and a good
one at that), and I admire this sort of fantastic dedication to what is
essentially (to our modern mind) mundane—except that it is as dry
as well-cured barrel wood. But I admire
it still, as I do the Elevator pamphlet,
because, well, they’re done right.