thrift wrap mysteries

by Art Chantry ( )

this is a japanese 45 baggie sleeve from (i’m guessing by way of that particular logo design) from at least the 1960’s, maybe earlier. i collect these crappy little sleeves because they completely fascinate me. they’re cheap, anonymous, disposable and utterly ignored. yet, each one is a tour-de-force of design inventiveness. there is no budget, limited color, really crappy printing and to top it off, there is a big 3 1/2 inch HOLE in the middle of your design! i mean, what’s a designer to do? i have hundreds and hundreds of these things – and each one is completely different solution! it’s endlessly amazing to look at what these unknown little bottom-of-the-totempole designers could do.

this sample (trashed though it is) i found this weekend in a thrift store. there are lots of japanese records that pop up in the northwest because of our proximity and trade with japan (sort of like there are a lot of mexican records in the southwest). the japanese 45 bags are easy to notice because they are usually a little heavier quality of paper, the printing quality is much better, the detail work in the design is much more delicate (so japanese, ya know?) and (to top it off) the design work is much more technologically adept. what they japanese lack in inventive moxie, they more than make up for in know-how.

i’m particularly floored by this one because the design is so nutso. take a look. just that type, repeated in the assorted logotype treatments that columbia had used over the years (being so big and old they probably have more different 45 bags sleeve designs than any other label. they also changed heir logo more often.) this designer took the assorted logos, ran them in continuous streams across the page, slamming end to end, some of them upside down. then printed them in green ink on yellow paper. a very simple and tasty solution.

except for that WARP in the type. how did they do it? remember this is decades before computer technology. all they had were photostat cameras to work with to do things like this, big huge heavy stat cameras that sometimes were mounted THROUGH the wall of the darkroom to allow processing. it’s not like you can pick the thing up and wiggle it during the exposure – or even wiggle the image while is exposes, like you can on a photocopier (which wasn’t invented, yet, either). this was all done in-camera through some clever trickery. it’s NOT hand drawn. to top it off, both sides are completely different flexes! (i’ll post the other side after i post this, so you can see what i mean).

i’ve seen this done a lot in old european graphics of the 50’s/60’s (especially them italians, who were really out there). guys like max huber and robert massin excelled at type gimmicks like this and i know how they did this stuff (tomorrow, i’ll show you how massin did it. you won’t believe it). but, this is not done like somebody like massin would do it. it’s beautiful and clean and executed with precision in photo process. so, how was it done?

well, i remember back in the early days, there was a sort of special-effects lens you could buy for your photostat camera called a ‘flex-lens.’ it was expensive and only art departments with excess budgets to spare could afford them. also, professional type houses could buy them and sell the services. because this typography was set as a solid block of crazy type, THEN flexed to the chosen warp, this was likely done by a type house with that special lens. there were also special type-setting machines with exotic typefaces and weird tricks you could do called a ‘headliner’ or ‘typositor’. but, because the entire block of type is warped AFTER setting, it wasn’t likely one of these machines (which could only do one line of type at a time).

so, this was probably an early flex lens attached to a photostat camera that produced this novelty effect. believe it or now, this style was not considered “psychedelic” (this was years before hippies). it was part of the ‘swiss grid style” design movement! funny how these things stay the same, but totally change over time.

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