We love our letterhead here in the processing sections of the Library of Virginia. One can come across such interesting, varied, and colorful examples while processing Governor’s papers, personal letters, or court records. We’ve shared a few examples of our finds in previous blog postings and have happily learned that you love them, too! As a result, we continue to save examples for future Out of the Box installments. It was with that thought that I made a Xerox of the following letterhead, assuming that I’d add it to our growing file to share at a later date. I showed it to a colleague, and she said, “Google those lines and see what you find.” Sure enough, there was more to this letterhead than met the eye.
The image and line refer to a song written during the 1844 presidential campaign for Whig Party nominee Henry Clay. The illustration shows a raccoon holding a document (or stick) labeled “Constitution,” and rolling a large ball after a scurrying fox. Considered to be the first modern national campaign, the 1844 contest pitted the Whig, Clay, against Democrat James K. Polk. This being Clay’s third presidential race, the Democrats pejoratively dubbed him “the same old coon” in reference to his perennial candidacy. In response, the Whigs decided to embrace the moniker, even using the raccoon image on their … read more »
As promised in a previous post, here’s another look at the plethora of letterheads and stationery found in our archives. The original text by Vince Brooks is included here for context.
Commercial stationery can offer a fascinating snapshot of a place or time. Scholars of this subject point out that the rich illustrations and elaborate printing of commercial letterheads, billheads, and envelopes correspond with the dramatic rise in industrialization in America. According to one expert, the period 1860 to 1920 represents the heyday of commercial stationery, when Americans could see their growing nation reflected in the artwork on their bills and correspondence. As commercial artists influenced the job printing profession, the illustrations became more detailed and creative.
Robert Biggert, an authority on commercial stationery, wrote an extensive study of letterhead design for the Ephemera Society of America entitled “Architectural Vignettes on Commercial Stationery” and donated his personal collection of stationery, now known as the Biggert Collection, to the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library at Columbia University.
The primary role of these illustrations at the time of their use was publicity. The images showed bustling factories, busy street corners, and sturdy bank buildings–all portraying ideas of solidity, activity, and progress. Other types of symbolism can be found in commercial stationery, the most ubiquitous being “man’s best friend.” Dogs show up … read more »