Paper Is Part of the Picture no. 16—Strathmore Town
This is one in a series of blog posts accompanying Paper Is Part of the Picture: Strathmore Paper and the Evolution of American Graphic Design 1892–2017, an exhibition that I have curated at The Opalka Gallery of The Sage Colleges in Albany, New York. The exhibition runs from October 3 to December 15, 2017.
Strathmore Town did not exist geographically—though if it did, it would have been located somewhere in the Connecticut Valley. It was a fiction. The town sprang up suddenly in 1923 and faded away in the late 1930s. Although imaginary, its rapid growth and eventual decline matched the real economic boom and bust in the United States during those years. At its height in the mid-1920s, Strathmore Town was a lively, bustling place. Its prosperity was emblematic of the rapid urbanization overtaking the country.
The inventor of Strathmore Town is unknown. It was either someone in Strathmore’s Advertising Department, led by C.W. Dearden, or at the Federal Advertising Agency, the company that oversaw the papermaker’s magazine advertising efforts. I am inclined to think that it was the latter as they were credited with coining the “Strathmore Expressive Papers” moniker.* Strathmore Town was an extension of that phrase and the earlier Strathmore idea that paper had personality (see Paper Is Part of the Picture no. 7—The Search for a Slogan in this series). But instead of focusing on the attributes of people and products such as femininity, dignity, luxury, and craftsmanship, Strathmore Town emphasized the personalities of various businesses and institutions.
The vignette on the cover of the Strathmore Town Stationery portfolio at the top of this post shows one block of downtown Strathmore Town. Along the bottom of the vignette seven businesses are identified; from left to right they are a men’s shop, a jeweler’s, a bank, a women’s shop, a furniture store, an inn, and a motor car dealership.
The Strathmore Men’s Shop was the first of these imaginary businesses to be introduced to the public. The mailer, designed by George Illian (1894–1932), was mailed out in March 1923. Advertising & Selling praised its “corking illustration style”. Over the course of the next two months it was followed in order by “Responsible Helpfulness,” a mailer for the Strathmore Bank designed by Bruce Rogers (1870–19567); “Originations by Fashion,” a booklet for the Strathmore Woman’s Shop illustrated by Helen Dryden (1882–1972) (with lettering by Gustav Jensen); and a brochure for the Strathmore Furniture Galleries designed by W.A. Dwiggins (1880–1956).
In 1924 Strathmore issued folders for two more businesses: Gift Suggestions from the Strathmore Jewelers illustrated by Parke Johnson; and Strathmore Structures (for Strathmore Construction) illustrated by C.P. Helck (1893–1988). They were followed the next year by Strathmore Motor Cars illustrated by E.C. Davenport, and the Strathmore Inn, illustrated by Edward A. Wilson (1886–1970). Although there really was a Strathmore Inn in Woronoco where the Strathmore Paper Company lodged and entertained its salesmen, distributors, and other guests, Wilson’s mailer showed an imaginary inn located on Cape Cod! Although these were the last businesses to be promoted through lavish mailers, Strathmore Town continued to flourish.
Letterheads and Inserts
Near the end of 1923, Strathmore sent out the Strathmore Town Stationery portfolio pictured at the top of this post. It was designed by Guido and Lawrence Rosa who were also responsible for similar packets in 1924 and 1925. Their first portfolio contained letterheads for sixteen fictitious Strathmore Town businesses and institutions, designed by twelve other artists (who seem to have gone unnamed): Strathmore Securities Corporation, Strathmore Bank, Strathmore Advertising Agency, Strathmore Press, Strathmore & Co. [it is unclear what its business was], Strathmore Iron & Steel Works, Strathmore Department Store, Strathmore Manufacturers, Inc., Strathmore Lawyers, Strathmore Motor Car Co., State of Strathmore, Strathmore Woman’s Shop, Strathmore School for Girls, Strathmore Real Estate Co., Strathmore Inn, and Strathmore Furniture Galleries. Oddly, the letterheads designed for businesses that had been promoted through mailers between 1923 and 1925 were not spinoffs. The designs of the two items bore no relation to one another.
The 1924 and 1925 “demonstration packets” added even more businesses and institutions to the town: Strathmore Butcher, Strathmore Department Store, Strathmore Gift Shop, and Strathmore Hardware Store; 1926 brought Strathmore Grocers and Strathmore Leather Goods Co.; and in unspecified years between then and the end of the decade, Strathmore Publishing, Strathmore Kitchen Ware, Strathmore Women’s Shop [note the different spelling], and Strathmore Furnishers. Most of these businesses existed only as letterheads, while some such as Strathmore Leather Goods Co., the second Strathmore Women’s Shop (illustrated by Winifred Murphy), and Strathmore Furnishers (illustrated by F.A. Mutz) appeared as inserts in portfolios with names such as 5 Direct Mail Suggestions for Strathmore (1925), Out of Strathmore Town for Everyday Advertisers (1926), New Ideas for Distinguished Advertising from Strathmore Town (c.1927), Strathmore Town Suggestions (1928 through 1931), and again… from Strathmore Town come direct mail ideas for printers and advertisers (c.1929).
Strathmore Town News and More
The material surrounding Strathmore Town continued to grow in the middle of the decade. The first three numbers of Strathmore Town News, a house organ, were first published in 1925; a fifth number (the last known) came out in 1928. They were designed by the Rosa brothers and written by Col. B.A. Franklin, Vice-President of Strathmore (and the District Chief of the Bridgeport Ordnance Office of the United States War Department in Springfield.) Franklin was often the public face of Strathmore, traveling throughout the country to give speeches to various trade groups.
Strathmore Town News was intended to inform printers about trends in printing and direct mail advertising. As such it supplemented the various mailers, demonstration packets, and other promotional ephemera the company was sending out. One example of the unclassifiable items produced as part of the Strathmore Town concept was Four Demonstrations from Strathmore Town, a packet of four designs by Oswald Cooper (1879–1940) issued in May 1926. The designs—single sheets for a menu, a musical performance, a church letterhead, and an ambiguous announcement—were intended to show printers “how to put fresh interest into everyday advertising.” Given that they were distinguished by Cooper’s unique lettering, I am not sure how the ordinary printer was expected to be able to match them without actually hiring Cooper himself!
The various components of the Strathmore Town campaign were intended to “present new printing processes [note that some were printed offset instead of letterpress], new styles of layout, design and typography, original ideas of all kinds.” Many of them included information on not only the paper used, but also the typeface (or acknowledgement of hand lettering), platemaking, and the printing process. Sometimes the information was incredibly detailed. Here is the “Data on this Book” at the back of Strathmore Structured (1925):
The illustrations in this book are the work of C.P. Helck. The cover-paper is Strathmore Munsell Cover, Gray, 20 1/2 x 26, heavyweight. The envelope is Strathmore Munsell Cover, Gray, 20 1/2 x 26, heavyweight. The text-paper is Bay Path Imperial, India, 26 x 40, lightweight. The text type is Goudy Modern, 18 point, 2 point leaded. Headlines are set in New Caslon. The plates are line on zinc. Four colors on the cover,—three colors on the center spread, two colors on the text-page illustrations. All Ben Days [tints] are 85 screen. The job was given ordinary make-ready, and run on the usual cylinder (Miehle) presses; consequently, there is no effect or process which cannot be duplicated by any good printer.
The details enabled printers to replicate Strathmore’s effects. Some of the Strathmore Town items went beyond basic specifications, though, to provide advice on how to make printing look fresher and different from the usual run-of-the mill jobs. For instance, Strathmore Town News no. 3, the “Color Issue,” explained different methods for using color such as how to combine colors (based, of course, on A Grammar of Color), how it could replace black in single-color printing, how it interacts with colored papers (including the effect on readability), etc.
Strathmore explained the purpose of Strathmore Town to printers and others who received its mailings:
Strathmore Town is the community of quality advertisers. This community is everywhere that good advertising is done. Each class of advertiser is issuing a piece of direct mail, making that piece an ideal expression for its field. While each piece is notable in itself, it is, as a series, that the collection is most useful. A very complete range of printing processes, of illustrative styles, of typography, of paper-selection is shown—all of it applied to practical advertising problems,—all of it concentrated on practical advertising suggestions how to make your direct-mail pay better returns. We therefore urge that the collection by saved and studied as a collection.
By urging recipients to save each mailer, the company emphasized their cumulative effect. Based on scattered anecdotal evidence, such as the Edward Frey Collection at the Museum of Printing in Haverhill, Massachusetts, it seems that printers heeded Strathmore’s advice and did save its various folders and packets. Furthermore, based on scrapbooks in the Strathmore Archives at Mohawk, there is also evidence that printers and their customers copied design ideas from the Strathmore Town mailers. While it existed, Strathmore Town was a success.
But Strathmore Town did not last forever. It went into decline after the Stock Market Crash of 1929. Some undated mailers are clearly from the years 1929 to 1931 based on their Art Deco designs, but there is no evidence of the town in Strathmore advertising material after 1933. The sample book for Highway Cover, a new paper issued in December 1931, has two pages with illustrations of Strathmore Department Store and Strathmore Beverages, but they are the latest references to Strathmore Town that I have been able to find in the archives at Mohawk. It seems that just as the Great Depression hurt real businesses in the United States, so did it bring those of Strathmore Town to an end.
*Further evidence for this conclusion is the fact that it was Federal, not Strathmore, who hired Dwiggins to design the mailer for the Strathmore Furniture Galleries.