Paper Is Part of the Picture no. 8—Concentration (1919)
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.
For various reasons, the exhibition deliberately avoided showing Strathmore advertisements. In these blogs I have been including some of them in order to provide a deeper context for the specimen books and promotional pieces. In looking over the advertisements I have tracked down, I realized that there is a series which has no counterpart in the promotional material, but which is still fascinating on its own terms. Thus, this blog is devoted to Strathmore’s “Concentration” advertising campaign of 1919.
During the short time that the United States was involved in World War I, Strathmore suspended its advertising. The “Concentration” campaign represented a resumption of activity. To make sure that printers and advertisers knew that the papermaker was back, the company turned to Fred G. Cooper (1883–1962), a New York designer best known at the time for his long-running work for the New York Edison Company.
Online biographies of Cooper are misleading. They pigeonhole him as a cartoonist when, in reality, he was a designer who used both verbal and visual humor in his work. He is best remembered for his creation of a big-headed, powder-wigged Ben Franklin character as the “mascot” for New York Edison. But Cooper was also an illustrator and a highly respected letterer. A good introduction to his life and work is The Lettering and Graphic Design of F.G. Cooper by Leslie Cabarga (New York: Art Direction Book Company, 1996).
The “Concentration” campaign began in March 1919 with the advertisement shown at the top of this post. It was the only one to be illustrated—though barely, given the tiny size of the “Spartan”. Instead, the advertisements relied on Cooper’s distinctive chunky lettering (which should not be confused with the lettering of his contemporary Oswald Cooper). Its boldness made them stand out in the pages of the trade journals and consumer magazines they appeared in. They were gutsier than any previous Strathmore advertisements.
In these advertisements Strathmore abandoned its pre-“war” focus on the expressive quality of its papers. Instead it stressed how they could help direct mail advertisers reach their audience. This shift was probably a response to the economic situation in the printing industry. Although the postwar recession in the United States is considered by historians to have ended by March 1919, wartime conditions were still affecting the printing industry.
By the fall of 1919 the economic landscape had improved enough that Strathmore was able to resume its pre-war advertising approach with the inauguration of the “Papergraphic” campaign described in the previous post. Fred G. Cooper was not part of that series of mailers, but in 1922 Strathmore brought him back to work on the landmark “Paper Is Part of the Picture” advertising campaign.