IN TODAY'S POST, we share some beautiful and visually interesting letterheads found in the correspondence of New York City Mayor John Purroy Mitchel, who held office from 1914-1917. Mitchel established a Mayor’s Committee on National Defense, inviting local civilians to serve on the committee. The civilians responded with letters to accept or decline. A selection of these responses from 1915 and 1917 appears below.
1. New York Rubber Company
Matteawan (Beacon), Dutchess County, NY (factory), 84-86 Reade St, New York, NY (office)
This letterhead is pretty decorative in a Victorian, old-fashioned way. The company name is front and center while two large scrolls on either side advertise the goods. We learn that New York Rubber was incorporated in 1851, and the scrolls have the effect of conveying a sense of durability and longevity – this is a company that has been around for a while and that we can trust. The curly brackets around words and horizontal line shading on the scrolls give the letterhead the look of a dollar bill or stock certificate.
2. Meyer and Mendelsohn, Importers of Havana & Sumatra & Packers of Leaf Tobacco
169 Water St., New York, NY
Maybe it’s the name Mendelsohn, but the typography on the company name looks somewhat German to me. Under the name it lists the type of firm they are, since it is not obvious from the name, and a tobacco plant is fittingly depicted. A drawing of the building is shown with workers out front, and it looks as though they’ve just received a large shipment of tobacco. The neoclassic Greek building is very attractive with its symmetry, arched windows, and cornice.
3. Wallace & Company, Makers of Chocolates and Candies
Washington and Park Avenues, Brooklyn, NY
Wallace & Co. was founded on Staten Island in 1870, and operated its own retail outlets until 1924. The inky signature logo on this letterhead seems somewhat unusual. To me it conveys an artisanal, handcrafted effect. The nice red “MOST EXCELLENT TRADE MARK” really pops – I wonder why that was so important to feature prominently. The building depicted is large and impressive. Really quite a beautiful letterhead.
4. Heermance Storage & Refrigerating Company, General Storage, Refrigerating and Freezing Rooms
298-300-302-303-305-307-309-311-313 Greenwich St., 151-153-155-157-159 Reade St., New York, NY
This is a fun one. Piles of snow drip down off the letterhead. It is one simple idea, executed well, to quickly convey what this company is about. Look at all those warehouses!
5. Majestic Hotel and Bath House
Hot Springs, Arkansas
The Majestic Hotel really wanted to make an impact on the person opening mail, conveying a sense of grandeur and, well, majesty! There is a lion in the giant letter M, which sweeps around to the left and cups the etching of the hotel. H.A Jones, Manager, must have been an important person. As this letterhead indicates, staying at the Majestic would have been a special experience indeed. In fact, it was one of the most grand hotels in the area for decades, until it closed in 2006. Sadly, the hotel fell into disrepair until a fire destroyed it in 2014.
6. Fire-Proof Furniture and Construction Company
Unlike some of the other stationery, this one makes full use of the width of the page. The typography used for the company name has a traditional, hand-painted sign look. I like the font used for the word Security, and how the tail of the letter Y comes down and encases the word Steel. And of course, the pictures of two of their most popular products are very neat and serious looking. The filing cabinet on the right is shown with depth in two point perspective – we see the front and one side – while the safe is shown strictly from the front, making it look somewhat like a portal to another dimension.
7. Crocker-Wheeler Company, Manufacturers and Electrical Engineers
This minimalist letterhead is very different from the others. I don’t know what is being depicted in the red and black circle logo, but the effect is one of simple, bold, modern design, rather unlike the elaborate, decorative designs we’ve seen in other examples. It seems like “more is more” was the typical approach, while Crocker-Wheeler is going for a more cutting edge, minimal design.
8. The Butterick Building
Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY
This is that large, imposing building you can still see when you exit the C/E train at Spring St. The company name on the letterhead is in a pretty, italicized font. Between the lion imagery (a traditional Judeo Christian symbol) and the Latin quote, Deo Non Fortuna (“not through luck but by the grace of God”) we can deduce something about the guiding principles of this company, which published home sewing patterns and magazines, including the popular women’s journal, “The Delineator.”
9. United Garment Workers of America, Office of B.A. Larger, General Secretary
Rooms 116-117-118-122, Bible House, New York
There is a lot going on in this letterhead! The words are written on ribbons, and the letters look hand-drawn. In the circular seal there is a handshake with lines radiating out like the sun, and a sewing machine. There are decorative flourishes and fleur de lis behind the ribbons. Behind all of that there is a black cloud tying it all together. Features included here remained in the union’s logo until 1994, when the union merged with the United Food and Commercial Workers.
10. Electric Boat Company
Nassau and Pine Streets, New York, NY
Contrary to what you might think, it appears Electric Boat Company was the name of the firm here, and Holland Submarines were the type of vessel they manufactured for the United States Navy (the subs were named after their engineer, John Philip Holland). I like the wide, red, funky letters in the font, and it’s fun to imagine a submarine company in lower Manhattan. Otherwise the effect of this letterhead is a little piecemeal, as though one person chose the typography used for the company name, and someone else designed the rest. The company, known as General Dynamics Electric Boat since 1952, still builds submarines for the Navy today.