Taking Correspondence Offline

July 29, 2013

As a designer old enough to have paved my way through reams of paper, I still love a good letterhead. Yes, you heard me. Letterhead. “Letter paper” was the original term for what is currently known as Letterhead. The term “letterhead” first appeared as a commercial substitution for “letter paper” in American in 1890.

Before letterhead… before letter paper… even before paper…what did people use for written communications? Animal skins, parchment, soft clay (baked), in stone, papyrus—eventually getting to paper. For much of the 19th century, there were two main styles for letterhead. The first had a horizontal layout and moveable type. The second utilized hand drawings with copper engraving and lithography.

Gandhi, 1903  Source: Brenthurst Library

Gandhi, 1903
Source: Brenthurst Library

In the first decades of the 20th century, letterhead got small in size and weight to accommodate typewriters. In the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, commercials logos began to dominate letterhead designs.

Sometimes after a long day of talking with pixels, I find it wonderfully replenishing for my eyeballs to hold a piece of letterhead. And, it is still completely satisfying to design letterheads as part of a brand. It matters. That piece of paper is where important information gets exchanged—scope of work, estimates, invoices and hopefully a whole lot of personality. Here is a visual look at some goodies.

Georgia O'Keefe, Artist Letterhead, 1929

Georgia O’Keefe, Artist Letterhead, 1929

John Denver Letterhead, 1976

John Denver Letterhead, 1976

Margaret Kilgallen, Artist Letterhead, 1998

Margaret Kilgallen, Artist Letterhead, 1998

Ray Charles Letterhead, 1990

Ray Charles Letterhead, 1990

Captain Marvel Club, 1942

Captain Marvel Club, 1942

The voice and personality of these artists, activists, entertainers, human being’ are neatly packed into an 8.5″ x 11″ sheet of paper. They say a lot without saying anything at all. It seems we could all take that nod every once in awhile.

Head over heels about the letter. Classic.