Fight for What You Love: Antique Graphic Design

by Liz

At the school library, they are focusing more on digital formats and booksharing rather than accumulating or keeping actual paper books. Having discovered a library assistant tossing cartfuls of old books into the cafeteria dumpster one day, I vowed to stop it! Before I could put tacks on all the schoolboard’s seats, however, someone was finally smart enough to start something better than massive, wretched, hideous, horrible, sacreligious random book dumping: an ongoing book sale! Hardcovers, no matter age, size, or rarity are $1. Paperbacks can be snatched up for two bits! Sadly, the book sale is only two, knee-high shelves tucked back in a corner behind some fat black leather chairs, but I mined those shelves for every golden literary gem I could grab.

No dissin' the MS Paint job!

I haunted the library book sale, creeping along the floor on my knees, shielding my finds from others as I slid potential purchases out, quickly flipped though them and replaced them as though each one contained the secret of life. Sometimes I found one so special that I felt like a horrible mother abandoning her beloved toddler in the ball-pit at McDonalds when I didn’t have the money to buy the book right then and there. I took to “hiding” these finds in plain sight, usually in the midst of the “boring” books that no one ever bought from week to week.

One day, I was browsing the shelves just before the library closed when I found one of these special books.  It was an old book. It was an art book. It was sleek. It was sexy. It had a black cover with silvery Art Deco letters. I cracked it open to the first page and was immeadiately greeted by this:

It was perfect! I had to see more! I flipped through the pages and it was amazing. The pages of this book were like a Neverland of happy cupcakes, macaroni and cheese, fresh notebooks, summer nights, and true love! The library lights flickered, signaling the library closing. I turned the book over in my hand, contemplating flat-out stealing the book (I’d seen plenty of people do it and, honestly, no one seemed to care), but I couldn’t bring myself to. So I quickly slid the book back into the “boring” section, sandwiching it up against the shelf support and pushing it faaaaar back until it hit the wall, buried.

“I’ll be back tomorrow!” I whispered to it.

Fortunately, few people were so engrossed in the book sale as me. When I was creepin’ the sale, most people ignored me; some looked at me, heads tilted like confused puppies, before nervously inching away, but once in while someone would be browsing the end of the shelf: a rival. The next day, I was greeted by one such rival. She was already browsing on one end, so I started on the other side. We cast glances at each other, both curious and protective. We were like two strangers in a cafe with our eyes on the same attractive single at the bar. I narrowed my eyes. She narrowed hers as we danced around each other like hunchback gnomes. Her legging-sheathed knees were planted firmly in front of the “boring” section.

“There aren’t very many good books this week.”  The skinny, yellow-faced girl said. She adjusted a tottering pile of sale books under her inadequate arm.

“Yes, yes! Soooo few. There are rarely any good ones,” I reply cordially, curling over my treasure pile of picturesque coffee-table books so she couldn’t see the mint-condition, royal red anatomy book I was laying on my stack. The anatomy book was a pretty sweet find–  my Life Drawing class which required a human anatomy book– and this one was only $1. That’s a savings of $59! Cha-ching!

Yellow Face  narrowed her eyes again. I narrowed mine.

I scuttled down the row to where the older books are stashed. I had to get to them before she does! Fortunately, she was distracted with some psychology manuals. I began pulling books out. Lovely blue tomes with gilt edges; manly tan novels about boys making friends with various wild forest animals; a crumbling old book about horses…


The sound of a hardback hitting the floor echoed through the heavy, hot library air. I whipped my head around. Yellow Face had pulled a thick psychology textbook out of the shelves, taking an extra book out in the process. It was lying almost perfectly between us: a medium-sized black volume, face-up, with a silver-grey stamped title marching across the front in Deco-tastic font:

It was an old book. It was an art book. It was sleek. It was sexy. IT WAS MY BOOK! I looked up at Yellow Face; she looked at me.

“Sorry, that was sooo loud!” She said reaching towards the book without taking her eyes off me. I reached forward with a wavering smile.

“It’s okay! I’ll get it for you.”

She smiled back: the smile of a very dentally-hygienic wolf.

“I think it’s interesting. I might want it.” She lifted it from the floor before I could so much as lay a finger on the spine.

There is an all-consuming blackness that fills the mind during panic. Roiling with blues and blacks and a sickening green color, panic washes into the cracks of your brain and fogs life into a slow-motion horror. Logic fails, life fails, your heart fails and all that you can think of is HOW DO I GET MY BOOK BACK?! She was cracking it open before my very eyes!

“But it’s my book! I hid it there yesterday!” I babbled (Gawd, I’m an idiot!).

“Really?” The word was like a spike-covered steamroller.

“Yes! Right before the library closed, I was here and I hid it because I didn’t have money and I came back today, but you were right there and I didn’t want to bother you, so I couldn’t get it, but I’m here to get it and I’d really like it back…” (Such. An. Idiot.)

Yellow Face looked at the book and then to me. Wheels were turning in that steam-roller wolf head of hers, I could almost hear them creaking.

“English Major?” she said. She clearly considered herself very clever for determining that the pimply girl with a pile of books and a writing tutor badge in front of her must be an English Major.

“Yes. I’m an art minor, too.” I tried to decide which would be the best approach to getting my book back: to look impressively smart or impressively depressed?

“Well,” she said, ignoring my experimental facial expressions, “I’m a Kinesiology Major and I was looking for a good anatomy book for class.”

Oh. My. Gawd. Blackmail! I looked from my sleek, sexy old art book in her hand to the pristine red anatomy book on the top of my pile. It was an epic, silent battle of the arts: traditional, utilitarian, required reality or the mysteriously beautiful awesomeness of the frivolous? I needed the anatomy book to complete my Life Drawing class, but that heavy, black Deco book was so tall, dark, handsome….

Wih the weight of full responsibility dragging down my arm, I reached behind me and took the anatomy book off of my pile.

“I have one, you can….have” I said. It was painful. It took two breaths to say, two breaths in which I pictured losing my Life Drawing A, my honors cords, and my artistic growth.

“Really? Great! I’ll trade you this book for that one and it’s all good.”

Yellow Face took the red anatomy book from my hand and handed me the black art book. She left, leaving behind most of her book pile, except for Frost and some various textbooks, where she had stacked it.

Was the trade worth it? As it turned out, I got by just fine in Life Drawing without an anatomy book and the black art book? I’ll let you judge for yourself:

Commercial Art was published originally in 1930 (revised and republished in 1939) by C.E. Wallace who was a very wise man.

“The author recognizes the fact that commercial art is ever changing in its outward forms. The type of work that is in vogue today may be obsolete tomorrow. But the principles of design are constant.” – C.E. Wallace (Excerpt from his Preface to Commercial Art)

This book is a textbook on all the tricks of vintage graphic and commercial design. It has EVERYTHING in it! Fonts, printing, logos, painting, color theory. The best part of this book is that it was obviously used, but not in the destroyed-and-resold-for-one-eighth-it’s-value-ninety-times kind of way, but the good-student-actually-added-well-made-study-pages way.

They’re truly unique and since color is pretty darn constant, the charts are still usable. And awesome. Did I mention awesome? So my whole shtick about failing art because I didn’t have a super fab anatomy book? This book is even more useful and sweeeeeeeet! If you can find a copy of this book, buy it. It may not have the fabulous student-made pages, but the sheer amount of images, examples, and advice– not to mention antique charm– make this book a real treasure worth fighting for!