Scavenging for Graphics: Illustrated Hat Box Label

September 19, 2012

Above: A hat box with a wonderfully illustrated label.

Just about the only thing I like better than "antique" typography is an "illustrated" typographical treatment. The line work in this beaver illustration is a mini masterpiece, right down to the scales on his plump yet flat tail. 

Beaver Brand Hats is still in business. If you look at the photo at this link you'll see a box with their new stylized logo. I understand the need to update things, and to have your company graphics fit with the current taste (or to set a new taste). There's no getting around that in graphic design, I've been asked to do it myself with logo design.

But the new design went so far in its stylization that the lovely atmospheric quality around the moon and throughout the landscape is lost—flattened. The distant bank of trees takes on too much importance in the new version. The delicate and sensitive rendering of the beaver from the original is now only a mass of awkward shading. In short the notan is off. And notan matters in labels when you have one brief moment to attract the eye, and seduce and convince the shopper.

Maybe the next iteration will bounce back and recapture some of its lost glory. Maybe more modern eyes than mine perfer these changes.

Compare the two labels. Which era does your eye appreciate? It's useful information to have about what appeals to your eye.

  1. Reply

    I guess everything has to be “updated” to provide jobs for graphic designers, etc. If only there was an actual improvement. I’m not a fan of modern design and not because I’m old. Aesthetic standards don’t get old!!

  2. Reply

    Molly since I benefit from the “updating” impulse I can’t complain from that perspective.

    I do think that Aesthetic standards change though. That’s why we have those earthmother plump sculptures from earlier civilizations and the Twiggy fashion models of the present time. And these standards go in and out of fashion, we don’t see a lot of folks working in art deco mode much any more for instance.

    But because of how I was nurtured with exposure to Japanese and Chinese art as a child, and then Western art, and of course animation art as a child, and book cover art through time as a reader and a designer, it melds into a definite concrete something in my mind that I either appreciate or don’t appreciate.

    There are principles of balance and composition that we appreciate in the Western art tradition that aren’t totally mirrored in other cultures and vice versa. Then there are things like beadwork which for me at least seem to transcend any culturally innoculated sense of “beauty.” I rarely see beadwork that I don’t like (except I’m not a huge fan of the “collage bead” techniques that are popular now with some jewelry folks who haven’t backed their work with what I consider sound principles).

    And in my own field the tend towards “grunge” design that started in the last century isn’t something I’ve been a fan of, even when it is created by a practitioner who seems to be building on the same basics I hold dear.

    So I think it’s important we define and explore what our own aesthetic standards are and then we are in a better position to both collect examples and create examples.

    Otherwise if we hold determinedly to the concept that aesthetic standards don’t get out we might find ourselves grumbling, like one disenchanted member of a local watercolor society several of years ago, who demanded that the show judges apply objective rules to the judging and nearly had a coronary when the judge in a particular show spoke in his talk about personal preferences and what he’d applied to judging.

    It was horrifying.


  3. Reply

    The last paragraph illustrates my point. If I entered a competition I don’t want a judge to bring his personal preferences to bear on my work. It should be judged on the accepted art elements we all learned in art class. You can apply the same critique to the Supreme Court. I don’t want their decisions colored by their personal religion or political party. Just consider the whole population and the effects of the decision.

  4. Reply

    Molly, it might be nice to believe that you’ll be judged on things “we all learned in art class” but we didn’t all go to art class, we didn’t all go to art class in the same country, and judges are after all human.

    So I think the situation you hope for is one that never pertains.

    I think that people who are asked to judge at shows are asked because of their artistic backgrounds and someone in the show board sees them as a good match for the work they will see so that helps remove total randomness from it.

    But I still think the element of the human and the cultural will always exist.

    The Supreme Court is a more serious issue because it can immediately impact the lives of so many people (where as an art show in the grand scheme of things is usually less significant no matter how much artists might like to think that art is “that” important).

    I think the political battles we have over who sits on the Supreme Court and the resultant opinions they hand down show that process is also deeply influenced by personality, personal prejudice, and time (historical time lived) to name just a few things. They need to know the law obviously, but there is much more to it.

    Years ago I worked as a production editor on West’s Guide to American Law and it was interesting, to have a refresher after not looking at the Supreme Court history since High School to see through history the various decisions and their impacts on society—how some judges were forward thinking and others weren’t (in the case of slavery in particular).

    It is a interesting branch of government, but like the other two, it doesn’t exist in a vacuum of “law.” People make it frustrating, and interesting.

    • Ricë
    • September 28, 2012

    I think your husband, whose name I am not mentioning here for fear I will snort until I choke, needs a Beaver Brand Hat just so you can periodically provide updates of his adventures while wearing it. Omigod, I crack myself up.

  5. Reply

    Ricë that would be funny. Frankly I would like a Beaver Brand hat just so I could say things like, “I wore my Beaver to the zoo.” etc. (note the capitalization).

    My headbands are made by “Turtle” and are not nearly as interesting in any verbal way I have yet to discover.


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