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Monday, June 7, 2010

Jean Frey, Swiss book & art printer


Jean Frey, as best I can determine, was once a printer of books and art prints in Zurich, Switzerland about the early 1900s. Buch is book and kunstdruckerei broken apart into kunst and druckerie yields "art" and "print." The logo also helps with the translation, with its depiction of a printer at work with his printing press. The business survives today, albeit in a drastically altered and much larger form under a corporate umbrella.

When I first spotted this ad cover, I knew it was European in origin. I've seen enough of these in the last few years to recognize certain design differences between American and European graphic design on antiquarian business correspondence items, including envelopes.

I have a growing collection of European covers and, more often that not, the size of the European envelope, or cover, is recognizably larger than American covers. Beyond size, there are distinguishing graphic design characteristics, such as the use of lines and typography and the kind of illustration use to depict the business.

My initial thoughts were that the cover design conveyed certain elements of the art deco period. However, the 1911 date on the postmark made me wonder if the time frame were too early for that design movement.


An article by Richard Whitehouse might help shed some light on graphic design trends during that time period, in which it seems that Art Nouveau was giving way to Art Deco. From my understanding of Art Nouveau, I don't see much in the way of that movement's influence in the design of this cover, but I do see something of Art Deco with the geometric shapes, clean lines, etc.


The History of Graphic Design site offers a 20th century perspective on graphic design and its various influences on everything from furniture to book design. That would include advertising covers for businesses, too.


I initially began collecting book trade covers and other correspondence pieces for the bits of business history they contained. However, with items such as Jean Frey's ad cover, another history begins to emerge--that of artistic or design movements and their influence on advertising and communicating information or ideas about businesses, products, and services.

It should come as no surprise that practitioners of the printing and typographic arts, such as Jean Frey, would embrace the elements of a design movement to communicate their business messages. And as design movements come and go, so too does the ephemeral paper trail they inspired. Unless that paper winds up in a collector's hands.

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