If you're flicking through this website, then the chances are you're a little bit like me – no, not a 40 something guy called David who sometimes gets mistaken for Jürgen Klopp – but someone with a creative brain and an appetite for collecting rare and out-of-print design books.
Here I'd like to briefly share with you my backstory, and why after 20 years I'm finally moving on from growing my personal 'print arkive', towards helping others build theirs.
The 1958 Penrose Annual
Much to the dismay of my wonderful wife and children, I spend much of my spare time scouring the internet, rifling through second hand bookshops, flattening towns and cities in search of long lost iconic (and sometimes unfamiliar) design titles. As all serious collectors would know this is not unusual behaviour, but how I became this book-hound all started with one title, the 1958 Penrose Annual.
Way back in 1999 shortly after graduating from Falmouth College of Arts I landed my first job at a studio called Timothy Guy Design. As any reputable studio would have, TGD was well stocked for reference material; from the latest copies of Eye, Graphics International, Design Week, and a stream of contemporary titles on design in general; we were not short on inspiration. But it was the small personal collection of vintage books that my creative director owned (a wonderful chap called Dave Birt) that caught my attention.
Of all the books Mr Birt held, my earliest memory recalls him eagerly pointing out 'How to Wrap 5 Eggs: Japanese Design in Traditional Packaging'. Although it was a beautiful book, it was his copy of the '1958 Penrose Annual' that inspired me to start my own collection.
Now don't get me wrong, the curriculum at Falmouth College of Arts was awash with design history so I was well aware of midcentury design, yet the '52 Penrose was nothing other than exceptional, and like nothing else I had ever handled before. Its image content, paired with the articles and fabulous production methods (including an amazing tipped-in Swiss Air leaflet) captured my imagination... so much so that not only did I buy my very own copy within the week, but also a complete run of Penrose from 1951 to 1969.
More More More
After Penrose my collection grew rapidly in a very short space of time. Luckily for me, the early 2000's was a time when 'iconic' design titles were still relatively easy to uncover (and most importantly affordable)! Without blowing my own trumpet (too much), the epic finds of those early years where sets of:
- Typographica Old and New Series – a purchase inspired by one of my old form tutors Mafalda Spencer, daughter of the legendary British typographer Herbert Spencer.
- Neue Grafik / New Graphic Design / Graphisme Actuel (with index cards no less) – sourced from the wonderful Nijhof & Lee booksellers in Amsterdam.
- A colossal run of Graphis, Emigre, Mobilia, Domus, Print and Design magazines – all purchased from an arts college in London following a random cold call to see "if maybe they had anything to let go".
And last but not least my most prized possessions:
- A comprehensive set of titles by Crosby/Fletcher/Forbes/Gill, the godfathers of British design – following a surprisingly mild eBay bidding war at 11pm on a Friday night.
The slow down
After the initial frenzy of buying large sets in the early 2000's, I slowed things way down over the coming decade and afforded my time to being more selective with my purchases. The library I had created provided a rich source of inspiration for discovering less familiar design titles from the midcentury, but parallel to this I opened up my collection to buying more contemporary titles as well; which included the likes of Eye, Octavo, D&AD Annuals, and so on.
Parallel to building my collection back in 2005 I set up my very own design studio in partnership with my wife, which is aptly (yet not so creatively) named Sames + Littlejohns – you can find us at www.sameslittlejohns.co.uk
In the 15 years we've been operational, we've been very fortunate to support some wonderful clients and produce what we believe to be some solid work. But it was with the recent COVID outbreak and experiencing (like so many small businesses) a significant downturn in work, that we found time on our hands, time which we used to reflect on where we are and where we see ourselves going in the future.
From the time I started collecting I've always wanted to establish a bookstore and trade 'properly', but as with so many aspirations they easily get smothered by family life and the day job. Even though the studio will remain open, the recent lockdown gave me time to finally get the ball rolling and to push on with my personal ambition to buy, sell and trade with equally passionate collectors.
Long live print
Having the world at your fingertips maybe wonderful for some, but for me, the cold touch of glass and back-lit illumination of a screen doesn't come close to the qualities of having a physical item in your hands.
It's not just the tactile feel and smell of the print that's important, it's also the content. The great things about books and magazines is that they're unedited; in the sense that you're not just seeing a carefully selected thumbnail or spread that someone has shared on their social media feed or blog. You have the whole piece in your hands, and when you have this, you slow right down, investigating the pages, stopping to admire the imagery, the advertisements, and most importantly to read the damn content; all qualities you just don't get from a 'pinned' gallery of pre-filtered images that can be scrolled through in lightening speed.
So in short, for me, the internet is good for two things; which is speeding up the process of discovery, and secondly providing opportunities to hopefully find physical copies to own and lose myself in.
In the simplest of terms, Arkive is a platform from where I will share rare and out-of-print books, magazines and posters to other equally passionate collectors; with common interests in the fields of art, design and visual culture.
There will be no specific theme or subject area that I will focus on. So it's not all about books on i.e. design practice and/or history, it's also about those published titles, that in their own right, are just in my opinion beautifully designed.
To finish off, if I am able to encourage people to build and curate their own collections, and to help them preserve our rich design history, then I'm happy with that.
If you got this far, then thanks for reading! And please do reach out and connect if you have shared interested, or if you have any material that you might be opening to selling.