One of my prized collections is a stack of paper samples, called the Imagination Series. My collection is fascinating to read, exciting to look at, and represents one of the great turnarounds in merchandising history.
In the early 1960s, Champion Paper was a company that was virtually unknown to designers and art directors. It was a time when most paper companies hawked their samples as dull little composition books of blank, multicolored pages. Looking at paper samples was like looking at blocks of really subtle sticky-notes.
|James Miho | aiga.com|
That all changed after a survey confirmed that the company had no name recognition. From 1963 to 1986, largely under the direction of James Miho, Champion Paper produced a yearly sample book, each themed and extravagantly illustrated. There were 26 books in all (there were multiple editions several years), and their themes included San Francisco, U.S. rivers, Brazil, Australia, Hong Kong, the circus, catalogues, Main Street, time and trees — to name a few.
The sample books, which were often a full year in the making, were doubly special. On one hand, they contained hundreds of interesting facts pertaining to their particular theme. Here, for example, is a spread in Volume 16 — which was devoted to Brazil — on tiles:
But what was also special about the Imagination Series is that each page was a different type of paper, and almost every image was printed in a different way. Volume 18 — which was devoted to Hong Kong — featured a transportation page showing the different possibilities of black inks, including when used with silver ink:
In Volume 12 — which was devoted to San Francisco — there's a page featuring famous personalities associated with the city. Each portrait also represents a very different inking formula (which is true for images throughout each edition). I've selected three images that show how differently red ink (magenta) can be used.
Of course such samples were very expensive to produce, so when the Champion Paper salesperson came to the ad agency, he could only spare editions for selective designers (the people who would actually order paper). Other employees would beg, borrow and steal (quite literally!) to get the the latest of the Imagination Series. Few people were as welcome in an ad agency as the Champion Paper salesperson, and the Champion Paper Company quickly became a leader in the advertising and printing industries. It also caused other paper companies to become more design-conscious in their own merchandising.
I still look through these splendid books for inspiration..