University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

The Dying Art of the Letterhead


August 5, 2015

The Penn Museum Archives has prepared a new public exhibition, of special interest to enthusiasts of graphic art and design.

“To Whom It May Concern: Letterhead from the Penn Museum Archives” presents an array of letterhead from its collections, dating mostly from the 1890s through the 1940s, when letterhead design was particularly expressive and ornate, as well as a tour of Museum branding over 125 years.

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Although letters are becoming increasingly obsolete due to digital communication, letters have been the mainstay of long-distance communication for centuries. Developments in printing and advertising after 1850 led to the mainstream use of letterhead by individuals, institutions, and businesses. Letterhead is usually composed of a design and select typeface, and serves to identify and advertise a company, and authenticate official correspondence. For individuals, it can also be a statement of personal taste.

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From Wild West shows to Philadelphia companies now defunct and to the letterhead of famous individuals, the letters on display feature many types of graphic design and printing technology, including letterpress printing, embossing, engraving, half-tone, and thermographic printing.

Come find your favorite letterhead.

The exhibition is open through February 14, 2016.

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