Great identity-related gift hits the mark

Last week I was given a fantastic gift by Liz and Nena the co-owners of St. Johns Booksellers (hosts of the Identity Crisis! book release party earlier this month). Their store sells new and used books - and they are always having a wide variety of books come in from estates, house cleanings and other sources.

Recently they came across a copy of the 1916 book Trademark Power: An Expedition into an Unprobed and Inviting Wilderness by Glen Buck. The book, published 91 years ago by Munroe & Southworth in Chicago, even contained its original sales sheet of promotional blurbs (below left); with the notice that the volume was "Not for sale at book stores. One dollar a copy." The shop owners both immediately felt the book would be the perfect gift for me.

Considering the age of the book, it is incredible to see so many recognizable brands and identities. Of course, some have suffered their own identity crises and evolved over time. Still, Heinz, Western Union, Nabisco, Sherwin Williams, Dutch Cleanser, Yale Locks, RCA, Paramount Pictures, Dutch Boy Paints, Lysol, Log Cabin Syrup, Firestone Tires, Eagle Brand, and many other identities appear throughout Trademark Power (one page of examples is displayed below right). There are also many logo examples for firms that have disappeared over the past century.

Chapter 32 of the book covers what constitutes a good trademark - and things to be avoided when designing the identity to be trademarked. The author's list of things which may be avoided is as follows:

First - Common and familiar forms do usually make good trademarks, for they lack distinction. The circle, the square, the crescent, the star, the diamond. the heart, the oval, the shield, the cross, all have long ago been usurped and are burdened with significances.

Second - If one is anxious to aquire legal title to a trademark her will not have it resemble any other trademark, nor will he put in it any descriptive phrase or name.

Third - Flags and emblems of all nations, the established devices of societies, associations and institutions should be avoided as not legally usable or protectible.

Fourth - Complicated and confused pictures or devices do not make good trademarks, because they cannot be seen and comprehended at a glance. As they lack simplicity they lack strength.

Fifth - A good trademark will not depend upon any color arrangement for its effect, at it will undoubtedly be necessary to reproduce it in many places where color cannot be used.

Sixth - It is advisable to avoid designs that are higher than they are wide. A "tall" trademark is often difficult to fit into attractive and harmonious layouts.

Seventh - A trademark should be capable of reproduction in all engraving processes, by zincs, half-tones, and the different offset and lithographic methods, that it may be well printed on all kinds of paper and other printable materials.

Eighth - If the trademark is not as simple as it can be made, and carefully proportioned in all its parts, it may be impossible to reduce it to small sizes without losing the design, or to increase it to large sizes without rendering it ugly.

Ninth - Care should be taken to evolve a design that will not print too black or too light, for undoubtedly it will be used with many styles of lettering and kinds of type faces.

Tenth - Designs that have only a temporary significance should be discarded. They may be meaningless, absurd, or quite impossible of use tomorrow.

Eleventh - That which is vulgar, repulsive, or ugly will never make a good trademark. Also one should be extremely cautious in the use of comic motifs.

Twelfth - It will save expense and trouble, and perhaps prevent disappointment, if the work of designing the trademark is put into trained and understanding hands. It is work that can't be hurriedly done in an idle moment by one who has not conception of the importance of the task.

This advice is nearly a century old and, with all the advancements in the design industry and technology over that period of time, it is surprising that almost all of the recommendations are still very valid for today's identity designers.

In closing his book, author Buck writes:

The new manufacturer who does not bring into being a good trademark at the time his venture is launched, even though it may not at once be conspicuously used, is neglecting a real opportunity to add to his tangible assets.

And the established manufacturer who has not now a good trademark stands in pressing need of one.

The trademark is not a panacea for every business ill. But it is a fundamentally important part of the business equipment that is to serve efficiently in the new order.

Thank you Nena and Liz, for the incredible gift of yet another interesting and historical perspective on identity, branding and trademarks. It's a great addition to my personal design library of nearly 400 volumes.

© 2007 Jeff Fisher LogoMotives

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