Friday, May 1, 2009

Forensic Graphic Design

Being a junk collector has no boundaries, I've also built a sizeable collection of "Ephemera"—those fleeting items created for daily use and rarely saved—except by people like me. I was admiring a few examples from my collection recently— two forms related to a 1912 business transaction between the John Kirch & Co. of Pittsburg (no H)  and The Toledo Grain and Milling Company-Armada Mills in Toledo, Ohio. I started trying to understand the dynamics of this particular business transaction from what I could derive by looking at the forms themselves—a type of "Forensic Graphic Design" if you will. A number of things stood out: this was a large business transaction that was completed professionally and expeditiously in a few days between two companies who valued their relationship. Quick shipment of a big order, credit for freight, payment in five days, use of recycled bags. No moral hazards at work here—this was a smooth and honest business transaction.

You can also see that The Toledo Grain & Milling Company placed a high value on their Brand Identity. The Company's expertly crafted and engraved identity is prominently displayed on both forms. They have several configurations of their elaborately detailed logotype & corporate symbol. This one below is apparently the "primary" configuration for their corporate signature complete with corn symbol and packaging example. 

And they have secondary graphics to accompany the corporate signature. This is the Armada Mills Plant itself depicted with its rail siding and material handling systems.

The corporate signature has a secondary configuration—this version without either the building, wheat shafts, corn plant or packaging. Both versions include their production capacity: 500 barrels of Flour—winter & spring; and 100 tons of corn and chop feed daily.

Now this was no small transaction. The total cost of $638.02 in 1912 dollars is roughly equivalent to an $18,500. transaction today. But for that size of order freight is free!

And the Invoice was paid in 5 days! This John Kirch & Co. was obviously a prosperous and reputable business.

Notice that a draft for payment was written by a representative of the Toledo Grain & Milling Company at their depot in Pittsburg, "at sight on arrival of car" Now these are payment terms that we could all live with today...none of these 30/60/90 day terms.

Mr. Hurlbut, the representative for Toledo Grain, has quite a nice calligraphic hand I'd say. In fact, it looks like fine handwriting was pretty prevalent back in 1912.

And I guess The John Kirch Company believed in recycling as well—here we can see that they provided 405 bags to be filled and reused.

Amazing what we can learn from this old junk: how to conduct your business honestly, how to be an environmentally concerned citizen, the need to write clearly and beautifully, and respect for brand & corporate identity. Not bad lessons from a couple of pieces of paper from 1912.

1 comment:

crustypiman said...


You may have a new career even if it is a fantasy: Forensic Graphologist. You created a believable scenario with a minimal amount of evidence. I enjoyed your comments on the graphic parts of the document. Quite informative. But you didn't mention that the rubber stamp in red contains the modern spelling of Pittsburgh. What's with that? Or did you add that stamp just to embellish the story? I know you also have collected rubber stamps so it is definitely a possibility! Fraud! Hey, you know I'm jaggin' ya. Keep up the great creativity.