In the late Summer of 2014, Bobby and I began discussing and brainstorming what this website would be. I was sick of volunteering for a city that rarely paid me back with LA, I’m Yours, which was a fun and great way to engage with many but ultimately putting others first while ignoring myself. I was a body possessed by a metropolitan ghost.
We slowly euthanized that site and began developing 1234KYLE5678 which meant that we needed some branding to guide the site’s style and general energy. To take us there, we rode on the shoulders of an illustrated puppy, which has been my logo for just about two years now. The puppy is adorable and I love that little pup who, somehow, is still nameless. What’s funny is that the dog has a very surprising political history. No one we knew illustrated him and, as Bobby searched for imagery and items to embody “me” as a mark, he found the puppy.
The dog came from his poking around yesteryear design resource Pillpat on Flickr, a French woman who scans in thousand and thousands of mid-century and beyond found items that make for great assets and inspiration. She usually does these in long tears, copying in entire card decks and brochures and textbooks from decades ago.
The pup’s gotten a bit of an upgrade for our purposes, the ball added in to bring it all back to the site and social handles. The pup was also cleaned as there was quite a bit of noise to the image.
But this isn’t an answer: where did this dog come from?
In poking around, you can unlock clues from the puppy and the camel together. First, they’re Czech and they’re advertising for a toy brand called Hamiro. I couldn’t track down the specific toys advertised or other uses of this imagery but I was able to find that Hamiro was absorbed by JaKr Company Ltd. and continued toy making. The brand(s) don’t seem to have been that successful but did make cheap products in the twentieth century. (And potentially today but the Czech-to-English Internet translating is leaving much information in the dark.)
Yet, who illustrated these animals and what were their purpose? Were they playing cards? Billboards? What are they?
They’re actually matchbooks from a factory in the Czech Republic called Solo Lipnik, a place with propagandist ties that operated for many years (and may or may not still be going). As Eye magazine reported in the early nineties, the company is quite fascinating and matchbooks like the above were the result of gluing imagery to wooden books.
Matchbox labels from the former Eastern bloc may display a certain naïvety, but nonetheless demonstrate a remarkable ability to communicate across language barriers. Produced for the most part as propaganda and controlled to a large degree by the state, they provide a fascinating insight into the operation of a fast-disappearing society.
That’s certainly the case and has made Solo a cult symbol for design hounds and politicos alike.
Most notably, the website Made In Czechoslovakia has logged matchbox labels from this area. The heyday for matches like this was indeed in the mid-century, specifically the sixties. While there is no word on when the Hamiro matchbooks are from, looking at similar designs of matchbooks for the Prague zoo, Easter eggs, and measuring devices suggest that these were made between 1960 and 1963. The designer and illustrator of said books are unknown but people like Vili Weinzettel—an artist who worked for Solo and illustrated matchbooks—might be a good place to start.
Who knew that little pup had such long legs, that weave from my gay ass in LA to communist Eastern Europe in the 1960s? We certainly did not until we put in some research on the subject, to learn where exactly the mark came from. This is a good lesson that everything visual has a story—you just have to do a littler work to learn about it.