Late 19th Century Letterhead in the Abel Head "Shanghai" Pierce Papers
Essay page 3
correspondence, much of it with the same people, several examples show transitions over time, from simple to more elaborate design, in keeping with the graphic trends of the period. The Pierce brothers' letterhead itself is one such example. Originally, the brothers employed a simple textual letterhead. They next used a design with an illustration of a bull head in red with overlaying text. The final letterhead proved the most elaborate with an enclosed "portrait" of a bull and detailed lettering with decorative flourishes and ornamentation. We can also see, through the letterhead, the transition of the Pierce Brothers from a partnership to separate businesses. Other letterheads show change as well – A. Levi & Co. shows a change in font and an eventual separation of the bank and grocery business.
Sometimes letterhead designs were repurposed for different individuals or companies. For example, the final Pierce letterhead is also used by Jonathan M. Moore with only the personal information modified. Other times, only a single element of the design was repeated, as evidenced by the bull in The New York and Texas Land Co. Limited and York, Parker, Draper Mercantile Co. letterhead designs. Nothing else in the two designs is the same, aside from the bull head. Similarly, illustrations exist that are nearly identical, with minimal changes. E. F. & W. S. Ikard employ nearly the same letterhead as C. M. McClellan. The layout and illustrations of livestock are identical, but the animals have different brands and the surrounding ornamentation and central lettering are slightly different. Likewise, the bulls in the vignettes on the stationery of L. Ward and R. E. Stafford & Co. are not identical but were clearly either derived from the same source or one was copied from the other. The only substantial difference between the two is, again,
the brand on the animal. These examples illustrate how printers must have used some stock imagery for their clients, with certain customizations.
The Abel Head "Shanghai" Pierce Papers are a valuable resource, for many reasons. In addition to the intellectual content of the documents, a study of the letterheads can give valuable insight into the culture and design trends of late nineteenth-century America.
This project began in 2004 under Briscoe Center project archivist, Cherie Baker. In 2009, Laura Mundee Taylor made selections based on Baker’s original findings and digitized the selections displayed here. Mr. Clive Runnels of Austin, Texas, provided funding for the Briscoe Center’s work with the Pierce Papers.