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An unexpected gift
One fine morning, I’d just arrived at my graphics studio when there was a knock at my door. A long-time colleague (always the first to get to the office, and always the last to leave) held a book out to me and said: “I was clearing up at home yesterday, and I found something that might interest you.” It was obvious from the design and general look of the book which he handed me that this was an old piece of work. As I curiously began leafing through the pages, my friend asked: “D’you want it?” As a graphic designer I realized that I held a real treasure in my hands, so I replied emphatically: “Yes!” That’s how I unexpectedly became the proud owner of a 400-page work of art with thousands of illustrations of so-called zinc stereoplates (also known as clichés), all of them drawn by hand more than 60 years ago. Real retro stuff!

Lead type and zinc clichés
But what were these stereotypes used for? Let’s go back to the 1950's, a period far removed from modern desktop publishing with its high-end PC’s. Back then, printed matter was set in lead-cast type. If a customer wanted to spruce up his text with a logo or an illustration, the printer had to order the image from a special company that made zinc clichés. The typesetter (that’s what a graphic designer was called in those days) then assembled his handiwork from the cliché in combination with the lead type. It was true handicraft, not far removed from how things were done back in Gutenberg’s time.  But not every customer could afford to have exactly the illustration he wanted drawn to order and made into a stereotype. So one inventive Swiss assembled a book with thousands of illustrations of ready-made clichés – roughly analagous to today’s stock photography.  Arranged by subject, the book provided an extensive collection from which a printer’s customers could select and order an illustration that suited their purpose.

Graphics in the '50s
The kind of drawing done back in the 1950's is not something very easy to copy today.  The imagery of the time had something simple, even naive about it – partly, of course, because of the limited technology available then. In part for that reason, the simple graphic style of that period is a refreshing contrast to today’s advertising techniques, which are so determined by digital perfectionism.

Something new: Swiss-European retro design
In any case: Retro design is all the rage and the trend seems to be holding strong. Its fascination has grabbed me as well. That’s why I’ve breathed digital life into my nearly 60-year-old collection of graphic material and am now making it available to all interested parties in the form of this Retro Clipart Shop. There are a few other retro-clipart providers around who are offering handsome and exciting material, most of it from the USA. But what’s been missing so far is someone to provide a large collection of European material, the imagery of which is in many respects markedly different from the American variety. That is the gap my Retro Clipart Shop is designed to fill.

EPS and PNG – all transparent
Another advantage of what’s being offered here is the two down-loadable varieties of graphic format: the old, familiar EPS, which can be scaled with no loss of detail, and the PNG which, in contrast to a JPG, provides a transparent background. That is, you can place your retro clip art directly onto a colored background or another image without first having to isolate it.

The advantage of quality
To scan each and every image, to separate it out and add type to it, takes a lot of time.  Because I want to uphold the Swiss reputation for fine quality, each and every image will be carefully and individually prepared. We hope to start off this summer with a few dozen pieces of clip art, and expand the collection gradually, month by month. So visit us every now and then, and see what’s new.

Best regards,

Retro Ben