The Bigger Picture: Visual Archives and the Smithsonian
Sinclair and Son
Here’s another great letterhead from the collections of the Smithsonian Institution Archives. This one is from Sinclair & Son, a prominent Philadelphia lithographer since the 1830s. Some representative copies of the sheet music they printed can be found at the University of Pennsylvania. Back to the letterhead—in the large graphic, an artist contemplates a phantasmagorical ancient skeleton with two sets of tusks and front paws attached to its thighs. (Readers of a certain age will be reminded of Howdy Doody’s sidekick, Flub-a-Dub) Below, a vignette reveals the artist’s recreation—a peevish elephantine creature with upside down tusks, a double trunk, and what look like architectural elements sprouting from its head!
As well as the wonderful graphics, the letterhead presents a little mystery—doesn’t the illustration seem oddly specialized for a company serving a wide range of clients? Wouldn’t a lithographer at work be a choice with more universal appeal? This makes me wonder—did the Sinclair & Son produce custom letterheads for correspondence with important clients? And did Walcott fall of his chair laughing when he saw what they’d conjured up for him?