Silk screened dry cleaning posters showing hand lettering. Original designs, c. 1960

I went down to my unofficial deep storage in the basement the other day and I came across these posters.  

Yes, they are dry cleaners' posters.

I knew I had them, (I acquired them about 9 years ago) I just hadn't laid eyes on them in quite a while. Despite my criminally poor photographs here, they are, in person, surprisingly lovely specimens of commercial art. Large (about 17 x 42) and silk screened in vivid blues, black, and fluorescent brights, these are the real thing—not retro simulations.

How did I come to possess a package of old dry cleaning posters? Glad you're interested. One day, I stopped in at a local cleaner and inquired about a poster in his window: yellow with black and white line art of a man and woman, he in a sharp suit, she in a crisp cocktail dress complete with hat and gloves. It was so astoundingly out of date, so jarringly asynchronous with the world around it, to me it was like coming upon someone using a cotton gin. And it was sincere; it was still being used in a commercial capacity. That was what got me: this artwork, clearly depicting a lost world of men in hats and women in gloves, was still literally and unironically being used to advertise "new express dry cleaning service." After an unsuccessful bid to obtain that very poster I made a note to seek out the manufacturer, Foster-Stephens, Inc, of Skokie Illinois.

In the early 2000s I used to see posters like these—probably designed during the Kennedy administration—every so often. Naive, and practically twinkling with exaggerated cheerfulness the silk screened banners were being increasingly supplanted with other promotional material of the plastic decal variety, themselves sporting artwork a good 20 years out of date. (Many dry cleaning posters these days look like artwork from Duran Duran albums*) It was astonishing to me how the progressive, evolutionary juggernaut of advertising had seemingly passed over the entire dry cleaning business sector. It was also pretty interesting to note that these "authentic" holdouts were existing side by side with coy retro Old Navy ads and businesses like House industries and Charles S Anderson stock images whose entire raison d'etre was the recycling of vintage commercial vernacular.

I did get around to calling Foster-Stephens. I spoke with someone there who acknowledged that yes, the "streamers" were indeed silk screened, and yes, some of the designs were pretty old. At the time of my call, in 2002, the woman guessed, "they were probably designed by Owen Heitmeyer. He'd be well over 90 if he were alive." And so... I purchased a few of the designs right then and there, over the phone, for about $5 a piece. And then I wrote a little piece for Print magazine about them.

To my knowledge silk screened streamers are no longer part of the Foster-Stephens inventory.

* I intend to take a few images around the neighborhood. For now, here's a a glimpse of what I mean, found online.

And here's a British gallery selling vintage dry cleaning posters for £125...

1 comment:

Moderne-aire said...

A little late but we are discussing vintage ... I was happy to find someone who is familiar with these great posters as I have a collection of about 50 of these wonderful fashion time capsules from the 1950s/60s mine are 21x28" with fashion models showing off vintage stylings while the graphic text implores viewers to make sure to dry lean their
Seasonal clothing.
I'm just getting ready o share these with interested buyers on eBay so if interested take a look there or respond here for more info


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