My first exposure to the greatest invention since Scotch tape was a rubber stamp catalog from Hero Arts sent to me by a California calligrapher, Don Moy, in early fall of 1978, "Thought you might be interested," he penned on the bottom of the foldout flyer (now booklet).
I remember my utter delight and amazement as I unfolded the funky folder. Hundreds of designs to buy, to stamp, to give! Let's see, buying one stamp a week at $5.50 a stamp, it will take until August of 1985 to complete a collection...but what a collection!! The rabbit from Alice in Wonderland, a tennis shoe (If the shoe fits, the foot is forgotten). Wonderwoman, giraffes, dancing frogs, etc. I instantly wrote away for stamps and extra catalogs.
I was in heaven. Or Cloud Cuckoo Land, as an Aquarian friend of mine used to refer to my state of inner bliss.
How could I know, however, that Nirvana was only a newspaper clipping away? A month later, one of my friends who had received one of my gift catalogs from Hero Arts, sent me an article on rubber stamps, "Thought you might be interested," she penned on top of the clipping. Hmmm, I should have known...
Two things became clear to me upon reading the article. No. 1-I was not alone in my enthusiasm for rubber stamps. No. 2-I was suffering from a disease known in rubber stamp circles as rubberstampmadness for which, evidently, there was no known cure...although a quarterly tabloid newsletter named in its honor is coming out this June, edited by Joni K. Miller and Lowry Thompson.
The article was filled with lots of interesting asides. Did you know that when Generalissimo Franco died, he was found in his chamber with, among other things, more than 100 rubber stamps, which now reside in the Prado? It also contained two exhilerating pieces of information. First, that I could buy a stamp from former Chicagoan Jessica Katzen (an ex-student, it turns out, of Jackie Leventhal who founded Hero Arts), that read:
Not only that, but she had a catalog, and with her catalog came a free mini-stamp. Second, I learned that a book had just come out on the phenomenon of rubber stamps entitled The Rubber Stamp Album by Joni K. Miller and Lowry Thompson (Workman Publishing).
Well, before the sun set that day, I wrote away to Jessica Katzen for the Rubberstampede catalog, and to Workman Publishing for their book. Almost by return mail, Jessica responded, and I received the stamp that made my fall (the oh-so-personal Dear___________), along with another catalog, and a tiny rubber stamp owl for free. Oh my God, I thought, not another catalog as great as the first. What's more, this catalog really understood rubberstampmadness, for inside the front cover were tips on stamping that started out with - 1. Sit down calmly. 2. (optional) Chant personal mantra- and ended with- Have rubber stamp madness? Need emergency relief? Want to talk about how rubber stamps have changed your life? Call (555)555-5555.
I wrote away for more stamps and extended my stamp buying schedule. Let's see- buying two stamps a week at approximately $5.50 a stamp, including postage, I should own all of Hero Arts and Rubberstampede's stock by August of 1988.
Then appeared on the horizon of my Cloud Cuckoo Land its only black cloud- I received The Rubber Stamp Album. I remember opening the book, loving it, oblivious to impending agony. I was entranced with the writing, couldn't wait to read about the history of rubber stamps, and was stunned, not only by the seemingly endless samples of rubber stamp art, but also by the lists of rubber stamp companies and catalogs. Catalogs? There were more catalogs?!? That called for a second cup of coffee. I remember fighting back Mock Turtle tears as I saw the list of names and addresses and charming descriptions of the different companies. I had only one life, it was already pretty well booked up, and if I wrote away for even a fraction of the catalogs listed, and then, perforce, waited in delirium by my mailbox, I would get virtually nothing done for the rest of the fall.
I made the hardest decision, perhaps, I have made in my life, aside from the time I gave up something I really liked for Lent (when I was eight). It was now October 22. I promised myself that if I finished all my calligraphy contracts by Thanksgiving, I could write away for all those catalogs during the ensuing vacation.
I was traveling to South Carolina to visit my parents. I can still remember my mother's face as I excused myself from an afternoon boat trip, saying, "Thanks, but I'll just stay here by myself, with a copy of this book, my unicorn stamp, my unicorn name and address stamp, twenty-two dollars, and this handful of quarters." It took me all afternoon, but I was happy. My little Rubber Stamp Lent was over, and Christmas was only 22 catalogs away.
The catalogs came. Besides, of course, Hero Arts and Rubberstampede, my favorites were All Night Media, Graphistamp, and Flim-Flam. I also enjoyed, but haven't as yet had time to order from, Nature Impressions and Mary Alice Scenic Stamps. All catalogs are $1.25, except for Flim-Flam's, which is $2 just because it's simply pages and pages of old stamps that at that time were going for $.35 a stamp. Now, after 10,000 buyers of The Rubber Stamp Album have driven the Flim-Flam people crazy with requests like please send me a shamrock, they've been forced to raise their prices considerably. But even then their catalog is still a best buy -your $2 barely covers postage. By now, it was too much. My budget just couldn't extend into fall of 2001. I had to -gulp- start my own stamp company. Who could afford to spend $400 a month on stamps without claiming a tax deduction of some sort? Luckily, I had a company already, called LETTERS, devoted to the art of writing (calligraphy). It would just ummm...errr...It would just have to ummm...add stamps. After all, where would letters be, I rationalized, without stamps?
At this point, Christmas came, and with it, an American friend, artist Patricia Smith. She spends most of her year in Italy, where she lives and works, but occasionally comes back for visits and to stock up on things like Scotch tape. I gave her a copy of The Rubber Stamp Album, and her comment was, "Oh, thanks- I've been interested in rubber stamps for years." (A lot of artists are. Steinberg, for example, has a collection of rubber stamps so extensive that, the rumor goes, it could circle the world.) One night as we sat in front of a blazing fire, we mused how great it would be if some of her little pen and ink drawings she did regularly for The New Yorker could be made into rubber stamps. We talked about how too bad it was they were copyrighted and then together we realized, in one of those flashes that comes only when one is stuck in a blizzard, having endless Irish coffees (made with Grand Marnier instead of Irish whiskey)- she could make new drawings and we could make our own stamps. Before I knew it, she was back in Italy and had done 150 drawings, with another 150 soon on their way.
How could either of us have known that by the following New Year's we would have a letter from Joni Miller herself asking for a copy of our catalog, to say nothing of the letters that now arrived regularly?
Now I simply smile, with the blissful detachment that comes only from having 220 rubber stamps at one's fingertips, and some 550 more upstairs in one's studio...and calmly stick our catalog in an envelope, along with a note:
And then I close the packet up, and serenly stamp it all over in rainbow colors-
Catalog Update 2009--So Many Images So Little Time The quarterly tabloid newsletter rubberstampmadness run by Lowry Thompson for many years is now a bimonthly glossy that spells its name with a capitol R. It's a source of hundreds of catalogs--most of rubberstampdom advertises in it and it's possible to drop over a thousand dollars just ordering everyone's catalog! So relax, it's no longer possible to order them all in an afternoon, so breathe deeply, count to 22--and write to Rubberstampmadness, P.O. Box 610, Corvalis, OR 97339. Sample copy is $9.00 US/Canada
© Letters, 2009