Paper City gave a surprising lesson in graphic design and cultural history in this exhibition of letterheads. Ten thousand letters were picked over and the result was a hit parade of over 250 letterheads, from proudly polluting factories to Ashton’s Circus right through to The Met. Some images have a timeless appeal – others really belong in the time they were created. The exhibition was curated by Andrew May, Christine Eid and Stephen Banham, and was open at the City Gallery from 14 July to 31 October 2011.
The decorative letterhead as an ephemeral visual source is part of the minutiae of daily institutional correspondence from which the historian can draw a clear sense of the interchanges of information and the vectors of knowledge crisscrossing city, continent and globe. This article focuses on a sample of letterheads contained within City of Melbourne records held at Public Record Office Victoria and consider the ways in which letterhead design and symbolism reveal the concerns of its citizens, display the material culture of the city, and legitimate certain ideologies.