Whitney to Warhol: The Custom Letterheads of Cultural Icons

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Courtesy of Letterheady

Letterheady is a blog dedicated to the personalised letterhead – a relic of traditional letter writing which is gone but not forgotten

If eyes are the window to the soul, then stationery might well be a portal to the brain: notes scribbled in a distinctive ink in a fine notebook demonstrating an infinitely more thoughtfully put together person than those on a napkin in a leaky biro. Placed above even the most elegant of pencil cases, however, is the custom letterhead – a personal mark dreamt up long before email signatures came to dominate the domain of the written word, and illustrating an altogether more refined moment in its history.

Shaun Usher might be inclined to agree. The mastermind behind Letters of Note is also responsible for Letterheady, a blog which celebrates and showcases the personalised letterheads of some of the best-known and loved figures in pop culture. Using both found examples and pieces from the collections of others, Usher collects those from the likes of Anaïs Nin, Andy Warhol’s Interview Magazine, Michael Jackson and the Grateful Dead. There are fictional examples, too – members of the official Twin Peaks Fan Club were sent notes written on stationery from Dwayne Milford, the Mayor of Twin Peaks, while the author of Psycho, of which the film was later directed by Alfred Hitchcock, wrote for years under a letterhead bearing the name ‘Bates Motel: For that wistful country feeling,’ in a witty but sinister nod to the murderous venue in his famous horror story.

The letterheads themselves? Many designate return addresses or custom-made logos, some the phone number of the subject’s assistants, but most – Whitney Houston, Kate Bush and Muhammad Ali included – simply bear an embossed name, that being all that is necessary to illustrate the character of the sender. Others favour illustration as a means of conveying their message: Henry Miller’s is decorated with a poignant sketch of a nude woman, James Brown’s with a grinning black and white portrait, and movie star Jayne Mansfield’s with an amply bosomed caricature gazing wistfully at her reader. Here are a selection of our favourites, for your viewing pleasure.

With thanks to Dal Chodha.