Sweet’s File

SWEET’S FILE (Sections 15-20)

Upon first viewing the book, I was intrigued by the bright colors and the highly designed pages. I found the book’s ability to fit a lot of information onto a page in a manner that wasn’t overwhelming, and that also didn’t utilize tiny, barely legible text, very impressive. I also loved the title pages that preceded every section. All of the different companies’ designs were individualistic and flowed well. They truly made me want to turn the page and see more, something I never expected to say about an architectural catalog. 

Another benefit of having the different companies in the file is that a lot of different design philosophies are presented. Some designers care a lot about color schemes and photo placement, while others seemed a lot more interested in getting the information across, with the only non-text aspects of the page coming in diagrams and reference drawings. These pages were still nice to look at, however, as the text was not overwhelming, there were many different typefaces that complimented the information presented, and the diagrams were interesting enough to look at. 

A page with minimal design, but still very readable and with a very engaging reference drawing.

The file itself is pretty large and thick, (I’d estimate a foot by a foot and a half) as any encyclopedic sort of reference book would be. It’s not unwieldy or anything, though, and was nice to flip through in the book holder in the library. 

There were a lot of different page textures throughout the book, presumably depending on the different companies and products. Some pages felt very glossy and strong, and some pages felt a lot grainier, a lot more fragile, and a lot less smooth. Some pages were also stark white while some others suffered from some major discoloration. 

The binding seemed like it was pretty hardy, as it was holding up to a lot of imbalance and pages being all to one side. Overall, this book seems like it’s in very good condition, especially on the inside, and felt very natural to hold and flip through. It feels like it’s a little too small to be a coffee table book, but would fit perfectly in a workshop environment or even a bookshelf in an office. 

Obviously, the main way to sense this book is with what you see. Some of the pages can be very entrancing and left me looking at them for a few minutes to gather all the detail I possibly could. One also has to wonder how designs like the one in this book were made in the 1940’s, and how design concepts were kept so consistent across pages. How the color was printed, how images with differing opacities were printed, and so on. The pages of this book sounded very nice when being turned. You could hear the binding and the spine crackle a little bit, but I was never too worried about the strength of the book. For the most part, the pages never felt like they were going to tear when I was turning them. There were, however, some more brittle pages that were a lot thinner than the rest that felt like they required an extra level of caution. This book did not have a noticeable smell, which I think is a good thing, because if it were to have a smell it would probably be one of mildew or mothballs. The book looked and felt very polished, and the sounds it made were of little importance, but did add to the experience of the book nonetheless. 

This is the cover of the book. Some of its age, as well as the sheer simplicity, can be seen in this image.

This book is important to collect because it was indicative of a shift towards a more efficient, easier to navigate world for the consumer. It was “introduced in 1906 to save architects from being swamped with trade catalogs from building suppliers” (Buydos). Not only is it the first catalog of its kind for architects, it also features some impeccable design that would be difficult for anyone with an appreciation of design to resist. 

This book is mainly valued for the sheer amount of content available to the reader, the standardized way in which information was organized, and the many different design philosophies presented in the book. Andrew M. Shanken writes that “Sweet’s Catalogue File, as it came to be called…changed…in response to European typography and layout, the latest ideas about the display of visual information, and systems theory.” The way that the book organized information was of paramount importance, as it dictated how well the average architect would be able to digest the information being presented to them and how they would purchase supplies from the catalog. This book had a legitimate, tangible impact on a group of people and was indicative of the cultural changes in the design world as time progressed with the book.

This is all without mentioning how high quality the images, illustrations, and pages are, despite the book’s age of about 80 years. The drawings are especially detailed and informative, and I’m sure gave architects a very solid idea of what they were looking at at the time. Images were of things like families in a driveway, or factories where parts were made, and they all came out very well in the book and added a lot to the composition of pages where they were featured.

As previously mentioned, this book was the beginning of a new way for architects to source and compare the materials they would purchase all in one place, without having to worry about receiving information from myriad other suppliers. The way that it combined the graphic stylings of all the suppliers into one place was unprecedented as well. 

This demonstrates the glossiness of some pages, as well as how high quality the images and drawings can be in this book. This is one of the pages I consider to be a lot more artful than some of the other pages.

This book is only a section of a larger collection just for that year. My specific book is Sections 15-20. I think this focuses on a certain type of architectural tool; it’s not alphabetical or anything. This is important because it means you can really see how the different styles and standards have developed through the years in this one very specific area of a very specific trade. 

If this were a book I owned, I think I could flip through the pages forever. Which says a lot, considering a lot of the content of the book is dedicated to descriptions of architectural or engineering parts and philosophies. I think there is a very rich amount of history that can be gleaned from only a few pages of this book. There are clues to the book’s cultural relevance, as well as the general culture of the time. There is also a lot that can be learned about design philosophies of the time. In the case of this book specifically, it’s a lot of bright colors, with flashy fonts, and fairly simple layouts. This is a book that anyone interested in graphic design should at least skim through.