Following the sell-out success of its first issue, The Paper Bag Archive is back with a new edition of its packaging retrospective, To Have & To Hold. And this time it's taking you on a trip to the museum.
It's easy to take bags for granted – especially when they're the disposable paper bags of yesteryear. But locked away within these pieces of ephemera is a story of how we lived and the branding that guided us along our way. And it's this history that The Paper Bag Archive explores both online and in its print accompaniment, To Have & To Hold.
The beautifully-designed editions focus on a specific aspect of paper bag branding, with the first looking at bookshops. Having sold in over 30 shops globally, the success of the series has surprised graphic designer Tim Sumner, who has applied what he learnt from making issue one into the much-anticipated sequel.
"I wanted Issue Two to follow on and be just as strong, if not stronger," he tells Creative Boom. "Be that the design, packaging or how I distribute to stockists – it's a huge learning curve."
Inside the pages of To Have & To Hold issue two, readers will be treated to a wealth of bags from Tim's own personal archive, along with donations from Ephemera Society members, plus the University of Central Lancashire, where he studied.
These bags include samples from the British Museum of Natural History – complete with a beautiful turtle and rhino print – along with examples from Madame Tussaud's, The London Toy & Model Museum, and The Tower of London, to name a few. For readers of a certain age, these will be a hefty dose of nostalgia, while for younger audiences, they act as a fascinating window into a world that once was.
Tim explains their enduring appeal: "These bags, as Matilda Pye puts in the foreword, are memory portals – transporting us back to that museum visit, be that last week or 30 years ago."
He adds: "Used to hold the postcard or trinket you may have purchased, they act like advertising boards for their respective museum – so in a sense they need to be graphic and stand out generally, whether its bright purple like the V&A bag or bright red like the London Transport Museum – they have a job to do, and that is the grab our attention."
Selecting the bags which appear in issue two's pages required a fair bit of work. There are over 2,000 bags in the archive, with museum carriers making up just over 100 of them. These were then whittled down to around 50, with Tim choosing them based on their visual aesthetic. "We want to showcase the most interesting bags from the archive."
Such a diverse selection of bags also reflects the different methods and approaches museum owners took to branding. Tim observes that similarities between the bags are few and far between, with each standing apart as something different in its own right. "Many of them were printed and used way before the term 'branding' was coined," he explains. "I love the innocence and simplicity that comes across on some of the bags."
In particular, Tim draws attention to the London Transport Museum bag. "What's not to love," he enthuses. "That vibrant red is so synonymous with London it just works perfectly; it's simple and effective. I would love to know the artist/designer behind it, but these details have been lost to the sands of time."
As well as containing an array of marvellous designs, To Have & To Hold is a visual wonder in itself. With a cover that's cleverly designed to look like it's poking out from the top of a paper bag, it's no surprise that the editions have quickly found an eager fan base hungry to rummage around in its contents.
And for these fans, there's some good news. Tim tells us that he's already planning the following few issues and that he expects there to be around 10 – 15 editions of the quarterly in total. And even then, many beautiful bags won't get their time in the spotlight. "There are so many very niche bags that are wonderful but won't make an entire issue, e.g. garden centres, dry cleaners or hardware shops," he explains.