Alphabet Soup: Timeless Treasures and Letter by Letter

Alphabet Soup: Timeless Treasures and Letter by Letter


I think I’ve made it pretty clear on this blog that I love books.  I also love lots of things related to words, language, and typography. So today, I’m posting about letters. I’m sure many of you have noticed the widespread use of stand-alone letters. I don’t mean monogramming on sweaters, linens, or coffee cups, I mean the giant letter above a bed, or a name or other word spelled out using letters in different colors and styles. Just flip through a Pottery Barn catalog and you’ll probably find a few examples of letters used in decorating homes, especially kids’ rooms.



Or step into an Anthropologie store, where there are fabric letters, zinc letters, massive oversize letters, letters on coat hooks, letters on pedestals…the list goes on and on.

abczincI think these letters are kinda fun, but also rather generic. What I really love is the idea of using vintage letters and mixing and matching colors and materials to make a more visually interesting word. If you’re thinking of incorporating some vintage letters into your next design project, there’s a fantastic San Francisco store that’s one of the best places in the country to find vintage letters of all sizes, colors, and materials. The spot? Timeless Treasures, at 2176 Sutter Street. For the last decade, owner Joan O’Conner has been been hunting around estate sales, flea markets, and auctions (especially in France and New England) and the result is a cozy nest of vintage home furnishings.




For those that aren’t in San Francisco, Joan is great about helping long-distance customers. If you tell her the words you want to spell and any ideas you have about the colors, sizes, materials, or origins of letters (and punctuation too), she’ll put together some sample combinations, photograph them, and email them to you. Pretty awesome. Check out her Timeless Treasures blog here, where there are lots of examples of how people have used her letters in their own homes, businesses, and photographs  Just a few to whet your appetite…

joker(Timeless Treasures letters in an art work by Jeff Lipkin)


(Timeless Treasures letters in a home in Spokane)


(Timeless Treasures letters in a shot by photographer Kelly Smith)

west-elm1(Timeless Treasures letters in a West Elm catalog)


(Timeless Treasures letters in a garden in Menlo Park, CA)

bar-jules(Timeless Treasures letters at Bar Jules in San Francisco)

On a related note, I’ve just added Laurent Pflughaupt’s Letter by Letter to my ever-growing to-read stack.


I found it on the Chronicle Books website. This description won me over:

“In Letter by Letter graphic designer and calligrapher Laurent Pflughaupt analyzes each letter of the Roman alphabet in detail, tracing its origin, evolution, and form, as well as discussing its important abbreviations, symbols, and associated meanings. Arranged in alphabetical order, twenty-six entries offer a wealth of facts about each letter, establishing correspondences between letters and elements borrowed from a variety of different fields of study, ranging from traditional paleography, phonetics, and graphic arts to the more arcane areas of musicology, esotericism, and even Eastern philosophy. In addition to a glossary, timelines and images allow us to visualize the letters during the different historical eras, giving the reader an appreciation of their successive metamorphoses. Written as an homage, this lovingly illustrated book takes a broad approach to the modern alphabet, allowing the reader to see letters anew, in a fresh and lively manner guaranteed to inform and enchant anyone interested in typography and language.”

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