Lets’s be honest, most designers like to collect things. Books, posters, prints, typefaces—you name it. Sadly, since I have yet to be blessed with a vault of gold bars and/or precious gems, my collectable persuits skew towards the more affordable side. That’s where Brimfield comes in.
Here in central Massachusetts, it's quite the spectacle when the Brimfield Antique Show comes to town. Three times a year, a small rural town turns into a sprawling encampment of folks hawking vintage wares of every size, shape, and price. If you ever get the chance to go, you should.
That’s where I discovered these aesthetically delightful milk caps—it just so happens that they’re one of the more acquirable, economically responsible thing to collect.
An Economy of Form
These graphic artifacts are scrappy. They’re efficient. They have limited resources, but they make as big an impact as they can. Despite their restricted canvas size, mid-century milkcaps often possess energetic typography and illustrations—all while relying on an economy of form and color. Most of the examples in the Vernacular Circles archive are one or two color jobs. But that’s more than enough to pack a visual punch.
A charming facet of mid-century milk caps is that they possess a distinctly buoyant personality. Employing deft combinations of multiple typefaces and typographic styles in their design helps reinforce their slightly madcap visual voice.
What’s also striking is that these pieces ephemeral design feature production techniques—type on a curve, overprinting, custom lettering—whose labor investment is easy to underestimate, especially in comparison to the convenience our contemporary tools afford.
Perhaps too cynical for our world now, there’s something decidedly earnest about these circles—even if they were simple advertisements. While most caps are emblazoned with their corresponding dairy’s branding—or proudly hawk the health benefits of drinking milk—there’s something hopeful about their demeanor. They mean well.
If anything, these mid-century milk caps provided a diminutive canvas for small typographic gestures that offer up kind or helpful words into the ether.