Business Card Collector Kariann Burleson Interview
Business_cards_274Kariann Burleson is a Midwesterner with a background in visual merchandising and interior design. We spoke recently about her business card collection, which proved to be a highly entertaining and interesting conversation, as you'll see in the following interview.
ephemera: When did your passion for business cards begin?
Burleson: Since childhood, I have always been drawn to ephemera and small souvenir or novelty type miscellany, but it was in the early 1990s, when I was living in Minneapolis and working in a creative industry; between the two, I happened upon all sorts of original and clever cards from colleagues, friends, boutiques, and such. Then, I fell into this fascination and admiration of the medium. I can’t help but marvel at the endless possibilities to creatively express yourself or business visually in conceptual and poetic ways.
Business_cards_649 ephemera: Why business cards?
Burleson: I see the business card, calling card, and name card as tiny works of art, or even poems, as they express a brief visual narrative of something so much more. They are an introduction - an affectionate piece of evidence, a receipt of a connection, a meeting, a moment. It's this nature of the business card or calling card that enchants. They are generally intended as small, brief, and hopefully, possibility invoking pieces of paraphernalia. They encapsulate tangibly and visually the essence of something that is a transient. They bridge a gap between two people, sources, or ideas using humor, novelty, beauty, art, even cryptic information. They are parcels of possibility, relics of remembrance, they say, perhaps in a whisper, perhaps a shout 'remember me'.
Not long ago my six-year-old daughter was rummaging through my handbag and asked while holding a business card, 'What’s this mommy' and I told her and she continued 'What is it for?' 'Why?' It was interesting to try to condense and summarize my answer for her: I said, 'It's something you give to someone that you want to know and want to know you. You give it when you want to be remembered.' She then asked why she doesn’t have one. And I thought, that's a good question--don’t know why. I think we all should have them. I would like to see a revival in the exchange of name and calling cards--its an endearing and gracious ritual. I would love to see everyone with personal calling cards, and the exchange of them to become as common as it was in the late part of last century.
ephemera: It does seem they are becoming less and less common. Yet, they do have a certain charm. I remember working for the Japanese in the late 1980s. Japanese businessmen had a particular ritual they went through when exchanging cards; it was touching. What challenges or obstacles do you encounter in collecting business cards? How do you overcome these challenges?
Frabcesco_5 Burleson: Because I collect based on originality, idea, and aesthetics and not for quantity or historical value. I focus on modern cards though I have a handful of antique ones. The process of discovering such gems is somewhat random and serendipitous. However, I also seek out the talented designers that create them. I usually feel a odd asking but more often than not, they share the intrigue and adoration. They are the creators of such ephemera after all. Most often they are as happy to be in the collection as I am honored to have and share them. I share my collection with the public online, through flickr and my site. I do so love experiencing the art firsthand and them immediately after I am compelled to share the inspiration with others.
I want to inspire others to see in a new way; to understand the beauty of design; the power of design and the importance of design. I believe design, in this case identity and personal collateral, is about articulating yourself, business, or purpose to others, so that they truly understand the sense of you. It opens the door to deeper connection and profound possibilities.
It’s a process to acquire and document all of the relevant information about the cards. Most important is I want to give credit to the talent behind the designs and also the concept or narratives that inspired the design. One of the challenges of sharing the collection is that often people want to order a specific card but it doesn’t work that way. The cards are all one of a kind, designed for a specific client and copyrighted. My deepest hope is for people to understand the value of commissioning and investing in their own design because their design/card should be as original as they are. I would like them to hire the talent for not only their personal calling cards but for their businesses, their projects.
We, as human beings, are so complex, and so amazing...how we express ourselves today and are remembered in the future should reflect this and as anyone reading this knows, our personal ephemera or collections might very well stick around for some time and its ideal if the documents reflect our truths; therefore, this is about legacy. Because of this hope/intention, I find it a bit of a challenge to make this really happen. Its easy to inspire and astonish people, but a challenge to convey how investing in talent and quality, visionary design can not only bring bottom line results, in a more important way it changes the way they view, understand and feel about themselves--from the inside out. Its symbolic but everything is a symbol and how beautiful to seize and communicate your essence. I hope to do something more with this in the future.
ephemera: Sounds like you have a great vision as a collector. What’s your advice to achieving success as a collector?
Burleson: I really hope to do something more with this in the future. I am not sure yet how I will achieve success with that otherwise I think success depends on why you collect. I primarily collect for the aesthetics, but I also enjoy variety and themes as the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and of course, I collect some as souvenirs too but the collection I share is made up of the highly creative, original, clever, or beautiful ones as well as to showcase the talent to connect people to the talent behind the design.
I collect because I am absolutely, insatiable enchanted with the medium and format. I enjoy engaging in a little magical thinking, and therefore, I believe these evocative messages, beautifully expressed can transform the quality of our lives. The inspiration and appreciation changes the way we feel and think and value, thus our inner dimensions.
One thing that was really fun for me as well as the designers was when the collection was on exhibit in 2006 at the American Eisner museum of advertising and design. They have exhibits highlighting a vast array of design and advertising both vintage and modern from Shopping Bags, Matchbooks, or Album Covers to Trek Bikes, Harley Davidson, or TV Commercials. Museums or galleries like this are a wonderful avenue to share your passion and entertain or educate the public.
The web and its gallery or photo sharing sites like Flickr, which I use. It is a remarkable way to share your collections with a wide audience, to meet like-minded individuals and even grow the collection. I am focused on quality design and aesthetics, but I know there are collectors of cards based on history or fame or industries and I would encourage utilizing tools like flickr or a blog or a new site/tool I learned of recently. No one collects unless it’s a fascination or a love so success as a collector is just doing what you love to do.
Business_cards_216_2 ephemera: What are your favorite items in your collection? How do they inspire you?
Burleson: I have two antique cards that are among my very favorites because I have never seen anything like them. I found them together at a flea market. They are a heavy cardboard material with tiny little almost “secret” enclosed cards which reveals the individuals name. They were more of a calling card vs business and are absolutely enchanting with their semblance of substance and hand applied delicacy. This makes them precious and endearing and the fact that you must engage with the card by opening and removing the even tinier card to discover the significant other. It’s rather special. As far as new or modern cards--I love so many. One of my favorites is probably not coincidentally a modern interpretation of that same romantic antique spirit of the aforementioned. It is the card for a portrait photographer and was designed by Eric Kass of Funnel. Eric, like many gifted graphic designers, shares this passion for ephemera, calling cards, and meaningful details of visual communication. He designed his card in the same vein as the original photographers cartes-de-visites, it has the same weight and texture and elegant engraved typography as the antique ones. He also has a new collection of ready made calling card or business card designs available through funnelpapers.com. Wouldn’t that be lovely to see that custom of calling or visiting cards re-emerge in the modern world today?
My favorites vary…many are unexpected either in material or substance like the thick square of yellow acrylic, which arrests your attention and then some tend to have a sense of wonder, delicacy or fragility--evoking respect. I hold lightly and appreciate them like an innocent butterfly...many have sweet subtle details such as blind embossing, a gilt edge, letterpress printing or complex, even cryptic symbolism which draws me into contemplation and deciphering. The humble, raw, or handmade ones are so thoughtful, embracing human nature--the mark of the human hand. Others are so complex and involved, combining processes and materials, they are meditations and engage the imagination. I also enjoy cards that might be better defined as objects--one that folds up into a matchbox like car and one metal one that folds into a man sitting at his desk or another metal one that can be dismantled to be used as a lock pick kit. They are novel but certainly have presence... you want to keep these ones out on your desk--certainly won’t fit in a wallet.
A single card is simple and lovely but in the context of many. The variations and exquisite details are amazing and engages the imagination. This is beautiful and becomes truly meaningful and understandable, so the collection as a whole is just amazing. I just love how some designs surprise you--novelty makes me giddy--a pop up typewriter, fuzzy orange fur on the back, that folding car, a miniature map folded just like a real one--like tokens or even toys--you just can’t forget them…and that is one of the points of the business card--to make an undeniable, unforgettable impression.
Another favorite because of the experience of obtaining it is the card from Bouchon in the Napa Valley area of California. This is a pretty famous restaurant, very chic, and I would never have expected this curious delight they had in store. As I walked in, I noticed a simple and elegant linen covered table and then in contradiction to this refined setting, also on the table was this rather mundane and hefty industrial contraption with a slot and a single button on the front. Beside in was a stack of golden yellow square cards on a tiered platter, and all around this vignette was a group of rather sophisticated looking adults; however, they were all like children with a toy, there was an air of frivolity--you slide the yellow card in the slot and press that magical button, stamping your own card. What delight! It blind embosses their name and phone number. It was a rather amusing experience--you just had to press that button! I had to do it twice!
I also must mention the humorous ones. Without fail, if a card makes you laugh, you won’t forget the one who gave it to you. Some designers have series of cards, each one with a play on their business or essence using quirky motto's or captions--some actually all fit together to create a puzzle perhaps illustrating the individuals name or a photograph of their face. I love the concepts probably more than anything else. I must mention the very funny cards by Sandstorm Design, each individuals card is unique to its owner, with their silly narratives about them. I use them almost like a parlor game when guests are over, they are hilarious and everyone gets a kick out of them!
ephemera: Whew! I had no idea that business cards could excite such passions. What resources and tools do you recommend?
Burleson: There are other graphic design publications showcasing original and award winning stationery and business card designs, and it seems there are more being published all the time. Some of the periodicals that frequently showcase award winning designs are, How, Communication Arts, Print, Graphis, and GD USA, and there are plenty of book publishers as well such as Rockport, Victionary, PIE Books or Rotovision.
There are books focused on vintage ephemera and paper, the Ephemera Blog showcases the best like the books by M. Rickards and John Lewis. I recently came upon Visiting cards of celebrities by F. C. Schang. Something that was especially interesting in this book was about the etiquette of giving and receiving cards, for example, the folding of corners to mean different things. It was also notable that the giver often, if not typically, wrote notes, brief greetings or thoughts on the cards. Today, it is almost faux pas to write on a card. To designers, it is as if their art is being defaced. I have to agree on this sensibility, and I have learned that in some cultures is it a sign of disrespect to write on the card that someone has given you, particularly in their presence, so its fun when someone incorporates the desire for themselves or you to write or draw on it. One designer punches holes on each card and hand draws a face using the circles as eyes on each card.
Business_cards_712 As far as display and storage, I use business card and baseball card sleeves inside a vintage black office binder for a significant amount of the cards. I like to organize them by theme, general color, and I use a vintage revolving Rolodex for some favorites to keep them on display. I store a number of them for display and easy retrieval in an antique sewing machine drawer. This is the easiest way to display them, and this way I can pull them out for people as they function in this context as conversation pieces, because guests will pore over them, and as odd as it may sound, they arouse conversation, appreciation, sometimes laughter, and always a new perspective. And that is my favorite thing, inspiring ones imagination and sense of possibility.
An interesting way to display them would be a Plexiglas museum frame or using those Riekel specimen boxes, which are often used for insets or other natural relics in museum, university settings, or like the captivating wunderkammer, a.k.a.cabinet of curiosities, way. I also recently discovered a new product through the company Exposures. They sell many products devoted to preserving your memories and mementos and they actually have a frame specifically for business cards. Maybe a new trend is being born?
ephemera: Well, this has been fun, Kariann. Thank you for time and thoughtfulness in answering my question. I've enjoyed exploring your insights into collecting business cards. You've given me readers a whole new perspective on this aspect of ephemera.
For more details about trading cards, read my ephemera card guide.