Alex Steinweiss papers
Scope and Contents
The Alex Steinweiss collection consists of brochures/booklets; liquor advertising; liquor packaging; publication covers; and film industry title treatments designed by Mr. Steinweiss. Some of these artifacts are photocopies, including the Posh liquor elephant logo (1.3) and the Film Industry Title Treatments (1.5). Also included are examples of Steinweiss’s posters, many of which where designed for Columbia Records. There are also two subway size posters for liquor, and one hand-printed poster featuring artwork inspired by music.
- Steinweiss, Alex (Person)
Conditions Governing Access
This collection is open to researchers.
Biographical / Historical
Best recognized for his ingenuity as a designer of record album covers, graphic designer Alex Steinweiss was born in Brooklyn on March 24, 1917. His parents emigrated from Eastern Europe to live in Manhattan, eventually relocating to Brooklyn after establishing their careers: his father was a ladies’ shoe designer; his mother, a seamstress. The Steinweiss family had a love of classical music. Young Alex often accompanied his father to local operas and other concerts. Educated in Brooklyn’s Abraham Lincoln High School, Steinweiss received training from visual arts educator Leon Friend. Graphic Design, one of the first books in America to address the subject of visual communication, was co-authored by Friend. Other renowned designers taught by Friend include Gene Federico and Seymour Chwast.
Upon graduating high school in 1934, Steinweiss attended Parsons School of Design on a one-year scholarship. Joseph Binder, a Viennese poster artist, hired Steinweiss after he graduated from Parsons in 1937. In 1938 Steinweiss married Blanche Winipolsky. Steinweiss still met occasionally with some members of the “art squad,” fellow designers that Leon Friend had mentored at Steinweiss’s high school. At one of their gatherings he met Dr. Robert Leslie, who was part owner of a typographic composition company. Dr. Leslie was also the founder of PM magazine, later known as AD. Eventually, Dr. Leslie invited some members of the “art squad,” including Steinweiss, to show their design work in his gallery. After working with Binder for three years, he left to do some freelance work. A short time later, Dr. Leslie recommended Steinweiss for the position of art director at Columbia Records in 1938.
Columbia Records was seeking a newer, more modern appeal. Responsibility for nearly all of the record label’s graphic design rested with the young art director. Steinweiss was a major innovator in record sales with his idea for a change in the packaging of records. Generally, 78rpm records were contained in sets of three or four within a tan or blue binder with kraft paper sleeves. Steinweiss thought the inclusion of an artful cover that represented the music on the record could increase sales. His idea was eventually accepted by Columbia, despite the increase in production costs. His first album cover illustration was for a Rodgers and Hart collection. All of his designs add something to the music itself. His designs loosely represented the music or artist with expressive musical and cultural symbols, rather than a portrait of the artist. The album covers resembled small posters. His idea was a great success and record sales increased 894% during the first 6 months of sales for his new album covers. He stopped working for Columbia in 1954, when album cover design trends began to lean towards photography and his employers were clashing over company policies.
Alex’s signature writing style was eventually developed into a typeface called Steinweiss Scrawl in 1939. Later in life, after his time at Columbia, Alex focused on his paintings, which had a central theme of music. The series Homage to Music was painted under the name Piedra Blanca.
3 Linear Feet (1 document box, 22 posters)
Collection of materials from graphic designer Alex Steinweiss. It includes extensive client publications: advertisements, and posters mainly from his work for Columbia Records.
The collection is arranged by genre type and then divided by client.
Graphic Design Archives, Cary Collection Annex
Immediate Source of Acquisition
The collection was donated by Alex Steinweiss in 2005. Accession number(s): 2005:003
Collection processed by Tara Markert, 2006.
Finding aid encoded by Lisa Witt, September 2015.
- Alex Steinweiss papers
- Cary Graphic Design Archives
- Lisa Witt
- 09 September 2015
- Description rules
- Describing Archives: A Content Standard
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Code for undetermined script
- Language of description note