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clown holding spectacles over head with feet
Detail of Manhattan Yellow Pages cover, 1971.
April 28, 2021

Let Your Fingers Do the Walking

Perhaps in an attempt to jazz up the notoriously most-boring book that ever was, New York Telephone embraced the psychedelic/pop art popularized by Push Pin Studios in the 1960s. It began in 1970 when Peter Max designed the cover for that beloved artifact, the Manhattan Yellow Pages. (The Yellow Pages, of course, being the phone book for the city’s businesses.) Milton Glaser’s fanciful cover arrived the following year, with Michael Doret supplying a trippy illustration in 1972, and Max designing another edition in 1973.

clown balancing glasses, cat, and chair on his feet

Glaser’s design is a veritable smorgasbord of motifs he loved and returned to frequently: bountiful flowers, comic-inspired figures, surrealism, wings, round-frame spectacles, unlikely trees in a landscape—and don’t forget the cat. Glaser’s typeface Baby Teeth makes an appearance, as well.

We have a sketch and the original art for this project in the Archives (unfortunately, like many pieces from this period, the art is stained by rubber cement).
clown balancing glasses, chair and cat on his feet, original pen and ink drawing
Sketch of yellow pages cover

The Yellow and White Pages are invaluable time capsules, documentary evidence of a specific time and place. It seems funny to designate Glaser’s cover as an unknown work, since it would’ve been seen by millions of New Yorkers (perhaps the greatest level of exposure of anything he’d done up to that point in his career). And yet, since new phone books were printed annually, the previous year’s quickly became obsolete and were inevitably discarded without leaving a trace. For the New York City phone book scholars out there, Brooklyn Public Library digitized many years’ worth of telephone directories and uploaded them to the Internet Archive.

This article also appears in PRINT.