No card, no entry: documenting the world’s biggest collection of membership cards from the infamous acid house era
Collating his personal collection and those he has gone above and beyond to source, archivist Rob Ford talks us through some of his favourite club card designs as featured in his new book Members Only.
- Olivia Hingley
- 8 June 2022
In the era of the smartphone, things as physical as a membership card seem to have become almost entirely redundant. But from the late 80s through to the end of the 90s – the heydays of acid house and rave culture – the club membership card was an essential in any nightlife lover’s wallet. One such old school hedonist is graphic archivist Rob Ford. Loving to inspire feelings of nostalgia within his audience, when we last caught up with Rob he was surveying the history of web design. Now, for his sixth publication, he’s exploring his own experiences on the dance floor and long-lasting love of graphic material.
In his youth Rob first began subconsciously hoarding leaflets. Alongside his friends he would go to record stores – “for us it was mainly Soul Sense in Luton” – and pick up the latest flyers to work out their next big night. But, after a moment in his late twenties he ended up throwing away a box of nostalgic items. The only thing he never threw, however, were his membership cards. Luckily for Rob, when he again began collecting, he realised the membership card collection was a much more unexplored archive, and he soon made quite the name for himself. “I know a lot of people were keen for me to acquire their personal cards as they knew they’d become part of a large collection – I believe it’s the largest in the world of its kind.”
From cyberpunk-inspired imagery to hand drawn illustrations, Batman references to classical diagrams, the vast collection shows a diverse array of brilliant graphic elements. But, of course, Rob has a few personal favourites. Sentimentally, it’s the Amnesia House card with its black backdrop with elegant gold lettering that stands out for Rob. Being the card from the first ever rave he attended, the card also represents a monumental shift in the archivist’s life: “I was never the same person again and I went from a suit-and-tie job in a bank to being a prolific creator of all sorts.” Stylistically, and for pure novelty, Rob also picks out the Shoom card, one that was for a long time on his ‘holy grail’ list of cards to acquire. Coming from one of the first acid house parties, it was also the first to use the infamous smiley over their merchandising and flyers. But, the star of the whole collection Rob identifies as the Spectrum card. Coming from the hands of designer Dave Little, with its surreal eye illustration and rounded, 70s-inspired typography, Rob describes it as “the most visually stunning artwork of the acid house era and all those that followed”.
It’s also the Spectrum card, and the story behind how Rob went about acquiring it, that sum up the many trials and tribulations of being a collector. Having been on the hunt for the Spectrum card for many years, Rob explains that a “chance evening scrolling Instagram and I saw someone doing a video scan of a bedroom full of rave nostalgia. Amongst the items was that iconic Spectrum eye, it jumped out at me.” After direct messaging the person, and discovering they wouldn’t sell the card, only swap it, they made a deal and exchanged details. “My buzz of now owning this stunning card evaporated quite quickly when the other person notified me that the cards I sent hadn’t arrived.” With a “polite but tense” conversation ensuing, the fellow collector would be content if Rob found them a rare A.W.O.L dog tag membership. “Three months later,” Rob continues, “he messaged me saying “guess what turned up today?”, the cards I originally sent had finally turned up.” “Now the A.W.O.L dog tag membership is on my ‘holy grail’ list!” Rob adds with a laugh.
Reflecting on Members Only, Rob sees two core audiences as being likely to pick up the book. Those who lived through the era, “who will get a massive natural high of nostalgia”, and the following generation “who will see this more with its historical importance”. And finally, perhaps Rob’s biggest takeaway from the whole project is how much our nightlife culture is missing a tactile design element. “Physical items like membership cards have been engulfed into our devices now,” he concludes. “It’s a shame that in 30 years time, those current late teens and twenty-somethings will struggle to have any physical memories of their epic nights out.”
Collaborate: Members Only (ESP Dreamscape - 1991) (Copyright © Collaborate, 2022)
About the Author
Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.