If you think paper bags are mundane, Tim Sumner asks you to think again
Fantastically specific and endlessly fascinating, To Have and to Hold is now becoming a gargantuan 500-page book collating all the paper bags that the graphic designer has collected.
- Dalia Al-Dujaili
- 25 November 2021
Are you also a bit of a hoarder when it comes to shopping bags? “I’ll just hold onto this Sainsbury’s bag so that I can use it for something later,” I say, with 100 Sainsbury’s bags spilling out of my storage cupboard. Although Tim Sumner could be described as a bag hoarder too, he has a much more tasteful approach, and a knack for collecting that has earned him the title of the world’s biggest paper bag collection curator.
“The majority of the paper bags come from my own personal collection,” says Tim, explaining how he’s now decided to show the rest of the world his collection in the form of a huge book, “and that of the University of Central Lancashire Ephemera Archive – the gatekeeper to that is my old tutor Andy Bainbridge.” There have been other additions to the collection, says Tim, from Ephemera Society members, especially Margaret Schuelein and Stella Mitchell of the Land of Lost Content museum.
The idea for the book To Have and to Hold came around a decade ago in Tim’s final year as a design student at the University of Central Lancashire. “I set out to design a book to celebrate the paper bag archive Andy had introduced to me,” he says. “Since then I have spent the past 10 years building up my own collection of paper bag ephemera, now culminating in this book, combining several archives to make it as rich with history from our high streets as I can.”
It’s not news that we’ve all become rather consumption-obsessed these days; we must buy the latest and greatest of everything. Tim wants to reflect on our “relatively recent consumer past, social history and the changes in our visual culture”. As a designer, he says that he can’t help but enjoy looking through the archive: “The bags are very nostalgic to everyone, not just designers. They are a smorgasbord of typography, colour, patterns, and illustration spanning over 100 years.” The archive includes recognisable identities from places including Selfridges, Fortnum & Mason, The British Museum and the National Portrait Gallery, as well as lesser-known and perhaps even more rich designs like “a hand-crafted design that has been created by the local green-grocer”.
Tim’s intentions for the book were to keep the bags as close to actual size as possible, and “keep the information around them to a minimum,” in order to let the bag and its design really shine. He explains to us that the book’s typeface, Klim’s Söhne, is the perfect complement to the bags, “as it works to be recessive and fall into the background and let the aesthetic of the paper bags stand out.” Alongside the book, Tim has a continued dedication to his archive, creating a bespoke typeface which takes inspiration from the serrated aesthetic of a paper bag, with “the letterforms then split into equal-length sections to create a candy stripe effect,” he says.
Although it’s always hard to pick favourites, Tim says he particularly enjoys the Habitat bag (“purely for the typography. What’s not to like about it?”) and the Imperial War Museum’s bag (“the bold impact of the searchlights is fantastic”). Ye Olde Pork Shop is another design he loves, which features “some lovely gothic type,” and Halford blue circles seem “utter random,” claims Tim, which is why he likes it so much: “I’m not sure what it’s trying to convey.” But of all the design classics in the collection, says Tim, “from all the art galleries, department stores and museums,” the Galt Toys bag is one of his all-time favourites. “A beautiful half-tone image with black and red type,” the designer thinks it’s a stand-out in the collection. “Eventually, it would be great to exhibit some of the best bags,” admits Tim. “It would be a shame for them to sit in a cupboard for the next 10 years,” much like my Sainsbury’s bag collection.
GallerySumner-Works: To Have and To Hold (Copyright © Sumner-Works, 2021)
Sumner-Works: To Have and To Hold (Copyright © Sumner-Works, 2021)
About the Author
Dalia is a freelance writer, producer and editor based in London. She’s currently the digital editor of Azeema, and the editor-in-chief of The Road to Nowhere Magazine. Previously, she was news writer at It’s Nice That, after graduating in English Literature from The University of Edinburgh.