Take a trip to small town America with Standards Manual’s new book of 1970s classified ads

Classified: Local Ads From America’s Small Towns taps into design history, taking a look at its competitive nature and the way we perceive the work of unknown designers.

4 December 2023


The Brooklyn-based independent publishing imprint, Standards Manual is set to release a new book on classified advertisements from 1970s small-town America. The project includes hundreds of prints, collected and archived by Shelton and Josh Carnley at the Birmingham (Alabama) based brand developers, Studio Carnley.

In a previous publication QSL? (Do You Confirm Receipt of My Transmission?) the Standards Manual team collated QSL cards showcasing communications between radio operators globally. Continuing its mission to display (often niche) artefacts in design, for Classified the team decided to use a 1:1 printing scale to translate the makings of the era. “It’s a time capsule of a bygone era, and a fascinating study of ephemeral design from unknown illustrators, typesetters, printers and graphic artists,” Standards Manual says. But, on another level, it’s a daring study of the political, financial and recreational messages and products that designers would have to translate and sell to audiences, often competing for attention on the same page.


Standards Manual: (Copyright © Standards Manual and image archive and production by Studio Carnley, 2023)

Classified also stands as a testament to the challenges that designers of the time faced. Such as fitting in bulks of information into small rectangular layouts, all the while trying to make it stand out on a page full of ads doing the same thing. On one of the spreads, Standards Manual provides a hefty example; a City National Bank ad, a promotional ad for the first Certified Public Accountant of Michigan and a truck repairs service ad all run on the same page. But most of all the book is a “celebration,” the team says, “of overlooked genius, ingenuity and humour,” in works that were created to promote and sell, but also tell a story of a bygone visual era.

“With every title we’ve published at Standards Manual (this is our eleventh), Jesse and I take an instinctual approach,” says Hamish Smyth, co-founder of Standards Manual. “If we find a topic or collection that we both have an immediate ‘yes’ reaction too, that’s our main filter. We think our audience is pretty similar to ourselves – and maybe just designers in general – so we’ve found this approach to work well so far!”

Among all the ads in Classified, One of Hamish’s favourites is for Jeff’s Styling Den. “I love that Hairpieces is the first thing listed. I love the photo — is it Jeff, a customer? I love that the hair in the photo is barely noticeable after being blown out in dense black ink. It’s probably not an ad you’d run today, but I like the fact that someone signed off on this, and said, ‘yes, that’s the one.’”

Classified: Local Ads from America’s Small Towns will be released in March 2024 and is available for pre-order now.

GalleryStandards Manual: (Copyright © Standards Manual and image archive and production by Studio Carnley, 2023)

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Standards Manual: (Copyright © Standards Manual and image archive and production by Studio Carnley, 2023)

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About the Author

Yaya Azariah Clarke

Yaya (they/them) joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in June 2023 and became a staff writer in November of the same year. With a particular interest in Black visual culture, they have previously written for publications such as WePresent, alongside work as a researcher and facilitator for Barbican and Dulwich Picture Gallery.

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