To Have & To Maintain collects the very best paper bag designs of the final century

Around a decade ago, as designer Tim Sumner was finishing his studies at the University of Central Lancashire, his tutor Andy Bainbridge introduced him to the UCLan Ephemeral Archive – which rescues and preserves usually fleeting objects such as posters, leaflets and packaging.

Within were many wonderful relics from years gone by, but one type of relic in particular caught Tim’s attention: the paper bag. Neither grand in size nor in construction, these bags were nonetheless fascinating for their displays of typography, colour, patterns, and illustration. Tim was so moved by them in fact, that he was inspired to create a book within which scans of them could live and be celebrated. First however, he needed to collect more.

Years later, in 2021, he had finally gathered enough bags – with the help of some dedicated contributors – to begin fundraising for the book, which would be called To Have & To Hold. The initial Kickstarter campaign was unsuccessful however, and Tim was forced to rethink the format of the project.

“The series of editions was born and it seemed like a better way to celebrate each theme in its own right,” he says, “It starts with Issue No.1 / Bookshops, and will go on to museums, art galleries, department stores and supermarkets – even airline sick bags if anybody is keen!” As the name would suggest, this first issue – designed by Tim Sumner and his studio Sumner-Works – focuses solely on vintage paper bags from bookshops around the country.

The intriguing front cover is made from a paper bag die-cut wrap, to make it appear as though the book itself is within a paper bag. Inside are 72 pages of beautifully preserved artefacts from small, independent bookshops and large chains alike. Among the lesser known names are recognisable ones such as Penguin, Puffin, Waterstones and Foyles.

As a whole, these bags offer an insight into design trends of the past, including, of course, gothic typefaces, hand-drawn wordmarks and logos, and ornamental stamps; but they also serve as an example of how certain aesthetics have endured and returned time and time again, with several of the bags exhibiting designs that wouldn’t look out of place in one of the ‘cooler’ bookshops today.

To Have & To Hold: Issue No.1 / Bookshops is out now;