what is the best album cover of all time?

What Is The Best Album Cover Of All Time?

what is the best album cover of all time?

What makes a classic album cover?

Inspired by the new Blackwing pencil, we got to thinking about vinyl and all our old albums languishing in the loft. How fondly we remembered the crackle of the stylus, the paper sleeves and those rectangular black cleaning things. But most of all we remembered the covers. And so we wondered what was the best album cover of all time?

When CDs came along the artwork seemed a lot less important and now with Spotify I hardly notice it at all. But once they were an integral part of the experience, something to be studied and cherished, almost as much as the music. But which were the best examples? We discussed this in the office and I looked through my dusty boxes for inspiration but it turns out to be a lot harder than I thought to find the best three.

What makes a classic cover? Is Abbey Road a classic cover because it is a great piece of design? Or is it great because it has become a cultural icon over time? Much copied and mimicked? The more I looked at covers the more I couldn’t decide what made a good cover. Dark Side of the Moon seems to appear in most lists of great covers but to my mind it is rather boring though again, a cultural icon now. I preferred Pink Floyd’s cover for Animals with the large inflatable pig flown over Battersea Power Station. Apart from it being a great photo, the pig apparently escaped and caused havoc at Heathrow, resulting in cancelled flights and eventually upsetting a Kent farmer after it landed in his field and frightened his cows.

Which brings me to the conclusion that what I like is a good story and so my choice of the best albums covers is based on that. Feel free to disagree and if you have your alternative best three please comment below.

My best three (or four) record covers of all time

Blue Monday – New Order

The design on this 12” single was made to resemble a 5¼” floppy disc, cutting-edge technology for 1983, and the cover die-cut to resemble the sleeves they were stored in. There was no text but a colour code which, if decoded, stated the title and band and other info.

The story goes that manager Tony Wilson, having been told it would lose money for each sale due to its high cost to produce, went ahead anyway as he liked it and thought it wouldn’t sell anyway. It did of course go on to be the best-selling 12” ever ensuring Factory Records made no money from it and, some time later, went bust. Not sure how accurate it really is but it is a story we love and often quote here in the office….

New Order Blue Monday

Metal Box - PiL

Ever the innovators, the original design for this album cover was to be made from sandpaper so as to damage any other albums placed on the shelf next to it, your own included – shades of Banksy and his picture shredding surely? In the end they settled on a cannister which contained three 45rpm discs, deliberately tricky to remove, easy to scratch in the process and needing regular turning and changing to get through all the tracks. Apparently it rolled off the record store shelves too. Completely brilliant.

PiL Public Image Limited Metal Box

God Save the Queen/Never Mind the Bollocks – Sex Pistols

The 7” single cover looks like a subversive postage stamp and was very much frowned upon in its day – the silver Jubilee year. I still have my copy purchased as an entranced 12 year old which my mother raised her eyebrows at and said “I’m not sure I approve of you having that”. Which made me very happy of course. The ransom note style of cut-out lettering came from the have-a-go culture of punk. In the days when Letraset transfer lettering was a common solution for designers, it was simply easier and cheaper to not bother and cut out letters from newspapers and magazines.

Their subsequent album Never Mind the Bollocks landed them in a courtroom after a policewoman decided to arrest the manager of a Virgin store over the album window display on obscenity charges. In court they were defended by John Mortimer, he of Rumpole of the Bailey fame, who argued successfully that since the Guardian and Standard had printed the word in their coverage and not been arrested, it was discrimination. Those were the days.

Sex Pistols God Save The Queen
Sex Pistols Never Mind The Bollocks
the journal shop stand

London Stationery Show 2017

the journal shop stand

The London stationery show has been a staple of the Bureau calendar for many a year now.

It’s situated in the functional Business Design Centre where once a year, stationery geeks gather to share the best and newest in the biz. This event also coincides with National Stationery Week which quite simply celebrates what we all love – stationery 🙂 #natstatweek

It is a trade show so unfortunately not open to the public. So Mishka, Emma and Faisal were tasked with being your eyes and ears 🙂 Here is what they have to report.

business design centre

Our expectations

We all had differing expectations. Mishka now has two Stationery Shows under her belt, Faisal’s second time out and rookie on the block Emma.

Mishka: Half of our team visited on Tuesday, me and Faisal went on Wednesday. This was my 3rd show in a row, so I knew what to expect – lots of amazing stationery! 🙂 I knew time would be tight so I did my homework. Carefully clicking through all the exhibitors (100+), I made a list of stands I wanted to visit and products I wanted to see.

Some things never change – it is the same beautiful venue. This year there were a lot of workshops – I was particularly interested in trying Calligraphy. #writingmatters

Faisal: To be quite frank, I was feeling a little down on going to the London Stationery Show this year. I remembered enjoying my first time out to the show last year but would it be any different this time around? How much could really change over the course of the year? These doubts had begun to brew, possibly unfairly, as I am surrounded by the same old stuff on my desk.

With this mindset, I hadn’t actually planned to go around and explore the show floor too much, thinking there wouldn’t really be much new to see anyway. I settled on killing my time with a safe looking programme of seminars and workshops that would be running throughout the day.

Emma: I only joined Bureau Direct late last year, so this was my first London Stationery Show. I have been to trade shows before, but I have always wanted to go to a stationery trade show! Having heard all about it from the rest of the team, I was really excited to be getting a first look at some new products, meeting with some of my clients, and generally geeking out over lots of lovely pens and paper goods!


National Stationery Show 2017 - hall


london stationery show at the business design centre


National Stationery Show

First Impressions

Emma: I have been to the Business Design Centre in Islington before; its a lovely venue with lots of natural light, and not too big.  I confidently told the rest of the team I would visit the show in the morning, and be back after lunch (needless to say, that didn’t happen. What was I thinking?!). When you first enter the venue, there is a smallish floor space at ground floor level, and then steps behind leading up to a central mezzanine where the bulk of the exhibitors were.  There were also additional exhibitors on the balconies surrounding the hall. Immediately, my eye was drawn to a central New Product Showcase display, with lots of new launches, and from there on in I tried to work my way up and down the aisles is a logical way, without being too distracted!

Mishka: Me and Faisal were in on the Wednesday, as soon as we entered we were met with the display of stationery award winners which were whittled down from the same stand a day earlier. There was a spectacular range of colour this year – lucky cat pencil pot immediately caught my eye. I love everything teal/mint, so I was glad to see #everythingteal

Faisal: Lucky for me then that the Stationery Gods (and Mishka) had other arrangements to my earlier pessimism. Walking through the open doors, you start to feel an extra bounce to your step with your eyes wide and ears pricked. We both took a deep breath and a good whiff of the scent of freshly opened stationery in the air. There’s no turning back once you’ve opened this Pandora’s box. Everything looked fresh and new but I felt right at home, ready to explore!

calligraphy workshop

Calligraphy workshop

Emma: I had wanted to go to the show on the first (Tuesday) morning, because there was a Modern Calligraphy workshop being held by Manuscript pens and Joyce Lee of Artsynibs. Its a tall order trying to teach a mixed ability group in the middle of a trade show, in 30 mins, but Joyce was incredibly patient (and fun!), teaching us to sit in the right position, hold the dip pens the right way, and most importantly, relax, and BREATHE.  We each came away with a couple of practice sheets and the basics with which to start practising; seeing examples of Joyce’s beautiful calligraphy has certainly inspired me.

Faisal: Having only amateurishly attempted calligraphy for a few minutes, a couple of months ago, hastily on some scraps of paper… this was a brilliant chance to get an initial step up to the table.

The one big thing I took away from that day was the posture. To help keep your writing steady you need a solid position for your arm on the table. Achieving this means angling your chair into the desk so your elbow has a good position on the table. I would have never in my life ever conceived this simple step would instantly improve all my strokes!

Mishka: I can proudly announce that by 10:35 our clean fingers were already splattered in ink 🙂 Joyce is an amazing artist and great teacher. Slowing down and being mindful about every stroke is what makes calligraphy almost zen like. I’d love to just sit there and play with flex dip pens all day… We were discussing printing paper templates at the table – you know you are in the good company when gsm comes up 🙂

Bureau’s Best Bits

Mishka: Paper Republic Grand Voyageur – notebook with leather cover. Similar to Traveler’s notebook which is incredibly trendy at the moment. Packaging, colours (green with red), presentation, sizes and functionality. Everything about this product presses all my stationery buttons…

The most fun stationery of the show award goes to the magnetic Polar pen. We probably spent an hour making shapes and launching magnets in the air and we continue to do so even as I write this 🙂 Andrew, the creator of the pen is a true inventor with plenty of ideas up his sleeve. I really hope to see his creations doing well…

I was eager to try out the Pentel Hybrid gel pens which Emma told me about the day before. These gels are rather magical. Believe it or not, but they look differently on white and black paper. Green turns into blue, black into red etc – whaaat?! Amazing! Imagine Emerald of Chivor ink in a gel pen 🙂 I salute you Pentel…Year in and year out you come up with new ideas, really well done!

Paper Republic - Leather!

Paper Republic stand leather covers

POLAR pens - Magnets!

polar pen magnet fun

Emma: Stabilo Boss Pastel Highlighters. They looked so pretty in the display, and gorgeously photogenic. I have a set of four, but now I realise there are actually six in the range. Two more for my shopping list…

The Karlbox. A collaboration between fashion legend Karl Lagerfeld and Faber-Castell, this is the ultimate art set. West Design had a box on display at the show, and I couldn’t help but drool a little over it. Designed like a lacquer jewellery box, each drawer is organised by colour with pencils, markers, pastels and art pens – the entire rainbow. It has a limited production run, and retails at least £2000, but its oh so covetable!

Getting to make my own pen on the Kaweco stand!  I got to choose a cap, grip section, barrel and fit them together. A couple of satisfying ‘clunks’ from their hand-operated machines, hey presto! My very own Kaweco Skyline was born.

Stabilo Boss Pastel

Stabilo Boss Pastel highlighters

The Karlbox

Faber-Castell The KarlBox

Faisal: As a veteran of one previous show so far this was also a must do event for me. Last year we had a whole plastic barrel of fun with the Studio Pen team and had an awesome collage of how we made them. This year me and Mishka wanted to step up our game and bring you a live demonstration! It was all going so well, we got the camera rolling and the machine clunking away.

It’s hard to pick my favourite but I will go out and say I had the most fun with the Polar magnet pen. Even though it will be rarely used to write with, it’s was just an absolute joy to have and play with! Perfect for a quick stress relieving break in the office.

Special mention

Mishka: The best writer of the show goes to Manuscript 1856 pen.
This was on my ‘must see’ list after browsing online the night before. Manuscript hosted the Calligraphy event in the morning so as soon I waved goodbye to Joyce it took all my strength to stick to my planned route instead of running straight to their stand.

Let me tell you…It was love at the first sight. Each pen is turned by hand. The materials look spectacular. They have a choice for everyone, starting with a professional pocket percher in black. I was a bit dismissive of the beige but looking at it closely I saw the subtle elegance of the material, showing up like the calm looking surface of Saturn. The real stars of the show were the pearlescent and swirly type acrylics. Purple and turquoise finishes for the chic and red and orange for the brave.

I ran home with one in my bag, eager to ink it up and boy oh boy… Smooth like butter. Steel nibs can be as smooth as gold and this pen is exactly that. Big win in my book 🙂

Manuscript 1856 fountain pen
Manuscript 1856 fountain pen

In conclusion

Mishka: I’m so glad that I could go to the show – my creative juices and love for stationery have been refuelled 🙂 Big thanks to the organizers, we had a great show!

Emma: The show was everything I expected, and more.  I ended up spending the whole day there, catching up with some of my contacts at Castelli, Moleskine and Caran d’Ache/Faber-Castell, playing with new products, and looking for stationery items that can be branded for our corporate clients.

Faisal: I was happily swayed by the end of the day, the Stationery show was great. These sorts of events just give you a breath of fresh air and sometimes that’s all you need. Actually, I wish I had more time to peruse the stalls. Unlike my colleagues I don’t think I even got around to seeing half of the stands really. Perhaps a bit too much time playing with magnets… 🙂

Faisal, Mishka and Emma

ps: we will see you again next year 🙂

polarpen smiley magnets
Blackwing Volume 56 Joe DiMaggio

Blackwing Volume 56 – Joe DiMaggio

Limited Edition – Blackwing Volume 56 Pencil

The latest (well, not quite the latest as the new Volume 344 has just been announced, but this is pretty new) Blackwing pencil is the Volume 56. What is it and what does the 56 mean? You can watch the video and it will explain it all, but essentially it is based around Joe DiMaggio, star baseball player of his era from the 1930’s to the 1950’s. The 56 in the name comes from his most famous achievement, a still-unbeaten 56 game hitting streak in 1941. The design is a nice nod to his shirt design.

poll results

Palomino Poll Result

Who was your favourite cartoon character?

In our recent competition to win a set of Palomino pencils we asked who your favourite cartoon character was from this list of classics, all of them originally drawn using a Blackwing pencil*. The results gave a clear winner…

Tom and Jerry – 47%

Bugs Bunny – 31%

Mickey Mouse – 22%

As someone who grew up on a diet of Tom and Jerry more than the other two I can’t argue with that one.

*For the record, Blackwing pencils ceased production in the 1990’s but have been brought back under the Palomino name. For some they won’t replace the originals (can anything ever? is that another poll for another day?) but for most they are still the best pencil you can get your hands on. Affordably.

blackwing 602

The best pencil ever?

The Blackwing 602

We are just about to launch the Blackwing 602 pencil, and to trail the launch there are a couple of very nice videos to explain what the fuss is about. I could attempt to tell the story myself, but both of these videos do such a good job that there really is no point.

The second video, below, gives a nice persuasive history of the pencil as well. Well worth a quick watch.

Blackwing Boston Globe


My Weapon of Choice

What you will find on my desk today…

weapon of choice

A recent Instagram post I did made me think it was worth sharing a bit further and wider. Like most people, I’m sure, I have a selection of pens that are in favour at any one time. For some people it may be a collection of chewed Bic biros, for others it may be a treasured collection of Mont Blanc fountain pens. I guess I sit somewhere in the middle. Bureau-loyalty also sees me leave the Mont Blanc pens I do own at home, of course! I do admit to having one or two Bic Biros on my desk somewhere (not chewed – someone else in the office is guilty of that crime), but they are relegated to the status of ’emergency pen’ and when I used one yesterday it left an inky splodge on my weekly deskpad. Tch. So on my desk today you will find….(left to right):

Lamy Safari pink fountain pen with an extra-fine nib and purple Monteverde ink

lamy safari

This Safari is the most recent addition to my armoury. I already had one with black ink (see below) and I wasn’t prepared to wash out my pen to swap ink so I added a pink Safari pen and I’m experimenting with Monteverde purple ink for a contrast. It’s a nice ink, maybe a bit more pink than I had hoped for but it has a strong depth of colour to it. The Safari pen is as you would hope – a really nice pen to write with.

Papelote pencil

papelote pencil

I needed a pencil to sketch out some of the lettering I have been fond of lately, and whilst one pencil is pretty much like another when it comes to this kind of work, I do like these pencils with their Czech writing (it translates as ‘one pencil can write 50,000 words).

Ohto Dude rollerball

ohto dude

I recently wrote a piece about my re-discovery of the Ohto Dude pen, and so the feeling continues. It really is a lovely pen, that lays down a nice fine line of ink and suits me just right. In fact I would put my Dude pen as my No.1 on this list.

Herbin rollerball with Herbin bleu pervenche ink

herbin pen

A stalwart of the Bureau range now, the Herbin pen has so many inks you can choose from. In fact, once you pop in a universal converter you can have any ink. I like this one, which is a strong turquoise colour. I loved this pen from the first day it came in, but many others don’t so it’s something of a ‘marmite’ pen.

Lamy Safari yellow fountain pen with an extra-fine nib and black Lamy ink

lamy safari

I acquired this pen a while back (I think it was out of a photo shoot one day but can’t be sure), and I wasn’t sold on it. I then went back to it and decided to experiment with nibs. In case you hadn’t noticed by now, I quite like a fine point for writing and so I tested out some finer nibs – I went for an extra-fine nib, and even then I would have gone a bit further, but it was fine enough and I now love my Safari pen. I use it all the time, and if I leave it for a few days it still writes. It’s a pleasure to use  – so make sure you find the right nib for your writing and maybe it will make the difference.

Ohto Horizon orange ballpoint

ohto horizon

A former favourite, and although I still like this pen I have started to realise why ‘ink’ pens are so much better. There is something in the way that ink flows from a rollerball or a fountain pen that is so much more satisfying than the ink that a ballpoint lays down. Having said that, I do like the unusually fine point that the Ohto Horizon has so it still has a place in my affection today.


Moleskine pens

Moleskine – pens and pencils

Moleskine pencil

Where next for the stationery brand that just grows and grows? We have taken delivery of our Moleskine pens and pencils now, and it is interesting to see how well they have been selling. I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that such a well-known and popular brand would be able to move into other stationery products and do so well, but the early indications are that the pens are a big hit.

Our opinion is mixed on the pens – they have some great features not least the ability to clip it onto your Moleskine book cover and so always have a pen or pencil at the ready. Just slip the pen out of the clip, and slip it back it when finished. The pens have an unusual square look to them, although this makes more sense once clipped onto a Moleskine book as the pen shape complements the shape of the book. It is still a bold and unusual design decision, and possibly one that will only really appeal to Moleskine fans. Still, there’s enough people love the books to mean that shouldn’t be a problem.

If you opt for the more upmarket metal rollerball pen then you will also get a very nice presentation box – a sort of Moleskine book that opens to reveal the pen. A nice touch. The basic pen doesn’t come with any such frills, and is in all ways a more basic pen, with an all-plastic barrel. The pencils are very pleasing, although a 2B lead may not be so useful for writing, and may suit more artistic uses. The verdict? Inevitably the price is slightly higher because of the name, and the design is very individual, but when clipped onto a Moleskine book they make a lot of sense and should appeal to a Moleskine-lover.

Moleskine pens


A modern pencil

The Kuru Toga pencil

An article on The Guardian blog came to my attention, regarding what makes the perfect pencil. The ‘rotating’ Kuru Toga pencil certainly ticks the ‘gadget’ box but there is clearly a depth of feeling against any mechanical pencil out there judging from some comments. I hadn’t realised that there was such a passion for the traditional pencil. It reminds me of the ‘story‘ of the Americans spending millions developing a pen that could write in space, whilst the Russians considered the problem, and just took a pencil with them. Apparently it’s nothing more than an urban myth, but a good one nonetheless and it reminds you of the simplicity of the pencil – no working parts to go wrong.


New purple Shorty pencil

The Shorty pencil from Worther has been a long-standing classic with us at Bureau, and so it only seems fair to announce that we have a new colour in the family – purple. The Shorty pencil, for those that haven’t come across it, is a chunky little thing, with an angled barrel and a nice fat 3mm soft graphite lead. Apparently it can write on almost any material, from wood to metal, plastic to glass (with red leads) and even x-rays (white leads). I can’t say I’ve tried it out to those extremes so it can’t be verified, but it is a recommended little pencil. Find out more about it, the other colours and the coloured leads.