Windbag Book Review Corner – Pan Am: History, Design & Identity by Matthias Hühne

My biggest hobby (outside of points and miles, of course) is books. Most of my online presence is focused on my hobby business as a bookbinder and printer (as evidenced by my Kickstarter campaign), so if you found me on Instagram and wondered why all the pictures were of books, now you know why. I spend what some would consider an outrageous amount of money on books, but I don’t have a TV or a stereo, and that money had to go somewhere.

While these two hobbies sometimes seem like they have nothing in common, there is the occasional overlap – often courtesy of Callisto Publishers. They’re the ones who published that jaw-droppingly gorgeous book of airline posters a couple years ago that got some coverage in the blogosphere. Callisto is an interesting publisher, in that they themselves are a hobby business of sorts, owned by Matthias Hühne, whose main gig is running a successful real estate development group. Hühne started Callisto to publish the airline posters book, which is mostly based on his extensive collection. He also went ahead and wrote book as well, and he provides a really great overview of airlines’ corporate design in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. As a sometimes publisher/bookmaker, I couldn’t help but marvel at Callisto’s audacity, releasing a 15-pound book of airline posters with a $400 price tag as their first book.


Their latest book is Pan Am: History, Design & Identitywhich is a deep-dive into Pan Am’s genesis in the early 20th century and development into a global icon that has never been repeated in the American aviation industry (and arguably around the world, although that’s a more fraught claim). It is richly illustrated with archival photos, advertisements, posters, luggage tags, menus, timetables, brochures, annual shareholder reports, and pretty much anything else with Pan Am branding on it. As he did in the last book, Hühne provides an extensively-researched history to accompany all the graphical material.

One of my favorite parts of the book is in the introduction, when Hühne remarks that so much of Pan Am’s corporate ephemera has been lost to history that the book almost wasn’t possible to compile… until he heard of a mega-collection of Pan Am material coming to the market and bought the entire thing in order to make the book. That’s commitment to your side-gig as a publisher, and it attests to how passionate he is about the subject matter. (I wonder how many points he earned for that one.)

Thankfully, for those interested in Pan Am but hesitant to spend a good chunk of their monthly budget on a single book, there is a reasonably-priced edition that’s smaller in format. However, as soon as the book was announced last spring, I preordered the deluxe edition, since I’m a mega-fan of Callisto and Hühne and wanted the the book in all its intended glory. There’s plenty in here for printing geeks, including special varnishes to recreate the look of the original silkscreen printed posters and the photo-litho ones that appeared later, as well as spot colors to recreate the original colors more faithfully. Plus, the book comes in a handmade clamshell box with a blue glass cover that looks like something straight out of Pan Am’s official corporate archives.

I could go on and on about this book – the graphic design is clean and purposeful, the typography echoes the best applications of the Swiss modernist style, the paper is heavy and luxurious, etc. It’s part of why I love Callisto – their books are end-to-end works of art, and the attention to detail and quality is uncommon, to say the least. I point all of this out (to an audience who I have a hunch doesn’t care about books as much as I do, but I may be wrong about that) because it’s not unlike the way people looking for aspirational redemptions judge airlines not only on the seat, or the food, or the lounge, but the entire end-to-end experience. Tarmac transfers in luxury cars, chauffeur service, lounges, service on board – there are very few airlines that excel in all phases, and those are the ones people fall over themselves to praise. I find the same thing with books, and I honestly can’t remember the last time I encountered a commercial press that puts as much attention to detail into their product as Callisto.

So, if you’re interested in aviation design history, I recommend both of Callisto’s books with my highest level of praise. And if you’re really into it, spring for the deluxe editions!

Here are some pictures, taken from Callisto’s website:

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And here’s the happy Windbag with his windbook:



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