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MSS 1144: Houston Telephone Directory Covers Collection

 Collection
Identifier: MSS 1144

Scope and Contents

The majority of this collection consists of Houston telephone directory covers printed by the Southwestern Bell Telephone Company from 1905-2004. Of particular interest are several covers from the 1950s forward which are decorated with drawings from artists Karl Hoefle (1959, 1960-1971), Norman Baxter (1978-1980, and B. Wallace (1987-1990). In addition to these, the earliest directories feature advertisements for several local businesses including H.W Lottman Furniture Company, Henke and Pillot Groceries, Settegast and Kopf Co. Funeral Directors, and John L. Wortham and Son Insurance, among many more.

Beyond this, there are four brightly illustrated covers that do not include date or publication information, a cover from the Citizens Telephone Company of Texas' directory from 1906, and a cover from the Donnelly Houston Metro Yellow Pages from 1987.

Dates

  • 1905-2004

Language of Materials

The collection is in English.

Conditions Governing Access

This collection is open for research

Historical Note

Southwestern Telegraph and Telephone Company was organized in 1881 to operate exchanges in Arkansas and Texas. In 1917, it merged with several other regional companies from Oklahoma, Kansas, and Missouri to form the Southwestern Bell Telephone Company within the American Telegraph and Telephone Company (AT&T). In 1984, AT&T was broken up and Southwestern Bell became an independent once again. Over the years it absorbed other regional telephone companies, eventually changing its name to SBC communications. In 2005, SBC communications bought AT&T, and the area covered by Southwestern Bell became known as AT&T Southwest.

Over the decades, Houston-area Southwestern Bell telephone book covers featured a variety of different images. From the late 1800s through to the late 1920s, advertisements for local businesses were found on the outer covers of the directory. Beginning in the 1930s advertisements largely disappeared from the front of the books being replaced with the Southwestern Bell logo and/or a drawing of an angel holding lightning bolts dubbed “The Spirit of Communication”. This motif was used until 1955 when it was replaced by an etching of Houston City Hall. Around this time, the directory was divided into Yellow Pages for businesses and the Directory for individuals. The directory continued to feature the City Hall motif until 1958 when it was replaced by photographs and paintings featuring Houston or Texas themes a trend that continues to the present.

From 1959-1971, Karl Hoefle, a commercial artist from Dallas, designed covers for Southwestern Bell Yellow Pages in several cities. The covers for Houston featured detailed sketches of the city in which Hoefle drew hidden subjects and situations in the over-all panorama. One famous example of a hidden subject in his covers was a mother cat named Pittens leading her brood of kittens through different harrowing situations.

In 1972, in an effort to cut costs, Southwestern Bell discontinued these line drawings and began to publish the Yellow Pages with covers featuring basic graphics in shades of yellow. This trend lasted until 1978 when Norman Baxter, commercial artist and co-founder of the Houston firm Baxter & Korge, began to design the covers of Houston's Yellow Pages. Baxter had become known for his pen-and-ink drawings of city skylines that were used as covers for more than ten years in other cities. Like Hoefle, Baxter's work contained funny subjects hidden within larger pictures meant to delight the viewer.

In 1981, Southwestern Bell again switched to basic yellow covers until 1987 when an otherwise unknown artist named B. Wallace again began creating whimsical line drawings once again for another three years. From 1990 to the present, either plain yellow covers or stock photographs of city scenes have been featured.

Extent

0.625 Linear Feet (2 document boxes)

Arrangement

This collection is arranged chronologically into series by decade and within each series, chronologically by year.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Transferred to the archives by the Texas and Local History Department in October of 1995.

Processing Information

Processed by John Rovell, June 2019
Author
John Rovell
Date
June 2019
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Undetermined
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
English

Repository Details

Part of the Houston Metropolitan Research Center Repository

Contact:

(832) 393-1662

The African American Library at the Gregory School
1300 Victor Street
Houston, Texas 77019
832-393-1440
HPL.Gregoryschool@houstontx.gov
M Closed | T 10-6 | W 10-6 | Th 12-8 | F 10-5 | Sa 10-5 | Su Closed
Houston Metropolitan Research Center
Houston Public Library
550 McKinney St.
Houston, Texas 77002
M Closed T 10-6 W 10-6 Th 12-8 F 10-5 Sa 10-5 Su Closed
TXR.Reference@houstontx.gov
832-393-1662