This massive paper bag collection is a graphic design dream

an old WH Smith paper bag from the paper bag collection
(Image credit: WH Smith / @paper_bag_archive / Future)

There are collectors of all kinds. Some people collect action figures, some people stamps or coins. But right now we're taken by what claims to be the biggest paper bag collection in the world. That's right; it's a bold claim. But the anonymous collector has been posting images for some time on Instagram, and they keep on coming. Suffice it to say, we're hooked.

Bags are useful things, protecting products on their journey from the shop to home, and they've evolved with the times. Paper was for a long time largely replaced by plastic, which is now being shunned for obvious environmental reasons. But bags are also fascinating (serious, they are) as one of the most visible collaterals businesses get to use to display their branding. That makes delving into this collection a treat for anyone interesting in branding, graphic design and typography, with dozens of gorgeous retro pieces from the 70s and 80s (if you're more here for what's trending this year, see our guide to the hottest graphic design trends in 2022.

The Instagram account @paper_bag_archive only began posting in November last year, but it's already picked up 14k followers, posting on average every couple of days. Present in the collection are familiar (and once familiar) names from the British high street, such as Lewis's, Boots and WH Smith with its old orange cube logo. But we also get to see gems from small local businesses, from pottery shops to butcher shops, plus a scattering of museums and galleries. 

Other highlights include a sick bag from Britannia Airways, bringing back fond (but nauseous) memories of family package holidays from the 80s, a utilitarian British Rail takeaway food bag and a Yogi Bear-themed McDonald's Happy Meal packaging.

The bags will have strong nostalgia value for anyone born pre-1990s, but they also have a lot of charm for anyone interested in graphic design. In most cases the owner of the account hasn't dated the bags, but the styles, colours and typographies make it fun to guess when each piece was used – many of them looking like they were probably very much products of their time. 

One particular treat for typography fans is the Letterform bag showing the 'typefaces of the month' from March 1971. We're most intrigued as to what goodies might have been inside that bag because paper bags for penny chews, we remember, but bags for typefaces?

This isn't the only stunning collection of bags we've seen recently, either. We're very much having a bag moment because we've also fallen in love with DJ and record shop owner Johnny Trunk's new book AZ of Record Shop bags. It's exactly what it says, exploring the history of record shopping in the UK through an A to Z collection of 500 vintage bags from record shops big and small, also revealing some brilliant designs that were spot on the moment for their time.

Pages from the book AZ of Record Shop Bags

(Image credit: Fuel)

Inspired by all these retro designs? Then get to work. Check out the best current prices on Adobe's range of creative apps below or see our guide to the best graphic design software. You might also want to use some of the best free vintage and retro fonts. For more retro vibes, see one designer's glorious retro makeovers of famous logos.

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Joseph Foley

Joe is a regular freelance journalist and editor at Creative Bloq. He writes news and features, updates buying guides and keeps track of the best equipment for creatives, from monitors to accessories and office supplies. A writer and translator, he also works as a project manager at London and Buenos Aires-based design, production and branding agency Hermana Creatives, where he manages a team of designers, photographers and video editors who specialise in producing photography, video content, graphic design and collaterals for the hospitality sector. He enjoys photography, particularly nature photography, wellness and he dances Argentine tango.