When the Cover Is Worth
More than the Book

I couldn’t tell you what ignites a passion for collecting old phone books – even after reading one collector’s attempt to explain it. But I discovered quite a few websites displaying and dealing phone directories from the past 50 years while researching my post about the 1878 phone book. That’s when it dawned on me there might be a way to find something I saw only once in my life, thirty-five years ago.

Alan Frisbie showed off a Houston phone book at a LASFS meeting in the original clubhouse (so, sometime after October 1973), allowing us to enjoy finding the hilarious details hidden within an elaborate pen-and-ink drawing of the Port of Houston shipping channel and surrounding city. A closer inspection revealed bits of business worthy of Mad Magazine, like a tiny Viking ship rowing downriver, and a 19th century steam engine under attack by Indians on horseback.

I succeeded in finding a scan of the cover from the right year’s phone book, but the resolution wasn’t good enough to allow magnification of the interesting details. Another site had the same image reproduced from the Port of Houston Magazine — on page 16 of this PDF file http://www.portarchive.com/1971/01-January%20Page%201%20to%2020.pdf – that when printed out is just good enough to let a reader see some of items listed in the accompanying article:

Every year Artist Karl Hoefle of Dallas does a sketch on some aspect of Houston for the Southwestern Bell Telephone Company’s Yellow Pages in which he gentle spoofs the viewer by hiding some incongruous subjects and situations in the over-all panorama. This year’s subject was the Port of Houston‘s wharves, and the alert reader will find Indians attacking an 1880 train behind Wharf 31 while a mermaid sits on the apron astern a vessel at the same berth, while two space men wander about in Moon suits on the adjacent open wharf and a rock band blares forth nearby. Across the way a buffalo views a swimmer in the channel and up at Wharf 22 a full-rigged ship is berthed while a Viking ship tows a loaded sand barge downstream just behind it. A foreground vessel has a crow’s nest, all right, but with a crow in it! A tiger in a cage hangs from the ship’s tackle and scares the cats coming out of the last door of Shed 31. Upstream a vessel lands a sailfish with tackle off the bow while a sail-car comes down the track on open Wharf 29 and an old time Huck Finn Mississippi River raft rounds the turn of the Ship Channel.

Artist Hoefle did this several years running. An admirer scanned two other covers and uploaded them as a Houston Architecture forum post, together with blowups of the funny little details. You can enjoy the images by clicking the thumbnail links to the image files below. Elsewhere, a fan has posted this Hoefle print online: it challenges viewers to find 100 things hidden in the cityscape.

Karl Hoefle, 1968 Houston Yellow PagesKarl Hoefle, 1965 Houston Yellow Pages

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