Raiders of the Lost Art


Got a fun gift at work today from a longtime co-worker and friend, and veteran of many thousands of pages of educational publishing. It’s a gift that appeals my deepest craphound/DTP geek instincts: The Adobe Illustrator 88 package.


My friend has carried this big green doorstop of a box from one job location to another for twenty years, and now he’s made me its keeper. His timing couldn’t be better either, as Illustrator 88 was unleashed on a well-moussed Macintosh community exactly 20 years ago, in March of 1988. So let’s take a little trip back in time to when this box was first opened. To a time when Adobe logos evoked classic art instead of the Periodic Table of the elements. To a time when it seemed like anyone could be President, even Michael Dukakis.

I start sifting through the box. There’s so much junk to enjoy here. First, we still have the slipcase. I know, I’m starting to sound like a guy who collects Star Wars action figures. Don’t believe the rumors. I’d rather picture myself as the DTP Indiana Jones, descending into crumbling cubicles to rescue ancient DTP artifacts from oblivion. Yeah, that’s it.

The box itself is a hunter green and magenta cardboard cinderblock. It’s so sturdy I think I could almost stand on it. Almost. Ain’t gonna try it. Venus didn’t come this far only to be squashed beneath my treads. And check out the vintage Adobe logo.


Amazing how the familiar “A” looks incredibly cheesy attached to its vestigial “DOBE.” Poor DOBE, sentenced to eternity in logoblivion. I say embrace the cheese. At the next InDesign Conference, I’ll be the guy wearing a t-shirt with just the long neglected DOBE.

Inside the box is like a trip to the ’80s marketing museum. I can hardly believe how much crap came along for the ride with the one little floppy disk. This is a world before the dawn of PDF, CD-ROM, pop-up windows, and spam. Paper is everywhere, like it’s the Publisher’s Clearinghouse envelope.

And once you start reading, the sheer awesomeness is laid on thick. We’re promised, “even if you can’t draw anything more complicated than a stick figure, now you can create high quality, professional artwork, without a lot of work.” I’d like to put that claim to a test. My 5-year old does fantastic stick princesses and ponies, let’s hook her up with a Mac SE and Illustrator 88 and see what we get.

Sorting through the pile of papers inside the box, shows how much Adobe was once focused on their fonts. Adobe Type Manager was new and got the big splash.



Illustrator seems like a means to get customers to buy PostScript fonts and printers. Pamphlets for Adobe Type Manager, Adobe Publishing Packs, and of course, the Big Kahuna, the Adobe Type Library. There is even a business reply card to join Adobe Systems on CompuServe! and discuss fonts. Sweet.

The original package came with a videotape tutorial which is sadly missing. That’s gonna cost me bigtime someday when I bring this thing on Antiques Roadshow. But you can still see it (with a young with James Spader) in several places on the Web, including YouTube.

My favorite favorite item is the Quick Reference Guide.



Printed on glossy cardstock, and in pristine condition, this thing has sat in the box, ungazed upon by geek eyes, since the waning days of the Reagan White House. And yet, it would still be useful to someone trying to learn Illustrator CS3. The way you draw a Bezier curve has never changed. I’m going to check out all 6 panels of the card to see how much of it still applies to CS3. Any guesses?

Man, they really knew how to pack it in back in the day. A 236-page manual. A 148-page Tutorial. A 67-page Color Guide with 15 pages of tint charts. And two support programs: Adobe Separator and Adobe DrawOver. OK, raise your hand if you’ve ever used Adobe DrawOver. Now raise your hand if you think I just made up that name. It is in fact, real. I had to look it up. It converted Mac PICT files to EPS, so you could place and trace them in Illustrator.

Compare all this clutter to the way things are now: download the software, browser-based Help, and if you want an Adobe-sanctioned tutorial, it’s either or 40 bucks for the Classroom in A Book. I’m not pining to go back to the days of the software cinderblock. I’ll take my chances in the brave new cloud. But it sure was fun rummaging through this vector drawing Ark of the Covenant. And it didn’t even melt my face off.



4 Responses

  1. […] Read the rest of this great post here […]

  2. Someday I will have to bring over my boxes containing Aldus (yes, Aldus) Freehand 2.02, or DeltaGraph, or PixelPaint. Remember Streamline?

    My computer room is getting crowded out with all the Macs I’ve owned since my first Mac II that I got back in ’89, not to mention all the boxes of fonts. Talk about packaging! I’ve got an entire shelf of Adobe font boxes. Good times…

  3. […] see the fact that in five years, there wouldn’t BE any software in boxes. They were clearly living in the past. If the cloud people have their way, in five years, there won’t be any software on my […]

  4. […] (Illustrator 88 box borrowed from Publicious.) […]

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