Typographic Gifts for Designers, Part 14

Hot on the heels of my open question about artists and fives, I came across this marvelous photograph by Berenice Abbott featuring a pair of gorgeous fives in starring roles. Abbott is best remembered for Changing New York, her seminal collection of photographs that documents New York of the 1930s; it’s both an inspiration and a great resource for designers, especially typeface designers whose work is influenced by the public sphere.

For eighty years, the A. Zito Bakery stood at 259 Bleecker Street, a short walk from the H&Co offices. In a street now dominated by bar room neon and vacuform plastic, Zito’s window looked in 2004 much the way it did when Abbott photographed it in 1937. Bread Store is among a collection of Berenice Abbott Photographs now available from AllPosters.com as high-resolution Giclée prints, lovely not only for the glimpses they offer into a grander New York, but for some marvelous lettering as well. These barber shop windows (1, 2) must be tremendous up close, and the humble decals in Zito’s window above have long been a favorite of ours: our Delancey font is based on them. —JH

The Neon Boneyard

Our own Andy Clymer as returned from a trip out west with some fine photos of Las Vegas’s infamous neon boneyard. A project of the Neon Museum, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation and study of one of the nation’s great lettering traditions, the neon boneyard is of course located in the Las Vegas desert: an ideal climate for preservation, and convenient to the center of the energetic neon carnage of the 21st century.

Years ago I enjoyed a tour of the boneyard during a visit with Yesco, the Young Electric Sign Company, who are responsible for the haberdashery of a significant number of megawatts on the Vegas strip. It was with a combination of pride and horror that I discovered how many H&Co fonts were being used on the new digital signs that were fast replacing the old neon: even today, Yesco’s own site advertises their digital abilities using a little Knockout. For a type designer with a love of signs, it’s a very odd feeling. —JH

Typographic Gifts for Designers, Part 9

A visit to Shorpy inevitably lasts the rest of the day. This tremendous archive of hundred-year-old photos has much to recommend it to anyone interested in period typography: the optimistic lettering of the New Deal is well represented, and there’s an excellent cross-section of sidewalk Americana as well; entertainingly, the whole collection is leavened by an undercurrent of quiet menace that I find delightfully surreal.

There are impossibly old photos from Antietam and significant ones from Kitty Hawk, but it’s candid images like this that I find the most striking. For while it’s their farmers and seamstresses and street urchins who draw focus and take center stage, the true subject of these photographs is the lettering in the background, and the thousands of invisible hands responsible for every single letter.

To my delight, Shorpy is now working with the Juniper Gallery to produce reproductions of some of their most evocative Vintage High-Resolution Photographs. Produced as eight-color giclee prints on a variety of archival stocks, Shorpy’s photographs are available in sizes from 19" × 13" (48cm × 33cm) to 47" × 34" (119cm × 86cm). Order by December 18 for Christmas delivery. —JH

Until the Next Type Tour…

Angry villagers descend with torches and pitchforks.

After taking a moment to recover, I wanted to say thanks to everyone who came out for the AIGA/NY “Alphabet/City” type tour this past weekend. Being a native New Yorker, I’ve come to think of the city’s lettering as a kind of home to me. So it was a real pleasure to see so many people ready to walk the streets for hours and look at letters, reaching for their cameras to capture an old carving, or some weatherbeaten shopfronts.

Winding through the heat and crowds, we saw lettering grand and humble, prominent and hidden. (Thanks to Michael Surtees, John Kwo and Caren Litherland for these photos.) We even got a serenade from a Mulberry Street maitre d’ (did anyone get a shot of that guy?), and a very special outdoor concert on Chrystie Street. All part of a weekend stroll in Manhattan.

Even after three miles or so and two and a half hours, it was less than half of what I wanted show for those neighborhoods. Perhaps there’s material for another tour someday. Until then, keep shooting! —TFJ

More Type Tour Photos

John Kwo posted this Flickr set with some beautifully crisp photos from the type tour. Don’t miss some of the great inscriptional lettering to be found on lower Manhattan’s municipal buildings, including these spirited NH and TT ligatures.

Over at Villatype, Joe Shouldice has assembled some instructive comments to accompany his photos. Points for relating why signpainters’ dropshadows point left instead of right, and defining the term “gaspipe lettering.”

More goodies from Matt Sung, again on Flickr. Matt definitely shares our thing for distressed typography!

You’ve got to admire the rudeness of the above, from Michael Surtees’ Flickr set. Michael captured some other excellent moments, including this unlikely but fabulous set of inscriptional, inline, sans-serif, old-style figures. —JH

Type Tour Photos

For those of you who missed this weekend’s AIGA/NY Typographic Walking Tour, designer Karen Horton has uploaded a Flickr set containing some of the highlights. There are a couple of treasures here that aren’t to be missed, including at least one rare architectural palimpsest that won’t be visible for long. (Demolition in the city regularly exposes sudden windows into the the past, as in 1998 when Times Square was suddenly home to a 121-year-old advertisement for “J. A. Keal’s Carriage Manufactory,” painted in 1877.) Some of the lettering on the type tour is older still, and some of the newer signs may find themselves covered up by adjacent construction. So catch them while you can, or wait another 121 years to see if they resurface in 2128. —JH

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