A Living Fossil on the 1 Line

Photo: David W. Dunlap, The New York Times

Passing fancies in lettering often vanish without a trace, and no style has died a harder death than Art Nouveau. Even in its heyday, the style’s contributions to typography were slight: there were never many Art Nouveau typefaces, and the few eccentrics that have survived may owe something to a resurgence in the sixties, when their smoky and vegetal forms found favor among the psychedelic set. It was not typography but lettering in which Art Nouveau reached full flower — sometimes literally — famously in the posters of Alphonse Mucha, and the Paris Métro signs of Hector Guimard.

Parisians have guarded their Art Nouveau treasures well; New Yorkers less so. New York was no stranger to the style — two blocks south of our office is Ernest Flagg’s splendid Little Singer Building, and it was in the borough of Queens that Louis Comfort Tiffany established his factory — but lettering from the period has become scarce. This morning, David W. Dunlap writes in The New York Times of a new piece of lettering that has surfaced, in of all places, the uptown platform of the No. 1 subway line at Columbus Circle. A visit is yours for $2.

Dunlap’s article contains the full and fascinating story, including this irresistable opener: this lettered encaustic tile, specially created for the station, is somehow older than the trains themselves. —JH

You talkin’ to me?

Thankfully this was published after my cab ride back from the airport, after AIGA Denver:

“Whatever design changes befall the yellow taxi, in my mind they’ll forever have checker striping, double headlights, and a rate card posted on the front doors that’s quirkily lettered and reckoned in fractions of a mile. (But then, I also believe that ‘The Train to the Plane’ is still in operation, because its noisome jingle has never stopped playing in my head.)”

“It’s hard to argue with the principles behind the solution, but with so many different ideas at work it’s not surprising that the final form feels kind of unfinished. I do have to admire Smart Design for trying to introduce a form of lettering that evokes the old computer-printed hack licenses, since for me this is the defining typography of the backseat. But divorced from the puzzle of spending an entire ride trying to decipher a name like ‘rnprowit sj,’ I don’t know that everyone will get the connection. Perhaps they could have sealed the deal with ‘nyct axi,’ accompanied by a photo of someone who's clearly not the driver?”

That’s me, one of eight designers invited by The New York Times to critique the new NYC Taxi logo. (And I wonder why they don’t go to Brooklyn…) —JH

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