Sunday, September 30, 2007

NYC Type Walk

I was one of the lucky 22 that managed to snag a ticket to the AIGA sponsored type walk on the weekend lead by Tobias Frere-Jones of Hoefler & Frere-Jones and who some of you may recognize from the helvetica film. His typographic expertise and the fact that he was born and raised in NYC helped to make this a great event!

The title link will bring you to many more tagged pics at flickr from the walk (likely some damn good ones as quite a few people had telephoto lenses. Here are my fantastic point-and-shoot pics, and some of the points made by Tobias during the talk/walk...

This old American Legion sign shows off "Aluminum Channel Letters". Around the 1920s neon lettering began being introduced from France. For a while it was all the rage as it was fresh and new. Pretty soon neon filled streets were seen as an eyesore and some areas started banning it and generally people started using it less, while simultaneously it began be be seen as tacky and seedy. This can be seen today as neon lettering is common for liquor stores and XXX porn shops.
Also of interest in the lettering is the quite rare extended geometric sans... and the curiously non-extended "c".

Around the turn of the century many buildings were commemorated to wives and daughters and their names were incorporated into the buildings. These were done by bending tin over wood cut letters. The technique obviously affected the detail and shape of the letters/serifs. The molding of the overhang was also created in the same manner and truely integrated the type into the architecture.

The first pic shows old-school casting of individual letters above the more recent casting of an entire plaque.
The second shot shows up high the location where cast letters had once been placed up high on the building. Seems ridiculous to place detailed type this high up until you realize that there used to be an elevated train that ran down Bowery street, and the train would have stopped right infront of this bank.

An example of perhaps the last remaining punched/embossed stell with prism surface in lower Manhattan.

One of the first forays into plastic molded letters. On the north side of the street and incredibly faded. This fading has made the brush stroked in the black 'ELE'ctrical type visible. Even the extra strokes done to cleaning finish the edges of the letters.

"Gaspipe" lettering which are characterized by curving of any possible strokes and rounded ends. Easier to do with a brush.

The corner shot shows the fading which occurs with the east facing side vs the north facing side.
Sign painters would more often paint a drop shadow dropping off to the left rather than the right to make it easier and quicker. In the set of capitals there are 12 letters with a straight edge on the left and only 4 with a straight edge on the right.

Why the crazy width on the vertical strokes in the liquor store sign you ask? So you can still read the sign from waaaaaaaay down the block.

And now I leave you with three of Gotham's direct relatives,
See more images and read about the birth of Gotham at the Hoefler & Frere-Jones site.


hoefler said...

Hi Joe,

Just wanted to let you know that I've posted a link to your photo set on the H&FJ Blog. Enjoy!


Anth said...

thanks for an excellent post.
one detail i didn't understand: since when did men ever wear hosiery? also, i really enjoyed the flaming tail of the Q in that LIQUOR sign.

Milks said...

oh snap Joe! this is exactly why I need to move to New York. Next type walk, I'm coming.

- the non-extended c is quite curious, I've always liked neon signs when they are not lit up. Like when the lights go on at last call, everything looks very different.

- I like the info on how the type was constructed, very informative.

- cup & saucer: that ampersand is outstanding

- I've never hear the term gas-pipe lettering, I think I will investigate

Thanks Joe! keep the posts coming.

Frank Jump said...

Found your site through Lawrence O'Toole's Philadelphia project. Saw your Ideal Sign image and decided to post mine and mention your site as well. You will appear on my blogroll shortly.

Frank Jump

PS: Check out my signs from Amsterdam, Holland, Netherlands at