What’s better on a Monday in early July than an eyeful of sign writing and glass-embossed lettering? It certainly activates this writer’s rapid eye movement.
Nothing was easy before the computer, but it was certainly satisfying. The pages below are from the original English edition of The Sign Writer and Glass Embosser by W. & W. G. Sutherland, an 1895 manual that was as essential to the practice of typography as Armin Hofmann’s type manuals are today.
This thick volume is a veritable encyclopedia of design applications that the skilled letterer would have been called upon to create. The authors set the stage in “What a Sign Should Be,” stating: “Sign Boards, having become a necessity for the due and efficient carrying on of our businesses, we may (passing on to the strictly technical part of the subject) profitably send a short time and appropriate a small share of our space to the consideration of what a write sign ought to be, and what it ought not to be.”
Signs must help passers-by understand “what … we sell, or what we do; what business or profession we belong to; and which of the thousand-and-one wants or necessities we are prepared to supply.”
Through scores of letterpress printed instructional pages, this book details the rule that “readable typefaces are best,” and how best to address spacing, contrast and all that’s necessary in “setting out” the making of a sign. There is even a chapter for novice sign writers. If you want gilded highlights, a section is devoted to gold paint.
Without further ado, we turn from the hundred-plus pages of lessons, rules and explanations to the samples themselves. What once took days and weeks can now be done in a fraction of the time … but is the result better than what’s exhibited below?