The Daily Heller: Give Me That Old-Time Typography

Posted inThe Daily Heller

Brothers and sisters, religion takes many forms—from sacred and solemn to voodoo and hoodoo. At the root of all evangelical ritual is the spreading of the Word. Yes, the Word is the cornerstone of religious belief.

The Word can be quiet—even sublime. Yet most often it comes down from the mount as the ballyhoo of bible thumpers (from countless denominations) announcing such hair-raising predictions as “the end is near,” “the time has come” and “repent before it’s too late.”

I call this design genre Bible Branding. I refer to the printed graphic devices used by salesmen and saleswomen of the Word, ministers of faith, propagandists of deliverance who have long employed familiar graphic styles to shout out the Word to be read and heard.

Why is this a post, you ask?

I am fascinated how matter-of-fact layout tropes, quirky typesetting and roughly drawn lettering, seemingly made without forethought, work so well together.

Accident or genius? Or a grand plan?

These (above and below) are not the amateur noodling of an unskilled and unsophisticated wannabe printer. Each (2 3/4″ x 1 1/2″) card is arguably a typographic gem. In the example above, the lettering of the key message—”God Sees You”—is contoured, with a subtle animated quality. (Hey, even the quote marks are not dumb.) In some of the examples below, condensed initial caps draw the eye to the essential phrase, as in “His Last Step,” “The Wages of Sin” and “Repent”.

Someone thought long and hard before committing them to print. Design decisions were made. The bold sensational typography of the 19th and early 20th centuries is designed to be oratorical, to yell when necessary.

Do not look for typographic (God is in the details) nuances. But do look for the typographic voice. When these were conceived, circa 1920s, the artist/designers knew exactly what they were doing. Vernacular be damned.

These are not just random snippets of printing ephemera—they are deliberately designed (and a handful are smartly illustrated) to remind the recipient that unless they Fear God and “let go the chain,” there is no use calling for help!

Note: I have collected religious artifacts like these so-called “Fear of God” cards for many years now. While at first I thought they were just simplistic inspirational messages, some of them, surprisingly, exhibit honest design thinking in the broadest sense. When I was given this cache, presumably collected by some long-departed soul during the Great Depression, I began to take a closer look at the scores of evangelical and ecclesiastical cards, stamps, flyers and pamphlets that I’ve gathered over the years. I think researching them may fill my spare time in the future. If there is one.