Saturday, July 20, 2013

Show Card Writing, Part 3

Before leaving the topic of show card writing, let's take a look at some alphabets. These were created by the show card writer William Hugh Gordon for his classic 1918 book Lettering for Commercial Purposes.

Each alphabet takes on the character of the tool that constructed it. These calligraphic letterforms were made with a broad, flat tipped tool held at a 45 degree angle. Such letters have been made by a reed pen, a quill pen, or a steel nib. But in this case he's using a rigger brush held at a 45 degrees.

Gordon classifies such an alphabet under the broad category "text" by which he means the old-style or thick-and-thin letters made through the centuries by normal writing instruments.

By rotating the rigger brush in the fingers, a writer can achieve a constant-width or "gothic" alphabet using single strokes. Note the fully open counters on the "o's," the high and low crossbars on the "F" and "A," and the narrow vertical letters, such as "H" and "N." These eccentricities were popular throughout the teens and '20s.

It takes multiple strokes of the brush to construct blocky letters, but in Gordon's hands, it's fast and even.

With a blunt-tipped brush or one of the Speedball oval nibs, you can get this fun poster style. This look is often associated with commercial graphics of the 1920s, such as that of F.G. Cooper.

Finally, I would like to thank blog readers Rise of the Molecule and John Berkeley for letting me know about the following related videos.

(Direct link to video) Factory tour of the Speedball pen nibs.

..and John told me about this video about the traditional fairground lettering and decoration of Joby Carter.

Related links
Amazon book:The Lettering and Graphic Design of F.G. Cooper (Thanks, Bill P.)
Free book: Lettering for Commercial Purposes, William Hugh Gordon, 1918

Read the whole series:
Show Card Writing, Part 1
Show Card Writing, Part 2 
Show Card Writing, Part 3


mrfinger said...

I did an apprenticeship with a sign painter after art school but looking at these fonts I am reminded of Dan X Solo, in Oakland CA, from whom I used to buy headline type. He had thousands of fonts from the past. His catalogues (printed on newsprint) were wonderful adventures in history and design and humor- I'm sure I still have them somewhere. Thanks for reminding me

Margaret Ryan said...

Thanks for these! My grandfather, Theodre Jansen (1870 -- 1961) got work as a show card writer when he came to New York from Holland in 1890. He knew many languages, and made show card in them all. His tool were around when I was a kid, and we used to have fun writing with the pen and ink.

Alex Jay said...

I’ve posted some biographical information about William Hugh Gordon who was Canadian. At a young age he emigrated to the U.S. where he lived and worked in a number of cities: Colorado Springs, Chicago, Los Angeles and Seattle. I’ve included many early Speedball Pen advertisements from trade magazines. My blog is Tenth Letter of the Alphabet and this is the link,