October '20

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G R A P H I C S - P R O. C O M 2 0 2 0 O C T O B E R G R A P H I C S P R O 8 1 influenced by the fine art and architec- tural principles of Baroque and Rococo, a classical aesthetic that asserted that gran- deur and importance could, and should, be lent to anything. Ordinary consumer goods like buggy whips and snuff box- es—if lathered with enough scrolls, ara- besques, and ribbons—could command attention and make their owners feel in possession of something extraordinary, and therefore special. In the field of printing, remarkable and attention-getting typefaces proliferated. Letterforms were condensed and extend- ed to outrageous extremes, and festooned with all manner of spurs and serifs, re- plete with exotic dimensional effects. As typesetters used these tools to deliver dra- matic "broadside" posters and advertise- ments to the marketplace, engravers and lettering artists (also called engrossers) devised opulent currency, letterheads, re- ceipts, and official documents, all hand- drawn and imaginatively flourished with consummate artistry. With such a riot of decoration loose at every turn, sign makers were not to be outdone! The skill with which 19th-cen- tury sign craftsmen applied themselves to the glorification of every available public space and surface (with no small assistance from the general absence of re- strictive sign codes) was astounding. The trade hasn't been the same since. BROADENED INTERESTS My introduction into the world of sign making and to the origins of Victorian design occurred simultaneously. In 1970, I was given a book called "Atkinson's Sign Painting" by my future mother-in-law. She retrieved the item from the sign stu- dio of her recently deceased father. I be- lieve I had gotten the gift because of my declared interest in art, but I'd certainly never seen anything like it in my 19 years. I was utterly captivated. There were doz- ens of full-page illustrations. The unusual compositions, lettering, and cartouches fascinated me, as did the subject of the de- signs; these appeared to be antique adver- tisements for products long forgotten. But Above: In Great Britain, shop fronts and fascia strips sported signs carved in full relief. (Image courtesy "Designage: The Art of the Decorative Sign" by Arnold Schwartzman, collection of Mark Oatis) Left: The burgeoning craft of engrossing provided a lucra- tive income for lettering technicians willing to apply their efforts to the perfection of their craft. Testimonials, resolutions, and official documents were much in demand. (Image courtesy of the collection of Mark Oatis)

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