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American Sign Museum

Founded by Tod Swormstedt, former editor and publisher of Signs of the Times magazine, the American Sign Museum (est. 2005) is based in Cincinnati, OH. Mike Jackson at the American Sign Museum lists the top 25 early sign making books, roughly in order of his personal preference. Many of these contain great alphabets that can provide inspiration. His list with Mike Jackson's comments in italic:

  • Frank Atkinson: Art of Sign Painting (1909, 1915, 1929, 1937, 1983, 1985, 1991). Probably the single most influential sign making book of its time.
  • C.J. Strong: Strong's Book of Designs (1910, 1917, 1982). C.J. Strong was very influential in the sign world following the turn of the century. This book has been reprinted several times, however all the early editions were spattered with wonderful color plates. Strong was also responsible for the Detroit School of Lettering at this time.
  • R. Henderson: Henderson Sign Painter (1906, 1991). Another of the sought after period books; originals are fairly scarce. R. Henderson seemed to be the person responsible for compiling the book of plates by various noteworthy sign designers of the time. The Denver artist, John G. Ohnimus, stands out among the group with striking images, lettering, and layouts.
  • Al. Imelli: Alphabets and Layouts (1922). Loaded with alphabets.
  • Fred Knopf: Coast Manual of Lettering and Designs (1907). Fred Knopf and J. M. Mahaffey compiled a wonderful book of layouts, designs, and alphabets using some of their own material and a who's who list of outstanding sign designers of the period.
  • J.N. Halsted: Modern Ornament & Design (1927, 1985). An original of this little jewel is very hard to find. With no alphabets, J.N. Halsted concentrated on illustrations, ornaments and graphic design.
  • E.C. Matthews: Sign Painting Course (1954, 1958). This book is heavily illustrated with his layouts, letterstyles, and ornaments but the text which covers about half of each page is equally informative.
  • Thaddeus David: David's Practical Letterer (1903). This book was published by Thaddeus Davids Company but was compiled by Sidney Hackes and was illustrated by Arnold Binger. The first half of the book is fairly generic with basic instructions on brush and pen lettering.
  • Charles Wagner: Blueprint Textbook of Sign & Showcard Lettering (1926). Charles Wagner operated the Wagner School of Sign Arts in Boston and this book was used as the textbook.
  • E.L. Koller: Artistic Showcards-How to Design and Make Them (1924). E.L. Koller was the Director of Art Schools for the International Correspondence Schools and it appears it was mostly his artwork used in those textbooks. This book includes layouts, letterstyles, color schemes and ornamentation.
  • H.C. Martin: 1000 Showcard Layouts (1928, 1930, 1984). An amazing book if only from the realization of the effort it took to produce it! H.C. Martin, a frequent contributor to Signs of the Times Magazine, was commissioned to produce a book of 1000 showcard layouts specifically to be used in a book.
  • Samuel Welo: Studio Handbook (1927, 1935). This book features numerous hand-lettered alphabets and several pages of ornaments, dingbats, and panel layouts.
  • W.A. Herberling: Basic Lettering (1922). W.A. Heberling was the Instructor of Sign, Scene, and Pictorial Painting at the Mooseheart Vocational Institute in Mooseheart, IL. This book was also used as a textbook, taking beginners through the basics right up to painted pictorial billboards.
  • Ashmun Kelly: The Expert Sign Painter (1910 (1922)). Ashmun Kelly wrote this book for the technical side of the sign trade audience. He explains some of the most complex elements and techniques of the trade including gilding, mirroring, frosting, and embossing.
  • Raymond J. LeBlanc: Gold Leaf Techniques (1961 (plus numerous reprints)). Raymond J. LeBlanc wrote the quintessential book on working with goldleaf of the time. With a few revisions to allow for updated materials, most of the techniques described in his first book are still being used today.
  • Don Sturdivant: Modern Showcard and Theatrical Lettering (1948). Don Sturdivant produced this book at a time when showcards were still commonplace from department stores to theaters. By that time, showcard writing was a fairly specialized part of the sign industry even though the same theories of layout and design applied across the board.
  • Bill Boley: Basiks of Lettering (1952). Bill Boley's general script look was quickly adopted by many of the handlettering artists of the day. Only six different alphabets are shown.
  • Alf R. Becker: One Hundred Alphabets (1941). Alf Becker produced this book for Signs of the Times Publishing Company and who advertised it in their magazines for quite a few years. There were numerous other titles touting a collection of alphabets, but this one seems to have been the most popular even though finding an original is still tough.
  • Duke Wellington: Theory and Practice of Poster Art (1934, 1986). Duke Wellington worked in some of the finest poster and card shops of the time and many of the projects in the book have a strong movie theme. While there are several color plates, the majority of the book consists of black and white photos of his cards and numerous pages of Deco style images and layouts.
  • J.M. Bergling: Art Alphabets and Lettering (1918). J.M. Bergling produced four books of merit which were considered technical art books. They were produced for architects, craftsmen, engrossers, engravers, lettering specialists and commercial artists and were reprinted numerous times throughout the century. The latest known editions were printed in 1980.
  • George: Speedball Lettering Books (1923-1952). A constant source of inspiration.
  • E.L. Koller: ITC & ICS- Correspondence School Textbooks (1924-1935). During this period, the International Textbook Company and International Correspondence School produced dozens of sign-related books. Actually these were textbooks usually sharing some of the same chapters. E.L. Koller is credited with much of the text and illustrations used in the textbooks and he did produce a similar set of stand alone books with much of the same information.
  • H.C. Martin: Martin's Idea Books 1-4 (1935-1937). This group of four Speedball-sized booklets showcased Martin's later work with even more zest and eye appeal than the original book. #4 was produced in 1937.
  • C.J. Strong: Detroit School of Lettering 1-10 (1905). C.J. Strong owned and operated the Detroit School of Lettering along with a mail order supply department. This group of ten booklets are about the same size as a normal Speedballlettering book, but slightly thinner.
  • D.M. Campana: The Artist and Decorator (1925). An art nouveau text influenced by Alphonse Mucha.

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Luc Devroye ⦿ School of Computer Science ⦿ McGill University Montreal, Canada H3A 2K6 ⦿ lucdevroye@gmail.com ⦿ http://luc.devroye.org ⦿ http://luc.devroye.org/fonts.html