• DESIGN RESEARCH,  PODCAST,  SIGNS

    The Fading Memory of Departure Boards

    Goodbye to the Solari Board. If you’ve been to any major train station in the past 15 years, chances are you’re familiar with a certain sound: the flip​, flip, flip of a large overhead departure board every time it updates. But that sound is becoming increasingly rare as analog boards that click—what are known as split-flap displays or Solari boards—are being replaced by digital versions. In January 2017, Amtrak removed its large overhead departure board from the middle of Penn Station and replaced it with a fleet of digital screens scattered throughout the floor. Penn Station is a universally detested space. Walking through it doesn’t generally inspire romanticism or happiness.…

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  • DESIGN RESEARCH,  SIGNS

    SARONY

    Recent construction has revealed the ghostly remnants of an ad applied to the side of 37 Union Square West. The ornate sign, partially obscured by a window frame, was illegible on its own, but a Library of Congress image of Union Square West from 1894 shows a clearer view of the same swirly signature, which reads Sarony. Below his signature, an even fainter “Portraits” is (barely) visible. Napoleon Sarony was a Canadian-born artist and lithographer living in New York. He moved to Europe in the 1850s for formal artistic training and later learned wet plate photography from his brother, a successful commercial photographer in England. In 1866, he moved back…

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  • BOOKS,  DESIGN RESEARCH,  EPHEMERA,  MAPS,  PHOTOS

    BROOKLYN HISTORICAL SOCIETY

    Last week, I made an appointment at the Brooklyn Historical Society to look through their manuscript collection and peruse the incredible typography and lettering. The building itself is pretty amazing (with some of the nicest doorknobs I’ve ever seen). It was built in 1881, designed by architect George B. Post specifically for the Long Island Historical Society (as the Society was then known). Books and magazines from the last several hundred years line the stacks of the library, and nearly all of them contain beautiful letterforms. I looked through boxes and boxes of club ephemera, certificates, and maps from the 19th and 20th centuries. Here are a few good ones:…

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  • DESIGN RESEARCH,  EPHEMERA,  PHOTOS

    MANHOLE COVERS OF WILLOW STREET

    The four block stretch of Willow Street from Pierrepont to Cranberry in Brooklyn Heights has over 50 different manhole and chute covers. Most of the examples below are coal chutes rather than manhole covers, used for the delivery of coal from a truck to the basement furnaces in brownstones. Whereas manholes are usually found in the street and approximately the size of a burly man, coal chutes are smaller and built on the sidewalk or directly in front of houses. The most common covers on Willow Street are the Howell & Saxtan coal chute covers. Howell & Saxtan was in business from 1866 to the 1890s and owned by James Howell…

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  • BOOKS,  DESIGN RESEARCH,  EPHEMERA

    COMPOSITION BOOKS

    I’m mildly obsessed with composition notebooks. There’s something about that familiar black and white marble pattern that is incredibly appealing. In the past year alone, I’ve somehow amassed over 40 marble notebooks, each with a distinct cover. It’s interesting to see the same base pattern being used–and distorted–by different brands. While some companies create their own style of the pattern, others manipulate a particular version, first seen in the Roaring Spring books (they’ve been producing composition books since 1887), which early catalogues describe as “black agate marble with paper sides.” Their pattern has no copyright, and is considered public domain. Companies even use multiple patterns within their own product line…

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