Vernacular Typography Molly Woodward Usagi NY Show Card

In October 2015, Usagi NY will present the first exhibition of Vernacular Typography.

Found lettering and other forms of urban communication have a way of creating and preserving a sense of place and local identity. Vernacular Typography is a celebration of the symbols and icons that surround us every day–the texture of a city that often goes overlooked or ignored.

Usagi NY is a new 2,800 sq ft concept store in DUMBO Brooklyn, which houses a gallery, cafe, and library. Offering a marketplace for creators, the shop opens its doors to creative practitioners working in the differ- ent fields, presenting the work and process of emerging, influential creative thinkers and specialists such as artists, designers, architects, engineers, artisans, writers, musicians, and more.

Dates: October 8 – November 7, 2015
Opening hours: Tue – Sat, 11am – 6pm
Opening Reception: Thursday, October 8, 6pm – 9pm
Venue: Usagi NY, 163 Plymouth Street, NY 11201, USA



All over the world, beautiful signage is being destroyed and replaced by homogenized signs that threaten to erase local culture and history. In Paris–where even public restroom signage is worthy of intricate and inventive mosaic detailing–that loss is devastating.

Graphique de la Rue is Louise Fili’s Parisian follow up to last year’s typographic wander through Italy, Grafica della Strada. Fili’s collection of the Parisian letterscape beautifully captures and celebrates the forms that mark, illuminate, and symbolize the city’s boulevards and rues.

Like a typographic madeleine through the streets of Paris, the signs documented in Graphique de la Rue are a powerful trigger of memory and evoke a strong sense of place. For those unfamiliar with the signs or Paris, the book acts as a transportive introduction that can be appreciated aesthetically as well as for its historic value.

Some signs are ornate, others wordless, sometimes odd, but mostly, they’re just beautiful.

A small graveyard in the back of the book mourns the loss (and subsequent replacement) of a few of Fili’s favorites, and serves as a reminder of the uncertain future of these typographic landmarks.

Graphique de la Rue will be available from Princeton Architectural Press September 1.


Vegetarians, avert your gaze.

Fewer things go better together than meat and whatever is next to meat.

In the open dining rooms of many a Texas meatery, that companion to meat just so happens to be typography (printed, painted, scrawled, drawn, lettered, what have you).

The signs of these establishments are honest and direct. In all shapes, styles, and formats (and sometimes obscured by decades of smokey oak) they unequivocally point the way to meat.

What follows is a pictorial survey of the meat and corresponding typography & lettering of some of the finest BBQ I have ever known.

Franklin Woodward Vernacular Typography TX BBQ_015

Franklin Woodward Vernacular Typography TX BBQ_003

Franklin Woodward Vernacular Typography TX BBQ_005

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Recent construction has revealed the ghostly remnants of an ad applied to the side of 37 Union Square West.

Vernacular Typography Napoleon Sarony Portraits Fading AD Ghost Sign 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.

Vernacular Typography Napoleon Sarony Portraits Fading AD Ghost Sign 37 Union Square West

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 to New York with the intention of starting a photo supply office. Instead, he returned to photography, focusing on celebrity portraits. In 1871, he expanded his business to 37 Union Square West. The space served as a studio, gallery, and salon d’art.

It was there that he set up elaborate backdrops to photograph some of the largest stars of the time (his images of Sarah Bernhardt, Oscar Wilde, and Mark Twain among the most iconic). He would pay celebrities for the exclusive rights to their portraits and sell the reproductions. He published his cabinet cards on site, each marked with the same Sarony signature that hung outside the building.

His portraits became so popular that his style was often mimicked or outright copied. In 1884, Sarony successfully sued the Burrow-Giles Lithographic Company for selling unauthorized lithographs of this Oscar Wilde portrait. The landmark case extended copyright protection to photography, and Sarony v. Burrow Lithograph helped establish photography as an artistic expression rather one of mere reproduction.

Sarony moved his main gallery to Fifth Avenue in 1885 and sold off his back stock of negatives to a former rival before his death in 1896.

A Berenice Abbott photo from 1938 shows the building with its post-Sarony exterior.

At some point in the 1950s or 60s, the building was recovered with the strange facade that remains today. The fading Sarony Portraits might be covered up again, but for now a little piece of history peaks out.

Vernacular Typography Napoleon Sarony Portraits Fading AD Ghost Sign 37 Union Square West


If you’re around the Chelsea area in the next few days, stop by the Joshua Liner Gallery to check out the ICY sign shop with work by Sean Barton, Lew Blum, Justin Green, Mike Lee, Dan Murphy, Steve Powers, Alexis Ross, and Matt Wright.

In addition to the work along the walls and the tornado of grocery style signs, there are work tables and nooks set up in a carefully curated chaos (the flotsam and jetsam accumulated throughout the course of the show).

The most interesting parts are the stray bits, the practice marks, doodles, and guidelines that are normally invisible or go unnoticed in a finished sign.

ICY makes the signs that should be all over New York. There’s a life to sign painting that can’t be recreated in cheaply cut vinyl and mass produced signage.

Perfection Is Standard, Mistakes Cost Extra
ICY Signs + Stephen Powers
Joshua Liner Gallery
540 West 28th Street
Through November 16


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:

The Historical Society library is open to the public, but if you want to look at the archives and manuscript collections, you’ll need an appointment.

(Though it creates a nice ambience for a library, the lighting is not ideal for photographing documents, so please excuse the not-so-great photos.)

Brooklyn Historical Society
128 Pierrepont Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201


While wandering around in Florence (trying to avoid the Road World Championship) I walked by a printing studio on Via Guelfa. Raul, the printer inside, beckoned me in and showed me around as he set my name on a composing stick. We talked about Lou Reed and then I was on my way.

Tipografia Arno
Via Guelfa 38R