As more and more small businesses in New York are being replaced by large retail chains and banks, there are still a few neighborhoods–mostly in the outer boroughs–that retain some of their independence. Here are a few examples from a recent walk through Sunset Park in Brooklyn:
The Prime Burger, one of my favorite places in the city, is sadly closing on Saturday. They’ve been in business since 1938. I’ve enjoyed their hand-painted signs, camouflaged faux bois clock, nice people, and bacon-related foods since 1986.
Some beautiful typography from inside the New York State Environment Hall at the Museum of Natural History. The exhibit opened in 1951 and doesn’t look like it’s been touched since then. It analyzes the geological history of a 40 square mile area of Dutchess County.
I emailed the Museum’s librarian to find out more about the lettering in the hall, but didn’t learn very much (“Unfortunately, we do not have this information in our archives but the labels would have been created by the graphics team since there has been a graphics department in the Museum from very early on in the Museum’s history”).
Thanks to everybody who’s already donated to Vernacular Typography on Kickstarter!
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 (Mayor of Brooklyn from 1878-1881) and Daniel Saxtan.
Saxton had previously worked with Jacob Outwater from 1851 until he joined Howell in 1866.
Outwater operated on his own until 1872, and covers with just the name Jacob Outwater are still around a few blocks over.
There are also multiple coal covers from Bryan George Green, who operated an iron foundry on Pacific Street in the early 1900s.
Similar in size and shape to the coal chutes, light vaults were intended to illuminate dark, pre-electric basements with natural light, avoiding gas lights and their fumes.
Thaddeus Hyatt, an inventor, patented his version of the vault cover in 1845, and this particular model in 1855.
A Tice & Jacobs (1880-1907) light vault.
Probably my favorite coal chute cover, by the Castle Bros Cementine Co., the same company that built Ebbets Field. They operated in Brooklyn in the late 1890s through the early 1900s, and had the largest paving contracts in the city.
More Willow Street covers:
Some more manhole covers from around New York, decoded:
Even more covers and grates HERE.
If you’re interested in supporting Vernacular Typography, consider making a tax-dedictible donation to the project through Artspire & New York Foundation for the Arts HERE.
Here are a few of my favorite shots from Rome (240 more soon to be added to VernacularTypography.com):
An article I wrote about ghost signs around Brooklyn and Manhattan is the cover story in the new issue of TYPO Magazine.
TYPO is a quarterly bilingual English-Czech design magazine devoted to the study of typography in context with other disciplines like architecture, urban design, photography, philosophy, and sociology.
You can order a hard copy or download a digital copy of issue 45 HERE.
If you’re interested in supporting Vernacular Typography, please visit the Artspire website to learn more about a tax-deductible donation. Vernacular Typography is a fiscally sponsored project of Artspire, a Program of New York Foundation for the Arts 501(c)3.
Over 500 new photos from Rome, Florence, and Vatican City will soon be added to VernacularTypography.com. Here are a few of my favorites from Florence…