Assignment 4:History of an aspect of Typography

I wasn’t sure where to begin with this research point as most of the history of Typography is new to me. I looked a little into ‘Linotype Machines’ and how that came into being but was more interested in an a more unique area.  I really like the style of neon or illuminated lights you see in America, think above a Diner or Motel and wanted to explore how they got their lettering and what effect if any it had on the development of type…

Example of a neon sign in Phoenix Az, USA

Example of a neon sign in Phoenix Az, USA

My starting point for research was the internet as I don’t really own any books about Neon Signs. I began looking for examples of Neon signs and collating them on a Pinterest board:

As I searched for images I came across websites with more information about the history of Neon signs, particularly in the USA. I found the ‘Neon Library’ website contained information about the timeline of the rise of the Neon sign across america.

I found out the inventor of the first neon light was George Claude, who  in 1902 developed a method for applying an electrical charge to a sealed glass tubed filled with neon gas to create the glow of a neon lamp.

I then discovered how neon signs first came to the USA through the sale of a sign to a car dealer who wanted a bright sign to advertise his dealership in the city of LA. This point was key for me in discovering the strong link between the rise in the neon sign as a form of advertising. Between the 1930’s – 1960’s Neon or Illuminated signs lit up the streets of America as an emerging form of bold advertising.

I wrote about/illustrated this in my sketchbook:

Neon signs: early history drawn in my sketchbook

Neon signs: early history drawn in my sketchbook

The legacy of this is clear in that a number of museums exist to track the development and style of such signs across that time period. I found the ‘America Sign Museum’ website had some interesting video’s showcasing the signs but also mentioning about the fonts used.

In one particular video the create if the ‘American Sign Museum’ mentions the forming of the ‘Tiki Alphabet’ as a result of men coming home from fighting in the pacific in world war 2. He says that they were influenced by the designs they saw there and when they returned they created business with that pacific or Hawaiian feel and created signs to go above their businesses in that style. See the link to the video below:

This for me is a example of Neon signs driving changes in and the spread of certain types of font or typography. I looked for examples of this ‘Tiki font’ on-line and found lots of examples of variations of the font on neon signs. I collated examples and began drawing some in my sketchbook:

Looking at 'Tiki' fonts in my sketchbook page.1

Looking at ‘Tiki’ fonts in my sketchbook page.1

Further studies into 'Tiki font' in my sketchbook page.2

Further studies into ‘Tiki font’ in my sketchbook page.2

Final page of 'Tiki font' studies

Final page of ‘Tiki font’ studies

I tried to use the ‘Identifont’ website to find an original designer of the font or a time-scale that was more accurate and found lots of variations of modern designs. See link below:

I also found a design house today who created and own the licence to a similar modern version of the font here:

I did a little more detective work to try and find the name of a font that kept coming up in association with signs for ‘western’ or southern state themed signs. I did some comparative drawings of letters from different signs of that style in my sketchbook:


Work in sketchbook

Work in sketchbook

further work in sketchbook

further work in sketchbook

I don’t think I found the exact match for these fonts but three that came pretty close were:

‘EF Playbill’ :

‘URW Woodtype’ :


A couple of other interesting websites were:

Final comments:

I’m not too sure if this was actually the right kind of research but I’ve discovered a few things. I think there’s a link between the rise of the neon sign and a rise in different kinds of/emergence of new typefaces or fonts. There’s also evidence that the prevalence of the signs led to certain typefaces/fonts being associated with certain themes of places, like I looked into in my sketchbook. I think the reason I’m drawn to the signs and the kinds of fonts on them is they have that hand lettered feel. You can see the skill but also the uniqueness of each signs and each letter on that sign. I feel like modern posters or advertising have lost some of that!  Final link is to a film showing modern day Neon sign makers in Hong Kong talking about the challenges of their practice:

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