Re: Optic style lettering

soolinehistory <destorzek@...>

--- In STMFC@..., Bill Welch <fgexbill@...> wrote:

All of the decal talk reminds me of a question I have had for awhile:
Was the type style used by the FGE/WFE/BRE System truly known as
"Optic?" I think my knowledge of this font comes from a Sunshine PDS,
but I have seen other references to Optic, although I cannot remember
where. I have certainly seen this name used on this list and I have
used it in my various handouts. I have seen this style used on other
earlier freight cars--NC&StL and curiously the Armour owned Fruit
Growers Express circa 1904 are two examples.

Bill, the problem is that today people think of "fonts" as a commodity item... run down to the store and pick up a sack of Helvetica for me, will ya?

Back in the days before desktop publishing, printer's type was printer's type, sign painters painted billboard lettering, and the two seldom met. I'm searching through "Southern Railway Equipment Drawings and Photographs" by George Eichelburger, Published by the SRHA, and while I see lots of drawings of letters and numbers, I don't see a single "font" name. The drawings all have names like SF-5075 12" LETTERS "SOUTHERN" and SF-40401 3" LETTERS "CAPY". These aren't fonts. Websters defines font as "an assortment or set of type or characters all of one style and sometimes one size." Common usage usually assumes at least the complete alphabet. These drawings aren't complete alphabets, they are simply drawings of specific stencils.

When industrial design firms began to do railroad work, this began to change, because these firms promoted the concept of unity of image, where the lettering on the menu was somehow related to the lettering on the outside of the diner, so yes, the big lettering on the sides of Santa Fe diesels really was Cooper Black, because that's where the design team pulled it from, Cooper Black printers type. But this is a relatively modern concept, and there is no reason to think that most of our historic lettering bears any relationship to anything other than the drawing where it was defined.


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