Re: Optic style lettering

Anthony Thompson <thompson@...>

Dennis Storzek wrote:
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.
Entirely true, and a point worth making (it's been made on this list numerous times already, of course). And I'd add a third category to Dennis's two, somewhere between printer's type and sign painters: the railroad's drafting room, where mechanical draftsmen made up the drawings of whatever characters were needed (as Dennis says, not including an entire alphabet in many cases--why draw the "Q" if your railroad didn't need it?) Many of these RESEMBLED what we call "Railroad Roman," and in fact the MCB had recommended a set of letters and numbers for railroad use, though most roads seem to have rolled their own.
But producers of model railroad lettering have naturally relied on the convenience of type fonts instead of actual artwork for "correct" lettering. Microscale used to be notorious for using whatever font looked good to them, even when supplied with meticulous ink-on-vellum artwork from railroad drawings. Champ did MANY sets with font shortcuts. But the fact that there is a "similar" font will only sometimes help. I know in the case of SP that they used a very condensed set of numerals, though the alphabetic characters were normal width. This means that letters and numbers of all the same style CANNOT look right for SP lettering.
Like so many things, the more ya know, the more ya find that disappoints ya.

Tony Thompson Editor, Signature Press, Berkeley, CA
2906 Forest Ave., Berkeley, CA 94705
(510) 540-6538; fax, (510) 540-1937; e-mail, thompson@...
Publishers of books on railroad history

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