Typefaces from 1950's advertising - what was used then?

ubergrafik's picture

I am after a list of typefaces that were prevalent in 1950's advertising. I am working on a poster that contains imagery from about 1954-6 and wanted matching typefaces. Examples in use would be good too.

Thanks.

Norbert Florendo's picture

I am trying to find suitable samples regarding 1950s advertising typography. From what I recall seeing in books about that design period is common usage of sans serifs Futura, Helvetica, Univers and frequent use of Moderns such as Bodoni, Poster or Ultra Bodoni, Craw Modern, Torino, and slab serif/Egyptian variants like Craw Clarendon and Melior.

Two giants of the period were Bradbury Thompson and Paul Rand. Here's a site that thumbnails samples along a timeline from 1950 -- 1998. I'm sure there are better samples out there.

ubergrafik's picture

Thanks, those are fantastic resources.

Mark Simonson's picture

I would remove Helvetica from Norbert's list (released the late fifties, but didn't become common until the sixites). I would add Venus (especially Venus Extended), News Gothic/Trade Gothic, Alternate Gothic, Century Schoolbook, Century Expanded, Baskerville, Caslon 540, Stymie, Futura Display, Bauer Topic, Onyx, Brush Script, Latin, Playbill, Balloon, Flash Script... and it was very common for ads to have hand-lettered headlines--I would say even the majority. There are some fonts around that simulate some of the lettering styles used then. I would suggest the book All American Ads of the '50s (Taschen) to get a better idea what to look for.

ubergrafik's picture

Thanks for the comments. I love this site!!!

david h's picture

"I am after a list of typefaces that were prevalent in 1950’s advertising"

Where? USA? Europe? Northern Europe?

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Norbert Florendo's picture

> and it was very common for ads to have hand-lettered headlines—I would say even the majority.

Mark, that's absolutely true. If we were to divide "American advertising" of the mid-nineteen-fifties, you would have high design style such as Bradbury Thompson, a huge mid-range and off course, schlock.

Handlettering was prevalent in use before the 50s because offset photo-lithography became the common and inexpensive means of printing and therefore affordable to most advertisers. By 1955, New York City became the mecca of lettering artists with an estimated 300 professionals employed. (Please read Peter Bain's great article on phototype.)

Photolettering, Inc. (PLINC) in New York, was quickly building one of the largest libraries of phototype, with a stable of fledgling and veteran lettering artist such as Vinny Pacella, Vic Caruso and Ephram Benguiat.

Beautiful scripts and brush lettering abounded, and a popular treatment during the 50s was "Frisky" headlines (bouncing and rotated baselines).

Also, after Sputnik, the "Space Age" style became popular as well.
Believe it or not, Myfonts.com has a category of 1950s type suggestions.

crossgrove's picture

and it was very common for ads to have hand-lettered headlines—I would say even the majority.

Recently, in poring over a stack of magazine ads from LIFE, LOOK and other magazines from that period (1946-59), I noted this very fact. Almost none of the larger color ads used type for headlines. The lettering artists apparently had tons of work, since every car, orange juice, diamond, washing machine, brandy, and shoe had not only the unctuous body copy but an accompanying headline, sometimes lettered in a refined display version of the text face. There are some wonderful, slightly loose hand-lettered versions of grotesk sans and modern romans in those headlines. The best source for those same styles now would be PLINC, or House Industries, the library's guardians. Perhaps they would set a headline for you, or maybe they could hand-letter it. John Downer is also versed in several of those advertising styles. He does hand-lettering.

> TRUMPETS < Please support your local hand-lettering artist!

It's interesting to realize that at that time, graphic artists were clearly able to discern the issues separating display and text sizes of type. Not much is left of that awareness now.

Norbert Florendo's picture

> graphic artists were clearly able to discern the issues separating display and text sizes of type. Not much is left of that awareness now.

Sadly, even sign "painters" basically use digital plotters nowadays. And many of the fonts available make no provision for display versions.

One of the topics I truly hope to expand raises the current concern regarding display vs. text designs, and the fact that most graphic designers remain oblivious to the differences.

The Typophile Forum is undoubtably well frequented and an outstanding resource for typographic information. Hopefully, by our responding and expanding topics such as this one, interested readers can gain understanding.

crossgrove's picture

I'll have to jump back on that thread, Norbert! Thanks for reminding me. Maybe showing examples from the ads we're talking about would be enlightening. I'll get scanning as soon as I can.

Norbert Florendo's picture

I just wanted to bring up James Montalbano's personal view on lettering found on the Terminal Design web site:

Lettering vs. Type Design

"Lettering is, in many ways, the opposite of type design. Whereas type design creates letters that must function under the broadest possible circumstance, lettering is created for the most narrow of applications. A word or phrase, be it a logo or a book jacket, is custom tailored to work in that environment alone. Every letter drawn to fit perfectly within it’s own small world. Even lettering that at first looks like typography, has been custom tailored letter-by-letter, and space by-space to work perfectly."

Mark Simonson's picture

That's a good description of the differences. The analogy I like to use is: type is like a set of building blocks; lettering is like clay.

david h's picture

I don't think that lettering is the opposite of type design. As Michael Harvey said: Alphabets are only a beginning. They become 'lettering' when the letters are arranged to make words.

The same thing about type design: Alphabets are only a beginning...

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Norbert Florendo's picture

Mark, I also liked your description from your web site but thought James' was a bit more descriptive for those who don't have a clue about the differences between display, text, and lettering.

david h's picture

>more descriptive for those who don’t have a clue about the differences between display, text, and lettering.

Norbert: I don't see the answer

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Norbert Florendo's picture

> Whereas type design creates letters that must function under the broadest possible circumstance, lettering is created for the most narrow of applications.

I feel this helps the novice designer to grasp the difference between designing (or selecting) a typeface for broad text applications and the approach one should consider when designing a logo, masthead or book cover. It is not an answer, but an attempt to bring about awareness.

Though this topic is basically about advertising faces of the 1950s, I believe Mark and Carl wanted to point out these major distinctions.

Even when I was at Agfa-Compugraphic during the 1980s many of the designs were still offered as text, text/display and display (T, T/D, D).

Carl Crossgrove's suggestion to show samples could also help in detailing differences between display, text and lettered designs prior to digital fonts. Whether that should be added to this thread or a new one is strictly up to Carl's intent.

Norbert Florendo's picture

> I don’t think that lettering is the opposite of type design.

Neither do I, David.

> Lettering is, in many ways, the opposite of type design.
-- James Montalbano

I think James should reconsider using the term "opposite" and express something more in keeping with the rest of the explanation. Perhaps they are more at "opposite" ends of the spectrum, but not in opposition to each other.

ubergrafik's picture

Yes, the question was paited with a broad brush. I was thinking of the USA. The project is a desktop image that incorporates imagery of an 8mm movie camera, a record player and a tape recorder. After picking a year range, I then wanted to get into the type used in such an era.
I have enjoyed reading all the comments, like I said, this is such a great site. My head is reeling!
I have got a bunch of "speedball" books and the like which cover lettering, but not in too much detail.
I don't think I will enage a letterer to help me for this tho :-)
Much much food for thought.

Bert Vanderveen's picture

There is a whole series of Taschen Books with reproductions of advertisements of the decades from halfway the last century to the end.

The one you will want to check out is:
http://www.taschen.com/pages/en/catalogue/books/popculture/all/facts/038...

Hope this helps.

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