"He Wears Black and Has a Beard"

New Toys: Grandad's Signwriting Goodybag

Toby Roworth

Aug 11, 2014

I was picking up some of my Grandad's old things the other day, as my grandmother is moving house soon, so thought I'd share what I'd received.
Grandad trained as a signwriter, probably over 50 years ago, back when pubs and shops had signs painted by a man, rather than printed by a computer. This meant that signwriters had to have an intimate knowledge of letterforms and their construction, and the books from his apprenticeship show this:
Of special note is a Letraset catalogue. From the 60s to 80s, type was often set using "Letraset", a sheet of letters that could be rubbed onto a sheet of paper. This could then be reproduced in a suitable manner. In the 80s Letraset was displaced by phototypesetting and computers and stuff, but any graphic designer from the period will probably have memories of rubbbing those damn letters onto their work.
The catalogue contains not only typefaces (many of whice Letraset now sell digitally), but images, symols and sheets for producing graphs and pictures. It then describes a range of Pantone products (including those markers) and some more zany products. They actually call the book a "Graphic design handbook", which seems pretty apt, given that I'll keep it on my shelf despite not being able to buy most of their 1986 line.
I also picked up a couple of swatch books, one for vinyl (which is probably out-of-date by now) and one for RAL colours.
Then comes the actual signwriting equipment:
To wrap it all up is the bag it came in, which Grandad used to carry his stuff around during his national service.