You know I love uniform catalogs and uniform style guides. But I also like (and collect) catalogs and style guides that have nothing to do with uniforms, and we’re going to take a look at a couple of those today, because I recently scored two of the greatest finds of my life. Seriously, people, these are two for the ages. They’re not sports-related, but they’re both rooted in the same kind of programmatic classification methodology that makes uniforms so compelling.
Let’s start with this tremendous Hopp Press grocery signage catalog, which dates back to 1954. It’s an extremely satisfying artifact right off the bat, because it’s SUBSTANTIAL — the heavy-duty binder measures 19″ x 12.5″ x 3.5″ thick, and it weighs a whopping 15 pounds! Why does it weigh so much? Because it’s filled with all sorts of metal and plastic signage.
• “Fresh foods look fresh!” — with synthetic rubber greens.
• Liquor store shelf signage is pretty much the same today as it was in 1954, at least here in NYC. Do liquor stores in other towns still use this same system?
• There’s always a little letdown when you’re paging through something cool like this and then you get to the end and think to yourself, “Damn, that’s the end, now it’s over.” But not with this catalog, because there’s a little bonus catalog tucked into the inner back cover. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
• My favorite thing about the entire catalog (aside from the general awesomeness permeating every single square millimeter of it) is how the Hopp folks used tagged their product line with all sorts of “modern” lingo, including Clamp-O-Frame, Direct-O (love that “4” with the arrows!), Reverso, Flexo, Adapt-O, Duratag, Picturama, Point-O-Frame, Price-O-Mat, Illustro, Extrudo, Embosso, Divid-O, and Ray-d-Glo (note the clever “h” stack at upper right). After that lineup, a name like Fits-All seems kinda limp by comparison.
And what did this treasure, which I found on eBay, end up costing me? A mere $14.28 plus $17 shipping. I think the high shipping charge must have scared people away, because there’s no way this should have sold for less than $100. Stupid people’s loss, my gain.
The other item I want to talk about today is somewhat NYC-oriented, but I think it’ll still be of interest to everyone. First some quick background: If you’ve ever ridden the New York subway system, even if only while visiting the city on vacation, you’re no doubt familiar with the iconic signage found throughout the system. Last November I linked to a stupendous article that told the story of how that signage system was designed and implemented, and the article in turn explained how all the signage specs had been laid out in a 1970 document called the New York City Transit Authority Graphics Standards Manual, which was created by the design firm Unimark.
A copy of that manual — essentially the Rosetta Stone for the entire NYC graphics program — is now in my possession.
Much like the other catalog, this thing is big — 15.5″ x 13.5″ x 3″. After a brief introduction, it proceeds with the nitty-gritty of how signs in the subway should be placed, designed (note the measurement specs), constructed, and deployed, along with info on typography, iconography (did you know the subway system used to have a QB and QJ line?), and so on. Among the many, many revelations:
• This is my favorite page. It shows exactly how an arrow being used on any transit sign should be drawn (sorry for the maxi-sized image, but you need to see all the details to get the full effect). Subsequent pages show the proper and improper (at bottom) ways the arrow can be deployed.
• My second-favorite thing: There’s a great discussion of letter spacing (i.e., kerning) here, followed by a chart that specifies the proper letter spacing for any possible combination of characters. Total control-freak obsessive genius! I’m fairly certain the MTA sign shop had a good laugh over this page and just ignored it, but it’s still an admirably comprehensive attempt at imposing visual uniformity throughout the system.
• One of most interesting thing about the manual is the discovery that the MTA — or maybe just Unimark — originally planned to equip every single subway station with a “directory,” which would show how to get from the given station to every other station in the system (further details here, and a partial view of one such directory is here). I’m not sure if this was attempted and then abandoned or if it just never got off the ground to begin with, but it was a hopeless idea from the start, because the system has always been plagued by so many service changes, reroutings, and so on (i.e., the fastest way to get from A to B today may not be the fastest way — or even be possible — two weeks from now). They’d have to constantly put little patches or stickers on all the directories to keep them up to date. I’m surprised this even made it into the manual.
• The only disappointment about the style guide is that there’s no color — except for these swatches, which show the official colors for the various subway lines. Interestingly, no Pantone numbers are listed (and yes, Pantone did exist in 1970).
• There’s a pretty cool glossary. If you want to read it, look here and here. (And if you want to see a larger version of any of the other pages I’ve shown, go to this gallery, click on the image you want, then click on “All Sizes” and then on “Original.”)
I can’t tell you how excited I am to own this. And I owe it all to Uni Watch, too. Here’s the deal: A UW reader who works for a group affiliated with the MTA found the manual in a closet and thought I might like to see photos of it, so he took some pics to show me. Once I saw the photos, I asked if him if he was looking to sell the manual (I didn’t realize that it wasn’t yet his property), and he said he wasn’t sure he was even allowed to take it out of the office. So he asked, and some idiot said, “Sure, go ahead, take it — it’s yours.” We then agreed on a fair price and I had my Holy Grail.
Whoever allowed this amazing artifact to leave the office should be fired. But at least now it’s getting the showcase treatment it deserves, instead of gathering dust in a closet.
Uni Watch News Ticker: Some commenters and e-mailers have been wondering if the officiating crews for next season’s AFL throwback games might be wearing period-appropriate orange zebra stripes. I figured there was no way this would happen, but I sent off a query to the NFL, just to be sure. The response: “Yes, they will be worn. Sidelines are also going to be in AFL style. It will really feel as though you are back in the ’60s.” How cool is that? Kudos to the league for going the extra mile on this one. Love the striped socks on the Pats uni, too. More photos coming soon. … As you know, the Mets have two Citi Field inaugural-season logos — the sleeve version and the cap version. Which one do you think will be appearing on baseballs used at the new stadium this season? Answer at the end of the Ticker. … Mizuno has answered Speedo’s LZR swimsuit with its own high-tech design (with thanks to Jeremy Brahm). … Yesterday’s Ticker included a mention of Italian roller hockey, which prompted Mike Hersh to send me this fantastic 1932 photo. … Odd phenomenon: A fairly high percentage of people who send me stirrups-related e-mail add a hyphen to the word — “stir-ups,” or sometimes “stirr-ups.” And no, I don’t think it’s because they’re cleverly suggesting that stirrups “stir things up.” Very strange. … We all know about quarterbacks wearing red practice jerseys, signifying “no contact.” But get this: At Brewers camp, if a player has a medical condition that limits his activity (a sort hammy, say), he wears this red jersey — with this on the back! Do other teams do this? … Speaking of Brewers camp, someone should tell them there’s no such thing as a “Wild Card Champion” (both of these Brewers items courtesy of Thomas Miller). … Better view of the Lions’ new uni design here. … Oooh, check these out! Those are old Gatorade lids. Full details here. … The NFL is considering putting advertising patches on practice jerseys. But that article doesn’t even mention that the Titans have been wearing an ad patch on their practice jerseys for years. Personally, I don’t much care what the players wear during practices, but I worry that this could be a stepping stone toward ads on game jerseys. … Whoa. Those are the Cincinnati Jungle Kats (af2). Additional photos of their helmet here (with thanks to Brian M. Willette). … Hey look, Nike has its own cable channel! OK, no it doesn’t (not yet), but that’s what James Huening momentarily thought when he saw his channel guide. “For the record, the old abbreviations were NICK (for Nickelodeon East) and NIKW (for Nickelodeon West), but then they changed NICK to NIKe.” … The Bulls did the Latino thing last night. According to this story, the team was considering going with Los Toros, but the league insisted on Los Bulls. League officials have told me that their market research indicates that Los Bulls (and Los Spurs, El Heat, etc.) is how Hispanic fans actually refer to these teams. … While looking for something else, I came across this photo. Lots going on there, what with the NNOB, the inside-out pocket, and the casual-Friday batboy. … Lots of new soccer kits have been leaked. … Check out these 1994 shots of Mark McGwire in an Oakland Oaks throwback uni (nice find by Eric Westover). … The Indians are giving away a logo-history fleece this season (thanks, Vince). … Reprinted from yesterday’s comments: About 100 old color NFL photos from the Life archive can be found here. … In a real breakthrough for the cause of naming rights, the city of Louisville is allowing KFC to advertise on filled potholes. … Always fun to see this uni design (with thanks to Ronnie Poore). … Good story about Hull City (EPL) attire here (with thanks to Les Motherby). … Good spot by Tris Wykes, who notes that the Richmond (Va.) Collegiate lacrosse team appears to have the Calgary Flames logo on their helmet. … And here’s your answer. Not the one I would’ve guessed (with thanks to Erik Bal).