”Ceci n’est pas une épicerie” Partly inspired by Phil Baines’ and Catherine Dixon’s wonderful city lettering walks, and part by Herbert Marker’s efforts to preserve Vienna’s disappearing architectural lettering, I recently started a far more modest project of my own. For a while now I have been hesitating whether I should document the sometimes beautiful, sometimes atrocious, and sometimes plain odd examples of architectural lettering and typography in my home town Gent. Thanks to the ease of use of Instagram, I finally started a series registering whatever catches my eye when I move through the urban environment. The images are shared via Twitter and on the public part of my Facebook account. Don’t worry, there will be no pictures of my breakfast or my shoes; only lettering and typography.
Here’s the rundown of what I saw this month. Clicking the caption under each picture will take you to the Instagram page which has additional tags and the address where to find the typographic or lettering artefact. Enjoy.
Salon Robert Damen, crossed out I don’t know how long they’ve been working on that façade, but it feels like forever. Apparently a more recent panel above the window was removed, exposing an older hand-painted shop sign. This sign is partly obscured by the wooden planks that were used to mount the more recent panel against the wall. What can be made out of the old script lettering looks very pretty in a slightly awkward way. The “Damen” is weird, because it’s the German plural, not the Dutch for “Ladies”. For more lovely vintage scripts check Alejandro Paul’s Blümlein Collection.
De Gouden Leeuw When I was taking this picture, the owner came outside to explain all about this one-of-a-kind piece that was custom-designed for him. “You’ll see nothing like this anywhere else in the world.” It’s indeed a striking and quirky hybrid of an italic modern serif and an ornate script. The capital ‘G’ pulls out all the stops, and the lowercase ‘w’ is mind-blowingly bizarre (That loop! Those bottom serifs!). It’s a shame it was cut out in vinyl, not actually hand-painted. The owner was also very proud to mention that his bar was used as a setting in Belgian movie Vidange Perdue. I don’t think FontShop has anything even remotely similar to this typographic insanity. Like the owner said, it’s a truly unique piece.
Worn „Rapallo„ While the more recent buildings in Gent usually have their name either sand-blasted or – the horror – in vinyl letters on the glass entrance door, some of the older ones preserved the original gold-leaf lettering. The style of this weathered example, with its stylised shapes and small x-height, reminds me of vintage advertising scripts like Salto, Coronet Bold, Slogan, Diskus Bold, Savoye, etc. See the Vintage Advertising Scripts FontList.
Ferd. Tierenteyn P.V.B.A. Mostaardfabriek - Azijnbrouwerij Further down our street is what used to be the mustard and vinegar factory of Ferdinand Tierenteyn, of the renowned Tierenteyn mustard. Ghent makes one of the world’s most revered – and little known – mustards, using a recipe discovered by the Tierenteyn-Verlent family in the late 18th century. In 1818 Petrus Tierenteyn started a grocery shop where he sold his mustard. It was produced by grinding the mustard seeds with a mortar or a hand-operated “mostaertmeulen”, a quite expensive procedure which made it a delicacy only the more well-to-do could afford. When his two sons Franciscus August and Ferdinand took over the thriving business they switched to an automated production process by means of a steam engine.
As the last Ferdinand passed away in 1939 without leaving any heirs, the business was sold to someone not from within the family, but the name was kept. In 1956 the business relocated to the Sparrestraat 49, where it remained until last Christmas. The old factory is being rebuilt into a housing project, but the original doors are still there. Ferdinand Tierenteyn bvba still is an independent family business producing a nice range of mustards for retail, wholesale and the nutrition industry. A visit to the Ferdinand Tierenteyn store on the Groentenmarkt was recently recommended in The Independent’s 2011’s tourism hotspots: what to do in Ghent, Belgium.
The brass lettering on the door is loosely based on the Futura model but displays more than a few idiosyncratic details like the slanted ‘Y’ and a dotted capital ‘I’. See the Geometric Sans Serifs FontList.
Apotheek This is where I wish I had a better quality camera than my old trusty iPhone 3. I hoped to be able to take a night picture with the illuminated sign. Unfortunately the neon sign is out of order, even though the pharmacy is still operating. It looks like they’re remodelling, and I am sincerely hoping this beautiful sign gets reinstated. See the Neon Scripts FontList.
In ’t Meuleke Estaminet Ghost signs are quite big on Flickr – for example the Flickr Groups Ghost Signs and Faded Signage each have almost 2,000 members and over 20,000 images. In a very small connecting side street the faded name painted on masonry betrays this house used to be an ‘estaminet’, a small local bar. Again the archaic word for bar and its name are very endearing if you are Flemish.
.R.V.S. Anno 1838 This is a marvellous example of combined branding of a building and advertising. It is for The Dutch insurance company RVS Verzekeringen (Rotterdamse Verzekering Sociëteiten), which operated under this name from 1838 until as recently as last year. In 2011 the brand, owned by ING, was absorbed by the bigger Nationale Nederlanden Insurance Agency. RVS was very well known for its recognisable large metal advertising plaques featuring a well-to-do couple with top hat, cane, umbrella and their dog, visible in strategic locations in nearly every town, also in Belgium. This particular example was created with ceramic tiles with raised lettering and figures.
The logo was designed in 1905 by the Frisian Tjeerd Bottema, a painter and illustrator from Langezwaag. It was restyled on numerous occasions – the couple slimmed down, the gentleman’s top hat lost its shine, the dog turned around, and the umbrella lost its fringe. Since 2007 the woman looks outwards. The logo was also re-imagined in an advertising campaign which had people flying in the air, holding their umbrellas Mayy Poppins-style. The RVS brand was phased out in 2011. With its disappearance ING threw away an incredible amount of brand recognition – no less than 92% of the Dutch adult population knows the logo. Bottema, born in 1884, passed away in 1978.
Why couldn’t they install that traffic sign a little to the left? No respect…
Paul Monnier, architecte, Gand As in many other cities in Belgium and abroad, older houses in Gent sometimes have stones in one of the bottom corners of the façade featuring the ‘signature’ of the architect who designed the building. After a while you start recognising which houses in certain streets will have one of those – in this specific case the red brick house by Paul Monnier practically jumped out at me. This one was beautifully integrated in the right hand corner in the bottom row of grey stone (don’t ask me what kind; I am a typographer/designer, not a geologist nor a mason ;-).
Those caps look Art Deco period to me, but I could be mistaken. The italics are pretty awesome, and I love how the sunlight brings out the relief. See the Art Deco FontList.
Edith Cavell The metal lettering over the entrance door of this old building makes very clear how certain letter combinations can be a nightmare to space correctly. In ‘Edith’ the ‘D’ and ‘I’ are too close to each other; in ‘Cavell’ both the ‘VE’ and ‘LL’ pairs should be spaced tighter, and the ‘EL’ also is a smidgen too loose. See the Latin: Triangular Serifs and Three-Dimensional: Embossed FontLists.
De Maecht Van Ghent More spacing problems. Of course you’re asking for trouble if you try to fit four words of wildly varying lengths into four cartridges of identical dimensions. It is interesting to see how this challenge was tackled, but quite obviously the end result is all over the place.
Optiek Van Wesemael And we end this first series with a wonderful play of the sunlight on floating, raised metal letters. The hard shadows beautifully interact with the actual letter objects and the rods used to mount them against the shop front. As this shop is closing I don’t know how long these will remain. See the Trade/News/Franklin Gothic Alternatives FontList.
For someone born in Rotterdam like me, the RVS logo is very familiar: RVS is the Rotterdamse Verzekering Sociëteiten (Rotterdam Insurance Societies).
Not easily visible on your photo is the extra dot: it is .R.V.S., probably to center it more easily.
See http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/RVS_Verzekeringen for a (Belgian!) photo of a wall-painted version.
02.10.2012 - 20.27.08
Posted by Frits Fritschy
Great Shoot. Thnx !
02.10.2012 - 21.27.02
Posted by Nej De Doncker
RVS was a Dutch insurance company, based in Rotterdam, and has been amalgamated several times into larger companies. It is currently part of ING and usage of the brandname has been suspended in 2010. The couple with the umbrella was one of the best known brand images in the Netherlands (it probably was inspired by the British Travellers brand ? insurers have a thing with umbrella's, I guess).
Regarding the second image: maybe the hairdressers' (or clothiers) full name was 'Robert Damen'??
Interessante post & onderwerp Yves.
Sinds een tweetal jaar ben ik hetzelfde aan het doen in Antwerpen en Brussel. Heb al een hele collectie foto's met bijhorende adressen. Ben van plan hier een publicatie van te laten verschijnen.
04.10.2012 - 17.13.03
Posted by Jo De Baerdemaeker
RVS / Van de Leeuwarder Courant:
LANGEZWAAG - Het oeroude verzekeringsmerk RVS verdwijnt in de loop van 2011 van de markt. En daarmee het klassieke beeldmerk van vrouw en man met paraplu, wandelstok en hond. De ontwerper hiervan was een Fries, Tjeerd Bottema. De schilder en tekenaar uit Langezwaag maakte het in 1905.
Later is het ettelijke keren gerestyled. Het echtpaar slankte af, de hoed van de man verloor z'n glans, het hondje draaide zich om en de paraplu werd ontdaan van de franje. Sinds 2007 kijkt de vrouw naar buiten.
ING gooit met het schrappen van RVS een enorm stuk naamsbekendheid weg: liefst 92 procent van de volwassen Nederlanders kent het logo. Bottema, geboren in 1884, stierf in 1978.
03.10.2012 - 02.36.26
Posted by Vincent van Baar
Hi all, thank you for the information about RVS, and terribly sorry about the problems with commenting on Unzipped. I will have group94 look into this.
10.10.2012 - 18.20.32
Posted by Yves Peters
Ga eens een kijkje nemen op de hoek van de Meulesteedsesteenweg en de Dukkeldamstraat:
'alles electrisch' in baksteen.
(Meulesteedsesteenweg 197, Gent in streetview.)
12.10.2012 - 00.51.25
Posted by Peter
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