My book Type Town has made it to the printer! Type Town is a photographic feast that highlights the quirky, the fanciful and fantastic typefaces and signage that contribute to the rich cultural fabric of Sydney’s vibrant Inner West. This is one of more than 280 photographs from the book, and here is the story behind the picture.
In February 1935 the Sydney Morning Herald reported a spectacular fire at the Superior Cabinet Company Limited in Excelsior Street. Flames from the incinerator, which had been filled with waste wood, set fire to the wall, sparks ignited sawdust on the floor and the highly flammable oils and varnishes exploded. Within minutes the interior was ablaze. Dense, acrid smoke poured from the building, and flames leapt fifty feet into the air. Brigades from Petersham and Leichhardt worked to control the fire while police tried to control the crowd of sightseers—but it was too late to save the furniture. I don’t know if this building on Elswick Street became the new premises, or was another street frontage of the Excelsior Street factory, but the typography remains intact and the lush red paint is a reminder of a dramatic piece of local history.
Type Town will be launched at my exhibition Typecast on 22 August.
There is a marked similarity between road signs in Australia and the United States. In the US we have to remain alert driving on the other side of the road, but as far as navigation goes, it’s all very familiar. This mess of signs, on Lihue’s main street, bears a striking resemblance to those found in my own neighbourhood, where they seem to congregate, as if the more the merrier. It’s surprising that these agglomerations are not more confusing, but we seem to be able to understand this visual language and get around reasonably successfully.
This cafe, in Goulburn, is not the famous Paragon, but an unassuming place a block down the road. The Paragon used to be a regular stop on any Sydney–Melbourne drive (in the days before the bypass) because they served such a great burger. These days I am intimidated by the Paragon. It’s been renovated and glitzed up to within an inch of its life, all bright lights and so much shiny chrome on the outside that I’m too scared to set foot inside to confirm my suspicion that the lovely old laminex booths have gone the way of the once-understated shopfront.
I didn’t notice it immediately because it’s normal to my Australian eye, but the spelling of ‘theatre’ here is rather unusual. The Queen Theatre, in Lahaina, now houses one of Front Street’s many commercial galleries. I wonder how it ended up with this English spelling rather than the American theater? A couple of blocks away the Maui Theatre is also a theatre, but the neighbouring towns of Kahului, Wailuku and Kihei have theaters, as you might expect.
I’m not a big fan of vertical words, but in this instance I kind of like it—the vertical on vertical on vertical of all those tall palm trees and that tall architectural detail. Mallams was a family owned and run supermarket, in Mullumbimby NSW, that traded for more than a hundred years, starting as a general store that made home deliveries by horse and cart, and serving as a hub for the local farming community. In recent times, Mallams had plans to expand, but they encountered so much local opposition that they sold up to Woolworths.
Seventy-seven years have passed since this building was erected, and while Ray White had been in the real estate business since 1902, I doubt his company occupied these premises until much more recently or there would surely have been evidence of an earlier incarnation of the logo, perhaps more sympathetically matched in materials and execution to the building. While there is nothing exceptional about the facade, the stark white of the modern screenprinted sign is undoubtedly unsympathetic. This doesn’t detract from the attention-grabbing number 3, however.
Here’s another chemist, another collection of type styles. The sheer lack of harmony saves it from being a complete mess. Actually, it is a complete mess, a typographic disaster area and design catastrophe! Perhaps its saving grace is that there has been no attempt to update the older vertical sign and the mortar and pestle to match the newer awning sign of the chain pharmacy.
‘Fancy goods’ is not a term you hear much, and in fact I realised I didn’t know exactly what it referred to. The dictionary informs me that fancy goods are novelty items and accessories that are primarily ornamental, designed to appeal to taste—or fancy, as the term suggests. I guess, these days, we would call them non-essentials, and we would buy them on impulse with our disposable (!) income. The sign above the adjacent window said ‘stationer’, in matching gold lettering. Then and now, that would be enough to get me inside, always a sucker for some (essential) pen and paper.
This building, in Police Lane, Geelong, is no longer an operational police station, but the chiselled words remain. The area is more of an arts precinct now: look one way and there is the art gallery, look the other way and there is a large mural on the wall of the performing arts centre and a recording studio aptly named ‘Lock Up’. The lettering is surprisingly refined: I particularly like delicacy of the L and E.
I’m attempting to tidy my office, and while it’s relatively easy to vacuum the floor and straighten my desk, the digital filing is not always so easy. In theory there’s nothing to it: my problem lies in the quantity. I have used the ‘oh it’s not in the way I’ll do it later’ excuse a little longer than I’d like to admit. But in the process of cleaning up I found this. The art deco Supreme building, built around 1930, is in the main street of the NSW town of Glen Innes.