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Designer Explores the Vintage Typography of Italian Signage

by . January 30th, 2016

A wise philosopher once said “A town’s signboards are a mirror of its society.”

Signs-of-Italy_cover HR

Just kidding. I made that up. But seriously, if your country is  known for its art, aesthetic and sophisticated tastes, one would expect that those sensibilities would translate to your everyday culture. And this is exactly what designer and calligrapher James Clough set out to explore in his book Signs of Italy.

Before the era of digital typography where fonts and typefaces were standardized, the letterforms for commercials signs in Italy were manually made. True to the nature of Italian culture, the creative signboards of Italian designers of the past evokes a kind of whimsical elegance in their originality.

Signs of Italy follows Italian-based British designer James Clough and his year-long journey to research and examine Italian signage and letterforms in a historical perspective.


I love traveling and anywhere you go in Italy—even if it’s a village or a metropolis—you will find something in the streets that is fascinating either because it is unique or amazingly beautiful or because it is outrageously wrong—like a street name sign in three different typefaces and three baselines.


In an interview with online publication Cool Hunting, James mentioned how he started working on his project.

“I started photographing Italian shop signs about twenty years ago because the most interesting ones were so different from what I had been used to seeing in Britain. I started showing slides to my design students in Milan and after a while other teachers invited me to make presentations in their classes. In 2007, I was asked by Graphicus, an Italian printing magazine, to write a series of short articles on Italian signs and after the experience of writing a piece every month for a year, the idea of a book cropped up quite naturally.”

banca_italia

chiesa

The book is not only a travel by distance but through time as well. It features two centuries worth of typography “from the ornate Tuscan style of the 19th century to the eccentric letters of Art Nouveau, from the grandiose architectural lettering of the 1930s to the exquisite surviving examples of the old signwriters, from fascist ghost signs to lettering on manhole covers”.

As to why James chose Italy, he said “I love traveling and anywhere you go in Italy—even if it’s a village or a metropolis—you will find something in the streets that is fascinating either because it is unique or amazingly beautiful or because it is outrageously wrong—like a street name sign in three different typefaces and three baselines.”

Check out some of the signage featured in the book below:

albergo_italia
calmierecarnezzeriacarrozzeria
cinema_imperocinema_vittoriacircolo_lavoratoricobianchicooper_marmofiaschetteriafioristagas collagehotel_brolettolatterialatteria_calligraficapescheriapesci_vivisalizada
teatro_gerolamotintoria_vandavia_serpentivirtus

James Clough studied typographic design at the London College of Printing. He works as a designer and calligrapher in Milan where he has been living since 1971. He teaches typography in several Italian and Swiss universities.

Signs of Italy is printed by Lazy Dog press and is available for purchase here.

Do you also have any unique vintage letterforms from your local neighborhood? Comment below!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Kevin is a reader first, a writer second, and a gamer somewhere in between. When not rooting for Tyrion Lannister for the Iron Throne, he's probably writing some morbid short story. He enjoys some surreal art, clever advertising campaigns, and a warm cup of coffee while reading Murakami.

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