Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Ghost Writing

When I was ten years old in Mrs. Rogers 4th grade class, I was a member of the Scholastic Book Club. Illustrated catalogs would occasionally arrive from the book company featuring cheap paperback books on science, space exploration, adventure, elephant jokes, and sappy teen novels. Most of the covers were pretty goofy, however some were exceptionally nice with illustrated mid-century patterns. Surely it was a great source of income for many accomplished illustrators at that time. I'm not sure exactly why I was particularly attracted to this Spooky Magic book, but I suspect it was the wacky type with the googlie eyeballs on the coverA real deal at 45 cents!

Source of 1963 Scholastic Books order form and lots more: Tattered and Lost Ephemera.

Inside there were lots of amusing science and magic experiments, but none delighted me more than the chapter on ghost writing. It was a magic trick for secret lettering and could easily be performed at home with a fresh lemon, a paintbrush, paper, a candle, and matches. Was Scholastic Books encouraging child endangerment or was it spooky science? You decide! 

Being a bit of an arty nerd, I decided to make a haunted Halloween house, just so I could show all my friends this really neato trick I could do with spooky ghost lettering. I set up a table and chairs in a small hall closet where I could close the door and burn a candle in the dark (kids, don't do this at home), to expose the ghost lettering for a line of bemused and probably confused friends.  

Despite my lack of parental supervision, I didn't burn down the house. I guess it was a mild success. I must have earned my arty nerd badge for life, as I still enjoy this ploy. I hadn't thought about ghost lettering in years, but had a momentary flashback when I saw the Spooky Magic book here, where you can learn many more spooky magic tricks.

I had to try this trick once again at home. It's science-errific! For more Scholastic Books' flashbacks check out this fun Flickr set.

Arty Nerd Badge. Get yours here!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Ghost Sighting

Source: National Fairground Archive of The University of Sheffield

A ghost sighting of a rare 1889 two-color handbill advertising Professor Pepper's popular Phantasmagoria at the Royal Polytechnic, featuring some frightfully spirited letterforms. Pictorial spooks and skeletons in costume, menacingly spell out ghost in all caps to announce a new revival of Pepper's popular performance. 
     Pepper's ghost, as the illusion came to be called, was popularized by John Henry Pepper (1821-1900), a London scientist and showman. His ghost conjuring illusion was part science; part theater, and used rear projection in a darkened room, hidden from the audience view, to call forth ghostly apparitions on a glass plate. When the lantern's light was cast on an actor in the hidden room, it reflected their image as a translucent figure on the plate of glass. Below are two woodcut images from the collection of Richard Balzer, which help to illustrate the illusion.  

This broadside, from Richard Balzer, advertises Professor Pepper's earlier 1870 sideshow.
Victorian audiences never tired of their fascination with the afterworld. Fairground showmen from traveling sideshows continued to flourish in England throughout the late 19th century. These showmen were quick to pick up on Pepper's popular ghost illusion and attracted audiences by creating colorful hand lettered banners and ornately carved and painted entrances to their sideshows. The first image below is of the Biddall's Ghost illusion exhibit from 1880. The other is of the interior of the Clark's Ghost Show exhibit from 1890.

Source of photos: National Fairground Archives of The University of Sheffield.

Even today, this same principle of Pepper's ghost trickery has continued to entertain audiences in cabarets, sideshows, museums, concert halls, sports stadiums, haunted houses and theme parks. At the 2006 Grammy Awards, Madonna was projected onto stage in a "live" performance. Last year at the Coachella Music Festival, a projection of deceased rapper Tupac Shakur was displayed in a performance with Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. Even Hallmark had to get in on the act last year when they released some Pepper's Ghost collectibles for Halloween. By pressing the cap on a small bottle, a transparent "My Pet Ghost" appears with a recorded saying. Now that is scary!

Friday, October 25, 2013

The R is Back

Bettina Hansen/The Seattle Times
The legendary Rainier R is back and fully lit. This dramatic photo was taken last night at the installation and lighting party in celebration of the return to it's original location at the former Rainier Brewery. For nearly half a century this landmark letter was a beacon on the Seattle skyline. The original R met it's demise after the brewery was sold thirteen years ago, and it was replaced with a giant slab-serifed T for Tully's Coffee, who then owned the building. Naturally, the city reviled it. A cap T is no cap R, mind you. I hate to show favorites, as I love all 26 letters (& ampersand), but the character T is just too dang boring. Blame it on Tully's Coffee if you will, but the R's got game. Am I the only one who thinks the R should have been permanently installed atop Mt. Rainier? How stunning it would be to have a snow-capped R overlooking our region ;)
     Local Seattle sign shop, Western Neon, who rebuilt the giant red R, gave it a cook's tour around the city before the installation at the old brewery. The giant red script letter drew crowds at every stop in this neighborhood crawl

Last year Seattle ad agency, Wexley School for Girls, began a promotional campaign to restore the Rainier R, and created this wonderful little stop-motion video. You can see more photos from last night's party uploaded by R fans here

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Bedevilled and Bedazzled

Peter Pauper Press has produced more than 650 editions of prose, poetry, and pocket-sized cookbooks over the course of 85 years. The press originally began in 1928, when Peter Beilenson set up a small print shop in his father's basement in Larchmont, New York. By the age of 22 Beilenson had already studied with printer William Edwin Rudge and book and type designer Frederic Goudy. He later wrote a biography of Goudy, which was published by Peter Pauper Press for the Typophiles chapbook series in 1965. Peter's wife Edna Beilenson became his business partner early on and they continued to publish 10 to 12 fine press books a year until his death in 1962 at the age of 56. Edna Beilenson ably managed the business until the late 1970s. After her death in 1981, the third generation of the Beilenson family stepped up to manage the business, which continues in operation today. 
     For many decades, the Peter Pauper books have been some of the most affordable among fine press publishers. The books were sold at "prices even a pauper could afford," according to Beilenson's son Nick. Even today, used copies of more recent issues can often be found for $3 or $4 each. Earlier oversized editions with slip covers, demand higher prices, depending upon the subject matter, illustrator and condition of course. The one and two-color letterpress editions have often included beautiful illustrations by some of the 20th century's most notable artitsts including, Lynd Ward, Fritz Eichenberg, Richard Floethe, and one of my favorite's, Joseph Low (1911-2007), who illustrated this edition of The Devil's Dictionary, first published in 1958. 

Another PPP book in a Halloween theme, is the Comic Epitaph From the Very Best Old Graveyards, first published in 1957. The cheery illustrations are done by Henry R. Martin who was a prolific illustrator and cartoonist for the New Yorker, Ladies Home Journal, Saturday Evening Post and many other Peter Pauper books. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Witch Craft

With Halloween in the air, I'm revisiting some of my favorite crafts of the witch. From the wonderful British artist and book illustrator, Edward Ardizzone (1900-1979) comes this 1960 children's book, The Witch Family written by Eleanor Estes.
Source: Froggyboggler's Flickr

Just one page from Space Witch, written and illustrated by the great Don Freeman (1908-1978) in 1959. See more here

From the 1971 book, The Woggle of Witches written and illustrated by Adrienne Adams (1906-2002), a former two-time Caldecott winner. See more here.

Yes kids, Mother Goose was once a benevolent witch in orbit. Printed by McLoughlin Brothers of New York. Source: Lotusgreenfoto via Flickr

It's Midnight, The Witching Hour, reinterpreted by UK artist John Boardley, from an original 1973 cover of The Witching Hour (by Nick Cardy?) found here via Covered.

Witches in flight have long been a brand for many products, but this is a particularly nice package design for a fireworks label—with very bewitching typography.
Source: Flickr

Witch City, a 1930s chocolate covered frozen pudding label from Salem, Massachusetts, home of the witch trials and pudding treats. 
Source: Dan Goodsell's Flickr 

An 1860 clipper ship card for Witchcraft, a ship leaving New York for San Francisco. Clipper ship cards were as much a notice of sailing departures as they were a means of advertising. Nesbitt & Co. Printers of New York was a primary source for many of these cards at this time. Most of the cards had no illustration, leaving the lettering to be the main attraction. The heyday for these cards began around the 1860s, but the trade was disrupted once the Civil War began.
Source: Harvard Library 

Another beautiful wood engraved clipper ship card for the boat, Witch of the WaveThis one is printed with four colors and some very wavy type. They had me at "Unsurpassed by any vessel on the berth", but what could appear to be more seaworthy than a ship of demon devils commanded by a wicked witch?
Source: Hyland Granby Antiques

A celluloid corncob witch racer because a broom is apparently not fast enough.
Source: Dave's Flickr

And from the Type Mysteries Department comes this October, 1958, Adventures into the Unknown comic cover about levitating type and the Amazing...Witch Who Wouldn't!
Source: Another gem from Froggyboggler's Flickrstream

Ha! I found this oldie in my attic this morning as I was looking for something else. It's one of my early abstracts illustrated at age 4. It's titled, Some of My Best Friends are Witches

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Off to Skateland

Taking a little spin to Skateland today, to see some old rink labels from this eBay dealer. Most appear to be dated from the 1940s to the 60s, and were originally designed as advertising labels to cover skate cases, much like luggage labels. Many more where they came from...