As a youth in the early 1970s, one of my cousins left school as soon as he could in order to become a signwriter. After his period of apprenticeship, he confidently expected to continue plying this trade for his entire working life, just as his own father had done before him.
And why not? Signwriting was a highly specialized job, involving not just a considerable understanding of colour, layout and typography but also artistic flair and expert skills with a paintbrush. His father used to tell him: “They’ve not invented a machine that can do what we do.”
Except they did precisely that some 15 years later.
Rather than follow the crowd into desktop publishing, my cousin found success by specializing even further: he became a gilder and now spends his days precariously (but profitably) suspended from celings, applying gold leaf to plaster molds in old theaters and palaces. As far as I know, they haven’t got around to inventing a machine to do that.
But I digress. I mentioned my cousin because he once told me a story that the Sandeman’s Port logo — a black sillhouette of a man wearing a cloak and broad-rimmed hat — had been created at the beginning of the 20th century not by a designer but by a jobbing signwriter not unlike himself. Legend has it that the signwriter was just paid to draw a ‘nice picture’ for some bottle labels, unaware that it would get reworked by subsequent generations of designers and eventually represent Sandeman’s corporate identity worldwide. The man in the hat was even played by Orson Welles in a series of TV commercials.
Royalties? I don’t think so.
All of which makes me wonder who originally conceived the copyright and registered trademark symbols. Given that some printed material I work with comes with instructions to add these symbols every time a company or product name appears, I wonder if we’re doing injustice to these unsung heroes of typography. Perhaps, every time I add a registered trademark symbol next to a product name, I should acknowledge the symbol’s design origins by adding another, smaller registered trademark symbol next to it, formatted as Superscript. And perhaps another after that, just for readers armed with a loupe.
I hate these damn symbols littering perfectly good copy.
Thank heavens for the Glyphs palette.