Thursday, April 18, 2013
I'm not sure if I'm right, but I associate these large brass shop signs particularly with chemists' premises. They were an elegant fashion of the 19th century, and the curving line of the sign catches the light well. No doubt the resulting glitter reflected that of the various medicine jars that were once displayed in the shop window. The use of brass perhaps also embodies the pharmacist's association with the medical profession. Doctors, after all, traditionally identified their surgeries with a brass name plate (the French talk about a doctor "putting up his plate" when a new practice is established). Whether or not this is the case, brass signs like this are certainly eye-catching, and I was pleased to find this one surviving on a shop long since given over to the purveying of cheese, coffee, charcuterie, and "fine wines".
The letters are cousins of the sans-serif or "grotesque" capitals I noticed here, although they take an outline form and are maybe rather thin and spindly. Their details owe more to the metalworker than the sign-painter or stone-carver. But looked at from a distance, the outline form of the letters makes a clear and stylish impact. Examined more closely, they show the irregular impressions made by the metalworker's tools, as if the letters did not get the way they are without a lot of hard work. This is mark-making with a difference, and the result sets up a lovely counterpoint between the straight lines of the letters and the irregular strokes within those straight lines, between roughness and, what we first notice when the sign catches our eye, sheer polish.