Anna, of Rifle Paper Co., in Florida, wrote up a nice thing or two about us on her blog, a few weeks back. In the same post, she shared some clips from a book, Der Schriftenmaler, by Wilhelm Arrenbrecht, which was also mentioned, a couple weeks earlier, in the Sign Painter Movie blog. My attempts to re-translate from Google-translator-ese suggest the book's title means something like "the letter painter". The book is from around the turn of the 19th-20th centuries, and is on sale from a rare book dealer, for $1,250.
A few years back, a journeyman sign painter, Doug, moved out to San Francisco, after some gigs in, I think, New Jersey, Vermont, and Colorado, and worked with us here, a bit. Somewhere along his travels, he'd tracked down a similar book, Der Praktische Schildermaler (near as I can tell, "the practical sign painter"), a set of prints by one Hans J. Jedlitschka, for which Doug apparently dropped something not unlike the amount listed above. He wrote in to a hand letterers' forum, saying that he'd like "to share this book with everyone because of its rarity and beauty", soliciting ideas for how best to do so, and he decided, in the end, to take some decent pictures of the color plates in the collection, and pass CDs of those on to fellow sign painters he met.
He gave me one, and told me I could share it with the letterers in my shop. Since then, I've urged him to put his pictures of the plates online, for all to see, but he's very resistant to the idea that "sticker hacks" might take these designs and adapt them into vinyl wraps for Honda Civics. I respect that that's a very valid concern, but I also feel that raising the caliber of design resources available to the sticker hacks of the world might only (if they're even noticed) improve the overall results of their hackery. I mean, true, you can't teach taste... But I'm not so interested in dictating taste, for that matter. I just think this stuff looks cool, and y'all should see it!
So, last week, after admiring Der Schriftenmaler, an impulsive Google search for "der praktische schildermaler" happened to turn up a listing on German ebay, and, being in an impulsive mood, I impulsively clicked "buy now". It was ridiculously expensive, although not anywhere nearly as ridiculously expensive as listed elsewhere.
Anyway, it showed up this past Thursday, and, yeah, they're some pretty impressive designs. There are 32 very large plates, loose-bound in a folder, printed in full, rich colors with gold and silver foil (or ink?) accents. There are a few mars here and there, some of what look like watercolor stains on a couple pages, but that barely diminishes the glory of all the layouts, letter designs, and line work.
What I bought is actually only half of a double set, a total of 64 plates, in Series I and II. Other than the set of both for sale at the link in the paragraph before last, the only other mention of any copies of Series II that I've seen online is of a set in which only 22 of the 32 plates remain. I just know that if I'd spent whatever they're asking for it, and this plate was missing, I'd be gutted, regardless of whatever other prizes remain in that section.
But regardless, given what I've got, I now have the same question Doug posed to the forum, earlier: what should I do? I mean, the whole collection is just neat-o keen (to put it mildly), and I don't see a reason to keep it under wraps. My first thought is to just put good photos of it up as a Flickr set, and whoever wants a look can have it. But then, having already had photos of these prints on my hard drive for a while now, I'd assert that, alluring as the images are, they're all the more engrossing in a tactile format. I suspect they'd still retain a good deal of their charm as smaller printed duplicates...
However, even if I were just gonna make available some quick 'n' dirty comb-bound set of Kinko's color photocopies, that's, what, like a dollar a page, right? So, it'd cost me no less than $32 a set, prob'ly more like $40, with a binding. And at that price, wouldn't you rather have something a bit more durable than I'm given to believe color Xeroxes might be?
Anyway, print yourself out a page, and tell me if a book of higher res versions of those is worth $40.
I've sent an email to an old sign client, involved in art book publishing, and asked about making some decent quality print version available, as inexpensively as archival quality might allow. I haven't heard back yet. I'm hoping they might have some wisdom to impart, not least regarding international copyright, and/or the expiry thereof. A Googling of the printer, Friedrich Wolfrum and Co., of Vienna and Leipzig, doesn't yield much, beyond a Dover catalog of art nouveau patterns and designs (hmm, maybe I should get hold of Dover?). Googling "Jedlitschka" indicates there may be some descendants of the artist, in the German film industry. Not sure.
Leaving those questions aside, maybe I should do myself the favor of getting intimately familiar with each page, and producing vectorized versions thereof--sure to be all the more alluring to the lurking "sticker hacks"... Along the way, I might put some meat on the bones of my oft-postponed plans to dabble in digital type design.
Anyway, I guess for now I'll just post to Flickr, these mid-res pics from my point 'n' shoot, not bothering with any technical lighting, or whatever it is that makes proper art photos. I figured the oblique morning light through the living room window will give a little hint of the lustre in the gold and silver bits, although a few of the plates aren't really done justice. Meanwhile, I'll gather and sort through advice on how they might be best presented. Maybe just some well-lit hi-res files in a .zip package? Tell me what you think. And until someone convinces me I'm a fool to just show everybody, enjoy the photos!