The Rchive no. 12—No. 1 in New York
The mosaics in the New York City subway system display a surprisingly subtle variety of letterforms. This is especially evident in the stations along the Broadway/Seventh Avenue line (no. 1) between South Ferry and Times Square that have their names rendered in seriffed letters: Rector Street, Cortlandt Street, Franklin Street, Canal Street, Houston Street, Christopher Street / Sheridan Square, 18th Street, 23rd Street, 28th Street and 34th Street / Pennsylvania Station. An easy way to see these differences is through the capital R in the six station names where it appears. Here they are in geographical order.
With one exception, all of the Rs are oldstyle. Those from Rector Street and 18th Street are the most elegant of the lot with the one from 23rd Street the clumsiest. The problem with the latter is that its bowl is too wide and the leg curves up too abruptly. The exception is the R for the Christopher Street / Sheridan Square station, marked by a stocky proportion and heavy “mansard” serifs. There is no other station that I know of in the subway system that has letters like this.
What is remarkable about this variety of letterforms is that although all of these stations were designed under the aegis of Squire J. Vickers as the chief architect for the IRT and BMT, no one knows who actually created the lettering. The stations were constructed between 1911, when the engineering contract was bid out to the Bradley Contracting Company, and 1918, the year that all of them opened.