Typo-Pizza in New Haven

On Saturday, November 17 a small group of New York area lettering enthusiasts finally made their way to New Haven to see Yale University’s lettering delights. It was a trip that had been planned in the summer and cancelled twice due to inclement weather. The idea for the trip was sparked by an article on lettering at Yale written by Reed Reibstein for an upcoming issue of Codex. The trip was co-led by Reed and myself with Nick Sherman  (Mr. Wood Type) as our cohort. What would a lettering trip to New Haven be without pizza? And what would a “typo-pizza” event be without Nick?

Sculptural relief of policeman with billy club. Yale School of Law, Sterling Law Buildings. (Photograph: Paul Shaw, 2006).

But Nick almost never made it. Participation in the trip was by invitation only with the goal of having a small, intimate group and encouraging a more party-like atmosphere than the normal lettering tours I lead for the Type Directors Club. The constant rescheduling of the trip had reduced the number of participants from 14 to 8. And nearly 7 as Nick woke up too late to catch the 10:07 train at Grand Central. But we emailed him and convinced him to take a later one and he finally caught up with us at The Anchor, just in time for a drink and a visit to the basement speakeasy.

Inscription on façade of Center Church, New Haven, Connecticut (detail). (Photograph: Paul Shaw, 2012).

Unfortunately for Nick, he missed the unplanned visit to the crypt in the basement of Center Church (The First Church of Christ in New Haven, 311 Temple Street), an unexpected delight. We ended up in the church because of the inscription on its façade, a mix of slab serif and sans serif lettering, that implied a date of 1814, the year the building was dedicated. I was curious if the sans serif lettering dated from 1814 or was added later. I boldly walked up the steps and tugged on the front door. And to my surprise it opened. Michelle Reynard, the church sexton, looked up and immediately welcomed me inside, asking how she could help me. I motioned the others to follow and then told her that we were designers in town to look at lettering in New Haven and at Yale University. She immediately offered to show us the crypt. As enticing as the offer was, we first examined the 19th c. inscriptions in the entryway (some of which had been recut to fix mistakes) and then did a tour of the sanctuary to see a remarkable array of 19th century and 20th century plaques to prominent members of the congregation. The former were the most interesting typographically.

Detail of tablet listing the names of persons whose remains are covered by Center Church; in vestibule of church. (19th c.) Note the deliberate breaks in the letters. (Photograph: Paul Shaw, 2012).

Rubbings of selected letters from the listing of names in the Center Church crypt (see above). (Rubbing: Paul Shaw, 2012).

A funeral service was about to begin so we had to visit the crypt quickly or miss out on the serendipitous opportunity. Once we were downstairs the crypt was not what we expected. Instead, it was a basement with a brick-floor cemetery studded with tombstones, each one neatly isolated and in excellent condition. The oldest we saw was dated 1702 but the church claims to have one from 1667. The lettering was not the best part of the tombstones. It was fascinating but was surpassed by the inventive and varied winged death’s heads and winged cherubs.

The speakeasy turned out to be anticlimatic as it had no lettering or decorative elements to enchant a designer. It was of more historical than visual interest. But The Anchor’s large neon sign and curved banquettes—and friendly bartender—made it a very worthwhile stop. The other highlights of the New Haven portion of the walk were: the Loft’s Candies neon sign, the three signs for Kebabian Rugs (painted, neon and wood), ancient water meter box cover, and a gate sporting part of Herbert Matter’s 1954 logo for the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad.

Wooden sign on façade of Kebabian’s Rugs, New Haven. (Photograph: Paul Shaw, 2012).

Painted sign for Kebabian’s Rugs on the side of the building. Note the “wrong font” 2 in the date and the off-centered telephone number. (Photograph: Paul Shaw, 2012).

Neon sign for Kebabian’s Rugs, New Haven. (Photograph: Paul Shaw, 2012).

Anchor Restaurant façade with neon sign. (Photograph: Paul Shaw, 2006).

Gate with NH graphics in homage to Herbert Matter’s 1954 logo for the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad. (Photograph: Paul Shaw, 2012).

Ford Meter Box Co. water meter at 290 State Street, New Haven. (Photograph: Paul Shaw, 2012).

The Yale University portion of the lettering tour was led by Yale graduate Reibstein. It only touched on a few of the university’s innumerable lettering glories: Sterling Memorial Library, the Yale School of Law, the Memorial Quadrangle and Pierson gates, the War Memorial at Woolsey Hall, and residential halls such as Vanderbilt and Bingham. The striking thing about Yale—besides the custom typeface Matthew Carter designed for it in 2004—is the prevalence of textura lettering, especially on the many buildings designed by James Gamble Rogers (1867–1947), the creator of the Collegiate Gothic style, between 1921 and 1935. For a blackletter aficionado like myself, the campus was heaven.

Plaque in memory of Benjamin Stickney Cable (1916). (Photograph: Paul Shaw, 2012).

Detail of name of Jonathan Edwards College (1931). (Photograph: Paul Shaw, 2012).

Detail of lettering on Branford College (1933). (Photograph: Paul Shaw, 2012).

Lettering on Charles Bingham Hall (Walter B. Chambers, 1928). The broken letters and archaic effect are intentional. (Photograph: Paul Shaw, 2012).

This is but a taste of the riches at Yale University. For more, see Reed’s upcoming article in Codex 3, scheduled for publication in May 2013. Or, if you cannot wait that long, take a trip to New Haven. For the lettering nerd, it’s well worth it.