The Rchive no. 20—Neon in San Francisco

Here is a neon R from San Francisco. D & M Liquor at 2200 Fillmore Street in Pacific Heights is described online as a family-owned store—the “D & M” stands for “Dad & Mom”—that was established in 1935. This sign may date from the late 1930s, given the Art Deco flavor of its R. It is included in The San Francisco Neon Project blog, but without any information.

R from D&M Liquors

Detail of R from D & M Liquors

The lettering on the sign may have been inspired by Tempo Extra Heavy (c. 1931), a type family designed by R. Hunter Middleton for Ludlow Typograph. (Mac McGrew calls it Tempo Black.) The R in Tempo Extra Heavy does not have an open bowl and the tail of the Q is positioned closer to five o’clock than in the sign , but the ampersand is open at the top. The open bowl of R in the sign may be a concession to the physical constraints of neon. It is easier to design than a closed bowl. Then again, one does not expect to find an exact match between the lettering on a neon sign from the 1930s and 1940s and a typeface designed for print.* It is the uniqueness of such signs that is one aspect of their fascination.

D&M Liquors Beer Wine

D&M Liquors Beer–Wine

*There are two other typefaces, both German designs, of a similar weight with an R like that of Tempo Extra Heavy, but not a Q or ampersand that is as close: Cable Heavy (Klingspor, 1928) and Elegant Grotesk Bold (D. Stempel, 1928–1929). Cable (the name given to Rudolf Koch’s Kabel in the English-speaking world in the pre-World War II era) was available in the United States through Continental Type Founders but Elegant Grotesk was not.

[I have taken Cable Heavy from The Encyclopedia of Typefaces where it is considerably heavier than the digital version of Kabel Heavy. A closer match digitally is Kabel Black.]