I was absolutely entranced by this post on Quad Royal – a Vintage Poster Blog, taking a look at something they found rolled up in an old tube.
They found two posters — one white, one black; one full of an upper-case alphabet, the other, lower-case. What were they? As it turned out, instructions — spacing rules, to be exact. Or, kerning.
[T]hese instructions are by the great graphic designer Jock Kinneir. He’s best known for designing the template and typeface for Britain’s road signage along with Margaret Calvert (the Design museum have written an interesting piece about it if you want to know more). But in 1964 they also designed Rail Alphabet, as part of the Design Research Unit‘s rebranding of British Railways.
So that’s what I think this is, particularly as the posters came as part of an assorted lot from the Malcolm Guest sale. I imagine that, given their battered and used state, they were up on the walls of a design office somewhere in the British Railways system.
Now of course rendered obsolete by the computer. But a rather a fascinating bit of graphic design history nonetheless.
What I’ve also discovered in the course of writing this post is that Rail Alphabet wasn’t just used by British Railways, but also by Gatwick Airport and the NHS too, right up until the mid 1990s. So it’s more than just a typeface, it’s the written identity of the post-war British state.
So, not just a really cool-looking poster (click over to the full post, where they’ve got photos of the full things), but also an important historical artifact. The blog says they will be donated to a museum.
I would love to have them re-printed.