With the heat as intense as a hot metal printing press, last Thursday a scorching Amsterdam evening welcomed the beginning of Letterheads 2016, presented by our good friends, Amsterdam Signpainters. Devoted to preserving the fine art and craft of traditional sign making, Letterheads offers an opportunity for signpainters, font designers, calligraphers and pinstripers from all over the world to gather and share their knowledge and thirst for all things typographical. Energised by our own passion for craft and authenticity, Design Bridge proudly had the honour of getting things underway, hosting a very special ‘At The Bar’ at the Heineken Experience. Dutch beer and typography, well what’s not to like?
Joyously compèred by our very own Claire Parker (Executive Creative Director), four special guests delivered engaging and informative talks to a jam-packed house, buzzing with atmosphere.
Demelza van der Maas (Collection Manager at Heineken) guided us through a historical journey of the role of typography in the brand’s story. We learnt that the ‘Heineken Brouwer’j’ lettering, proudly displayed on the brewery wall, originates from the original architectural blue prints created by Isaac Gosschalk. In fact, it was originally called ‘Heineken’s Brouwer’j’ but in recent history the ‘apostrophe s’ was removed. This removal was initiated by Alfred Heineken, who was also responsible for the tilting of the ‘e’ letterform to create the familiar smiling ‘e’s that we recognise today.
Demelza shared with us the role of signwriting and graphic design in Heineken’s advertising history, including imagery of beautiful hand-painted poster-art and signs which adorned the brick walls of Amsterdam’s architecture. Some of theses signs still exist, and are being restored to their former glory.
Fresh on the typography ‘bar-crawl’ our second guest speaker, graphic designer Piet Schreuders, charmed us with his relentless passion to uncover the truths and stories behind the lettering of Amsterdam’s past.
Piet shared images of Dutch brown bars displaying the beautiful Amsterdamse Krulletter (more of that later) and fantastic small hand-made glass signs with ornate Art Deco style lettering, which could be found in bar and store windows of mid-1900’s Amsterdam. Incredibly, Pootjesglas (based in Hilversum) was the sole company responsible for the creation of these signs.
With its condensed letters — consisting of hard, angular lines and metallic finish — Piet has also been hugely inspired by a form of ‘mirror and line’ lettering, which he had noticed around the city during the 1980’s. For me, this typography evokes a feeling of 70’s-80’s Space Age with a constructivist twist.
Despite producing a paper on this work in 1986, Piet was unable to uncover any leads on its origin. Twenty years later, however, Piet received correspondence from a man named Koen, who kindly demonstrated the methodology of creating the letterforms: mounting tin-foil to glass, before applying cardboard letter stencils from which the letters could be painted. Crucially, Koen also provided Piet with a name — de Rooy; whom Koen believed to be the artist responsible for the lettering. Determined to find him, Piet trawled library archives and address books before finally confirming that de Rooy was indeed one of the original craftsmen of this art-form. There is now only one remaining site in Amsterdam where this typography can be found so, without ‘type-detectives’ such as Piet, we would never have known about this beautiful craft.
Next to the stage — and with a very warm welcome — was a previous previous At The Bar guest, Ramiro Espinoza.
Zayne Dagher (Creative Director at DB Amsterdam) led an insightful Q&A into Ramiro’s work and De Amsterdamse Krulletter. Ramiro — a type designer himself — explained how, fuelled by the “art of making letters”, he was enchanted by the traditional script that he had seen decorating the windows of Amsterdam’s brown bars. So much so that Ramiro created a book documenting the history of the letterform.
For Ramiro, this typography is “an authentic expression of Amsterdam” and the book is a means “to show people how important vernacular letters were in determining the personality of the city.”
The final speaker, Mick Pollard, was introduced with a bouldering fan-fare of American enthusiasm from denim dungaree-wearing signpainter Mike Meyer, exclaiming, “These are the good old days!”
Mike’s spirit was matched by Mick’s (an English signpainter), whose words were short but potent, and celebrated how lettering adds value and beauty to the urban environment.
The enthusiasm and passion shown by these speakers was truly inspiring. They all share an immense desire to preserve and celebrate the artforms of times gone by so that it can continue to live on with us today. There is a beautiful history of the letterform written, painted and etched all around us. As designers, we should feel a responsibility to honour and embrace the craft that has gone before us, and endeavour to produce typography that stands the test of time, inspiring generations to come.
A special thanks to DB’s Richard Rigby for the event photography, and Ivan Cervantes (and his trusty iPhone) for making the film.