Recently, three of us from the Amsterdam studio went to a lecture at the University of Amsterdam. The subject was a little known typographic asset of our city: De Amsterdamse Krulletter (The Curly Letter of Amsterdam). They sure are curly. But it’s a bit of an understatement, in English at least, to talk about the beautiful swash lettering simply as “curly”.
It’s a highly skilled form of calligraphy found on traditional Dutch brown bar windows (and the odd cask). The lecture centred around the recently published book from Ramiro Espinoza and Rob Becker that documents the story of the Krulletter.
To quote from the book:
“Old fashioned and frozen in time, these taverns make a marked contribution to Amsterdam’s appeal… Amsterdam’s bars may be the city’s true ‘social clubs’, as it is here that lovers meet, neighbours go over the week’s happenings, retirees tell their stories and writers take notes for a possible book. … With their spiralling swashes and their ivory colouring, the letters at these bars are an integral part of the decoration that helps set the scene.”
Well put Ramiro Espinoza. In the lecture, Rob Becker made the point that it was about time the Krulletter (pronounced “krooletter” for English speakers) was recorded. Due to the medium of glass windows that are subject to unfortunate damage and occasional replacement (read: ignorance), the Krulletter’s presence has been somewhat diminished in this day and age. Fortunately, Becker’s beautiful photographs do justice to the art form in it’s environment.
We enjoyed the lecture immensely, gaining a new appreciation for a beautiful craft still in our midst. We also learned that there were only two men over two generations responsible for almost all of the lettering in Amsterdam from the last century. Jan Willem Joseph Visser followed by Leo Beukeboom, for those who are interested.
The Krulletter was also immortalised as a typeface in 2012 simply called ‘Krul’. The digital typeface aims to summarise the forms found around Amsterdam. While it can never truly represent the exquisite craftsmanship of a traditional sign painter, it does provide a snapshot of the delicate finesse that adorns our most beloved cafés.
Having bought the book and examined some of the additional inspiration behind it, we thought it only appropriate to go for a wee tipple at one of the bars that still displayed the Krulletter. All in the name of research and education of course ; )
Blog post written by Robin White.