by Art Chantry:
yesterday i got into a heated debate (argument?) with a famous typographer over the origins of the coca cola logo. the legend has it that some little old lady book keeper designed it with her own handwriting. she wrote in a standardized writing style of the era (taught through school booklets) called ‘spencerian script”. the style is noted for it’s regular flowing forms and it’s accentuated swash work. everybody wrote in spencerian script if they learned to write in school back then. my mom writes in spencerian script.
the position of this famous typographer fella is that therefore the coke logo IS spencerian script. my position is contrary: i think that whole story is BS written by a marketing department to humanize a history lost in time. it sounds like classic “fantasy vs. reality” stuff, just like howard shultz’s history of his creation of starbucks. the reality is a completely different story (i lived in seattle. i knew the players.)
so, i think to simply call the coke logo ‘spencerian script’ is completely boneheaded ‘ditto’ thinking based on bad history written by vested power interests. that script looks like a standard signpainter script based on common handwriting forms of the day (aka – ‘spencerian script’). it’s almost a coincidence that there is any similarity at all. when i think of spencerian script, i think of a thin, clean elegant caligraphy style that has excessive and insane flourishes that spin into the absurd. the hallmark of that style is it’s elegant excess.
sure, the coke logo has the proper standard legible letterforms (as does so many other logos and even typeface designs and even calligraphic styles). but, i say that coke script is a signpainter script. there are as many such signpainter scripts as there are signpainters. to call them all ‘spencerian script” is like wearing horse blinders that only let you see in one direction.
my position is that there are other more prosaic explanations than “everything stems from the mind of one single great man” theory of history. i think this graphic design stuff is the language product of shared culture. we need to especially realize this was an attempt to document the history of the language of graphic design.
the current crop of historians writing the ‘history of graphic design’ come from the ‘minds of great men’ theory of history. i stand at the other end of the theoretical spectrum – the great men were standing on the shoulders of the nameless. it’s akin to the idea that romney built his millions all by himself vs. the idea that a vast community established the entire system for him to selfishly exploit. and my feelings about these ideas are as strong as my political ideas about this nation’s current situation.
so, at one point, that famous typographer dude said to me, “show me the differences” as i claimed that the coke logo wasn’t spencerian script. i retorted that you can’t prove a negative and he was the one who needed to defend his position proving by showing similarities and proving his case. that’s when things got really ugly. ha.
so, in keeping with the spirit of the ‘great man’ debate, i will acquiesce to his demand and show you similarities, all right. the above is a back patch for a small business from somewhere in the mid century. please note the similartites to the coke logo. is this also spencerian script? i don’t think so.
AC:porter’s clothing (as well as so many other famous Cw stars) were done largely by “nudies’ rodeo tailor” in los angeles. his clothing established that whole style of extremism in CW gear. if you don’t already know about him, look him up. there’s been a couple of killer books about his work….
…you’d never know that the illustration biz at the turn of the century was almost exclusively female, would you? or how many design organizations were actually started by women? nope, you’d never know that stuff….
…by the way, this famous typographer dude has done extensive logo work for coke. he also designed some of the most cliched and overused typefaces of the last 20 years. so it goes. it would be nice to be wealthy doing shlock. i do shlock and get paid crap. but my nose ain’t brown, either….