I've collected a few collections of signs and lettering (fascia, architectural, public etc.) together before (here, here, and here), but this collection at No Relevance, by the aptly named Art, is utterly beautiful.
"Living in New York City, it's easy to come across some fine examples of hand made signage amidst the suffocating cacophony of computer-generated lettering and imagery. These works might be buried in between some large four-color billboards in midtown or on the store awnings of a soon-to-be-discovered Lower East Side street. They might also be as simple as the words 'free delivery' painted onto the plate glass window of a pizza parlor. They are remnants of a not-so-bygone era when craftsmen and tradesmen created and built things by hand ... I hope this collection of signs, photographed in New York City, New Orleans, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts, pays proper homage to the artists and craftsmen who created them."
In Phil Baines and Catherine Dixon's excellent book, Signs: Lettering In the Environment [Amazon UK|US], the authors note the disappearance of hand-made and high-quality manufactured fascia signage in the UK.
"Only one of the twelve examples on this spread is from Britain, a country whose high streets have been blighted by chain stores with their corporate, one-size-fits-all approach to shopfront design. The remainder are from France, Portugal and Spain, countries where small businesses really know about letters, rather than simply knowing how to connect a computer to a vinyl cutting lathe."
As the authors make clear, signs don't all have to be hand-painted as in No Relevance's brilliant collection, but do require an appreciation of letters, or at least the importance of a sign with impact, character, grace, verve - some indication of humanity.
There are still examples around in British cities, but you have to look much harder than you do in Paris, say, or Barcelona, Milan, Madrid, Amsterdam. Never mind New York. This is sad, and a great loss to our visual culture. Across numerous interested blogs and sites (hopefully increasingly including this one), a dispersed collection of recordings of such signage is amassing. As well as copyrighted but beautiful collections like that of Martin Eastman, the likes of Jack Schulze are working on potentially 'open' versions of public lettering collections. It'll be interesting to see if we can figure out a way of locating and denoting these dispersed signage collections, to at least recreate a sense of what we're missing from our streets.
This isn't simple nostalgia, or conservatism for the sake of it. It may be a dying trade and skill - literally (RIP Sam Lee) - but at the very least we can keep its memory alive online, in the hope that our cities recapture the progressive spirit behind such signs once again.
The example below isn't hand-painted (I don't think) but is quite beautiful, particularly in combination with the ceramics and their rainbow patina. Found on an unused 'dairy farmer shop' on Warren Street and Conway Street in Fitzrovia, London: