Before the advent of LCD screens and the modernizing of the New York subway's directional signage and station signage, the ...
moreBefore the advent of LCD screens and the modernizing of the New York subway's directional signage and station signage, the process of indicating a destination was rather rudimentary. For every possible route and destination of a train line, an individual sign was reverse printed on a semi-translucent mylar (an industrial plastic that replaced vellum in many uses) 'roll' sign, upon which the train's conductor was required to select the appropriate sign for any service a train might run. Distinct from the "E" train to the World Trade Center was the "N" train to Astoria, or the "F" train to Coney Island, and customers needed to be informed of service patterns. These roll signs--often nearly 40 feet in length--proved cumbersome and tedious, however, and by the 1990s the vast majority of the signs had been replaced with screens or broken into smaller sign modules that could be individually chosen at a quicker pace.
But the larger rollsigns have an important design heritage. In the 1960s, as the city Transit Authority reviewed the state of its system, it became clear that existing signage was out of date, confusing, and lacked a coherent sign language. Seeking to remedy this problem, the city contracted the Unimark company, led by the famous Massimo Vignelli and Bob Noorda of Milan, to redesign the sign system. From platform 'pillar' signs to rollsigns such as these, the team codified an entirely new style of sign design for the system, which has largely stayed in use through the present day. At the core of the design was a new, sans serif font--the modernist staple Helvetica (though initially Akzidenz-Grotesk due to availability issues)--and a bold, high-contrast design language: black on white and later white on black. In the now legendary 1970 Graphic Standards Manual (reprinted recently to great critical acclaim), rollsigns just like these were codified per Vignelli's desires: a colored sign "bullet" on the left would indicate a lettered line, while the north and south destinations of the route would be printed in large sans serif white text on the right. That design would shift slightly over the years as colors changed and the backing of the bullet switched from white to black, but the fundamental graphics and dimensions of the signs remained just as Vignelli specified. This sign, cut professionally from the last series of these rolls ever produced, is one of the final signs of the Vignelli rollsign era. The bullet used is designed exactly to Vignelli's standards, as drawn in his famous Standards Manual. It was produced in the late 1980s and lasted until the car class's conversion to screens and LCDs not all that long afterwards.
The destinations shown are the famous JFK Airport in Queens and well known 57th Street in Manhattan, though other signs were printed and are available from this seller for similarly famous destinations. The route depicted--the "JFK Express" or "Train to the Plane" is long since defunct, and this is a rare example of this historic line. The sign is cut straight on all ends--any bending in the photo is from the natural rolling of the sign and the limitations of the weights on the sign--and will be shipped rolled in a sturdy tube. Framed or mounted (cold mount only), these signs make incredible pieces of urban decoration, and the design statement of Vignelli's bold Helvetica text is sure to impress in any room. Condition is mint save for a few speckles of dust. less
54.0ʺW × 0.1ʺD × 13.0ʺH
ExcellentMinor wear consistent with age and history
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