Tuesday, July 14, 2009

good type, bad type, stereotype

Photograph © copyright 2009 David M. Versluis

When driving past this charmingly naive advertising sign I’ve been intrigued by the emblematic illustration, cheerful typographic style and bold symmetrical composition. Then again, maybe it’s the wonderful juxtaposition and pun of the ‘rooster tail’ image with the word ‘cocktails’ that I enjoy. The sign stands as an anomaly, stoically alone, on the edge of a large soybean and corn field at the intersection of L14 blacktop and 160th Street—between Iowa Highways 3 and 10. Perhaps my interest for the antiquity of the sign is not a big deal, however, I wonder why it looks the way it does. Despite numerous bullet holes, from target practice, and attempts to bend it down, the sign still functions to advertise the Golden Pheasant Restaurant on Highway 3 just east of Remsen, Iowa.

Jo the owner, for the last eleven years, of the Golden Pheasant declares the business is ‘older than dirt’ and that it started as a ‘filling station’—she doesn’t seem to know how old the sign is. The restaurant is an example of twentieth century North American automotive culture. It’s about an individual business establishment that survived by changing from gas station to motor inn to roadside eatery.

Typical of many vintage advertising signs from the 1920s to 1950s this double-sided, baked-enamel metal sign was made to last a long time. While we don’t know for sure, I believe the exotic name of the Golden Pheasant was probably the namesake of a well-known wayside inn back east. The use of oriental simulation fonts were obviously selected because of the business name and derived from the imaginative qualities of the colorful Chinese pheasant. The sign displays 1930 to 1940s design elements and a refined brush script font that seems to convey friendliness—not tackiness or pretentiousness and also suggest a special menu—not standard food preparation. The copy line, ‘Fine Foods Cocktails’ utilizes a ‘yellow colored,’ ‘oriental’ brush script typography that conveys Asian, however; the Golden Pheasant is not a Chinese restaurant.

On the other hand, like watching an old Charlie Chan movie and noticing the stereotypes, I realize that today this sign is a typographic cliché—like an Asian accent translated as ‘chopstick’ fonts for Chinese restaurants in the old days.

So, graphic design students, be aware of typographic faux—be thoughtful.


  1. It's jarring to see that sign with the words "Remsen Iowa" on it. I'm also really interested in the bulbous bell shape of the sign itself. It's a comforting, bulging behemoth on the otherwise flat and sprawling Iowa landscape.

  2. Alvin,
    You suggest something important. That is, the sculptural and environmental qualities of the sign. Something else to consider is the sight line from inside a vehicle and your speed as you drive by.


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