Saturday, October 19, 2013

Show Card Writers

Missing Occupations
Technology has a way of making once-important occupations fade away. Buggy-whip maker and paste-up artist come to mind. Here's a glimpse of a remarkable lost occupation: movie theater sign artist.

These pages come from a trade-published book for showcard writers, Martin's Complete Ideas, by a display-sign artist named H. C. Martin. It's a fascinating collection of practical advice and sample sign layouts which Martin urged card writers to add to their morgues for inspiration. Martin had apparently written a successful how-to book called 1000 Practical Layouts. He followed it up periodically by releasing these "Ideas" books, of which mine is the fourth volume. There's no copyright, but internal evidence suggests it came out around 1936-1937. The publisher was Dick Blick, Inc.--yes, the big art supply retailer, which back then was a specialty supply house for sign artists.

Along with two pages of superb lobby cards by Arthur DuVall and Herb Simpson (of Evanston, Illinois), Martin describes in detail the sort of work theatrical sign men were expected to handle. It's a huge list, running from coming-attraction banners and marquee signs to silk-screened cards for trolley cars and "you scratch my back" signs for local merchants to tie their products in with the movie.

Having seen so many printed posters and lobby cards for films of the period, I found myself wondering if the do-it-all sign artist Martin describes was dying out by the time his book saw print. Nevertheless, the latest movie on DuVall's cards came out in 1935. Martin's audience was assumed to be card writers in small- and medium-sized markets; perhaps the practice lingered on in the hinterlands. Note that the artist is also expected to make signs introducing vaudeville acts if the theater is "a combined house."

1 comment:

Larry Rippee and Molly Rea said...

Sorry to see this blog is no longer posting.