First in Quality!


This painted sign was recently discovered in East Vancouver, after the owners began to take the stucco off the side of their building. What a wonderful surprise to find. I don’t know what “4X” means in this context, but it definitely draws attention. I love seeing visual heritage pop up in unexpected places!



Come and Get It

Have you ever wondered if most people save winning lottery tickets as a souvenir of a life-changing moment? In 1948, my husband’s grandfather won a brand new car in a raffle. He was sent a telegraph to let him know he won the raffle, and it was simply stated:

“You are winner of Car ticket Number B 2594. Come and Get it.”

My husband recently came across this telegraph when going through some family photos. It was neatly folded and placed in a vinyl Royal Bank booklet sleeve. It represents an amazing moment — truly one of the best things that happened in someone’s life.

I can’t help but notice the Beaver Shield on the upper left side of the telegraph. The ink on the newsprint spread so dramatically that the “spans the world” slogan is completely unreadable:

This close-up photo of the CP Beaver Shield is not unfocussed: this is the actual print quality of the telegraph template. The low grade quality of ink and paper indicates that this telegraph was really not made to be kept for over 60 years, which makes this momento that much more wonderful to have.

Beavers were on the menu at Canadian Pacific

I found this menu after cleaning out a book shelf last month. It seems that it was separated from some of the other vintage Canadian Pacific ephemera I have, but I honestly have no memory of seeing it before. Of course the menu is in line with Canadian Pacific’s visual identity — the script wordmark is front and centre, but it is paired with oddly kerned and wordspaced sans-serif type.

Judging from the logo used on the back, this menu could be from 1946 to the mid-1950s. I’m not sure how long the Beaver Shield, with the trademarked slogan “Spans the World” was in circulation but because this menu was likely from a trip my Dad took as a young boy, it should be from the 1950s.

The menu items, presented in three columns according to the type of meal, are still pretty appealing (in my opinion) — it just about consists of every comfort food for me. They are all wholesome choices for children: eggs, bread, soups, vegetables and fruit salad. There are no french fries or chicken fingers, a contemporary staple of children’s menus, on this menu. One curious component bottom right side of the menu is this:

For whatever reason, the message “Or, for children under 12 years half portions from the regular menu at half price” is completely obscured in a block of red patterned background. If this menu was copied, the type wouldn’t transfer, but even reading it from the original menu is difficult. Why such a covert presentation of information?

Finally, in case the anthropormorphic beavers throughout the menu causes confusion or, at least, curiousity for its young viewers, parents are reminded on the back of the menu about the very real biological and ecological aspects of the canadian beaver in a sidebar called “For Parents Only.” Here they are told the size and weight of the average beaver, where/how they live, and what they eat. Hint: it’s not poached egg on spinach.

Bee Playing Cards: Made in Canada

Whenever my in-laws come to visit us in Vancouver, we usually end up playing a board game, puzzle or card game in the evenings. Our last Christmas holiday was no exception, only when we decided to play a game we discovered that not one of our packs of cards were complete (cue the jokes about not playing with a full deck). My husband called up our neighbour to borrow a deck of cards, and I was surprised to see him return with a set that was obviously very old.

Bee Playing Cards have been around for the entire 20th century. This brand and style of cards were first printed in 1892 (which is why the Ace bears the number 92), but some sources have indicated that the No.92 Edition was printed in the U.S. beginning in 1928. This particular pack was made in Canada, though, and I am finding it difficult to gather any information about it.

From what I do know, Bee cards always indicated the edition on their Ace of Spades. This is from the No. 92 Club Special “Bee” Playing Cards, with the Cambric Finish on the backs. I’m not sure how long the No. 92 Edition was in circulation, or how long International Playing Card Co. Limited manufactured playing cards in Canada.

Choosing a Bee and Beehive as a symbol for playing cards is an interesting choice. Thanks to the vast information of freemasonry on the internet, we know that “The bee and the hive have long been symbols of industry and regeneration, wisdom and obedience, with a place in Egyption, Roman and Christian symbolism. The hive is often seen in Masonic illustrations of the 18th and 19th century and both Clovis and Napoleon adopted the bee as their symbol.” They are also, of course, enduring symbols of community and continuity. I can easily see how playing cards contribute to community, but their role in games and frivolity don’t really jive with industry and obedience. Cheating at cards, as immoral as anyone may find cheating, is a tradition of its own and a part of many western narratives.

The joker of the deck is another visual mystery:

The Joker is not only riding on the back of a bee, he seems to be dancing a little jig of sorts. Whether the Joker is meant to display dominance over the industrious bee (play comes before work?) or whether it is meant to be a playful take on the typical Joker card in its time, Bee Playing Cards managed to produce an enigmatic symbolic visual relationship between their brand and what might have been the visual status quo for playing cards.

Between the box the cards are housed in, the Ace card, the Joker card, and the written Guarantee, the Bee Brand of cards offer a veritable buffet of typographic styles. Some type appears to be hand-drawn and customized for the occasion, such as “Bee” on the box, while other type appears to be standard metal type. The type is wonderfully uneven in its print quality, where counter forms are filling in, or parts of the letterforms are faded, and this unintentionally adds to the visual relationship with the custom type.

Finally, there is a bit of irony in offering a guarantee for goods that are necessary items in games of chance. I’m curious to know how often consumer goods were actually guaranteed in 1892. Did this set Bee Playing Cards apart from competing brands of its time?

Slow and Old: Swifts Baby Chick Hatchery

After (somewhat) cleaning up my laptop files this past week, I discovered a photo I took from this past July 2010 in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. We were driving past this building, and pulled over when I realized that I had not yet added it to my collection of Prairie Palimpsest photos. The tumbleweed added a serendipitous touch to the scene.

The irony of this photo is that it is of a structure that is visually estranged from its original purpose. This building does not appear to be a bright and cheery welcome for newly-hatched baby chicks. It embodies one of my more favorite topics:  fragmentation and alienation that contributes to the uncanny in architecture and domestic space. Uncanny (originally referred to as  Unheimlich, or unhomely, by Freud) in this case means an interior or exterior architectural space that once felt familiar or safe but possesses and reveals a sinister side — much like a basement when the lights turn out. Or Detroit.

In the Swift’s Hatchery Building’s case, it is a building that once housed new life but is now a visual representation of decay. I wonder how much longer it will last.

Viva Esperanto!

Mi ne povas kredi nin ne estas ĉiuj parolanta Esperanton de nun — I think that means “I can’t believe we are not all speaking Esperanto by now” but it’s difficult to know if the translation is accurate or not. Last weekend, I posted a photo of these Esperanto-themed stamps on Twitter. I was excited about my husband finding them at an estate sale, and curious to know more about Esperanto.

I haven’t learned much more than what you can read on Wikipedia, although I discovered that we also obtained a book about the language from the same sale called, Esperanto: The World Interlanguage, by George Allan Connor (1948). I hope to post a photo of the book in the near future. It’s a very good textbook that is a cross between a guide book for travelers, a dictionary, and a practical textbook with exercises and quizzes.

In any case, it’s clear that the former owners of these stamps and the accompanying book were quite dedicated to the language in the 30s, 40s, and 50s. Although most of the stamps shown here are undated, they have a distinctively modern feel to them that reflects graphic design during these decades and aligns the language of Esperanto with industrious and modernist ideas as travel, speed, and sound.

I have to admit that I am not great at learning new (any?) languages. However, if I am able to pick up a few Esperanto phrases, I hope to drop them into a few conversations now and then. Ĝis sekvanta tempo! Until next time…

A Roxy for Every Town

I spent the entire month of July touring Saskatchewan and Alberta visiting family and recharging. One of the last days of our holidays were spent noodling around Coleman, Alberta, a resilient little mining town that was formed at the beginning of the 20th century. Although we somehow managed to miss the Biggest Piggy Bank in the World, we did find a great wool shop, vintage and antique shop, and take a few photos of The Roxy:

I’m still not sure why “Roxy” became a ubiquitous name for theatres and nightclubs (and more), but the original Roxy must have had far reaching influence to a town that currently has one-fifth of the amount of people needed to fill the original Roxy.

While the NY Roxy was alive and well in the 1920s, Coleman was a tiny town in Canadian frontier populated by coal miners who worked in absolutely miserable conditions. It’s not clear when Coleman built its own Roxy, but it has had time to be worn out:

Judging from the Pepsi logo, the ad on the side of the building was painted in the 1960s, so we know The Roxy is at least that old if not older.

Although this example is not as palimpsestic as the buildings in Moose Jaw I posted about in summer 2009, it has that same irrepressible frontier attitude that tells us it is not going disappear anytime soon.

Dale Evans

Dale Evans, married to Roy Rogers, managed to brand herself as a feminine yet gritty cowgirl who, without hesitation, would start a gunfight if it meant upholding justice. Like her husband, her on-screen character had the same name as the real-life actor. While she appears to take the role of side kick in this 1957 story, it’s clear to me that Evans’ attributes add up to more than the average expectations of the typical 1950s housewife. She is tough, independent, witty; she sleeps outdoors and doesn’t lose her cool when kidnapped, ambushed, lost, chased, or administering help to a young Indian boy suddenly stricken with diphtheria.

Roy Rogers and Dale Evans in River of Peril, 1957
Cole Fannin, author; Michael Arens, illustrator

While I don’t doubt for a minute that strong women in the historical  Old West actually existed (and thrived), we don’t necessarily look at the 1950s — an era of emerging suburban culture where the role of women became tightly confined — as a time that encourages any feminist thinking. Whether she realized it or not, Evans was an advocate for independence that was really somewhat of a fantasy only for women. Unlike the female superheros that existed at this time, Evans didn’t possess super-human powers. Her strength and ability came from her self-determination and freedom to make her own choices.

Dale Evans and Danger in Crooked Canyon, 1958
Helen Hale, author; Henry Luhrs, illustrator

This 1958 story, Danger in Crooked Canyon, is the one of the few examples I have of Dale Evans as the hero of her own story. Although it is rife with 1950s-era bigotry (the representation of Native American people and culture is cliché, and leans towards Camp at times), the story itself is adventurous and entertaining.

The production values of the book match the Roy Rogers books exactly: two colour illustrations throughout with similar typography. The main difference is the typography on the book’s cover. The typeface used for “Dale Evans” is rounded, more decorative, and no longer visually references wood type in the same way that the Roy Rogers books did. Henry Luhrs’ illustration is rich with detail in this book, and the the second colour throughout adds a mid-tone to the illustrations that do not rely on printing accuracies to be effective.

While I’ve described Dale Evans as an independent woman in an era that did not necessarily celebrate female independence, it is important to note that Dale Evans’ stories and persona are properties of Roy Rogers’ Frontiers, Inc. So, while she represents a brand of self-determination, ironically it is exactly this brand that is governed and controlled by her husband’s company.

The Visual Language of Roy Rogers

As mentioned in my earlier post, Roy Rogers published his stories in story- and comic-book form. Whitman Publishing, the same publisher responsible for the Tell-A-Tale books, published these books as well as a great many other westerns and boyish adventure stories. The two earliest books in my collection, Roy Rogers and The Gopher Creek Gunman (1945) and Roy Rogers and The Rimrod Renegades (1952) are hard-cover, with wrap-around paper covers. This cover fell apart right after I photographed it, and now I’m not sure how to repair it properly:

Roy Rogers and The Gopher Creek Gunman, 1945

The 1945 Edition of The Gopher Creek Gunman is black and white throughout the interior pages of the book, with excellent illustrations by Erwin L. Hess. The author, Don Middleton, only receives credit on the inside title page, and not on the cover. As with all the Roy Rogers books in my possession, the authors of Roy Rogers’ stories play second fiddle to Roy Rogers himself.

Many of the Roy Rogers books’ illustrators were also comic book artists, including Erwin Hess. His illustrations above really demonstrate an ability to create a cinematic visual narrative that correspond with the black and white films of Roy Rogers at the time.

Roy Rogers and The Rimrod Renegades, 1952

Author Snowden Miller and illustrator John Ushler were responsible for Roy Rogers and The Rimrod Renegades, 1952. Again, like Gopher Creek, the contents of the book are black and white throughout. Ushler is also great at creating visual narrative, but doesn’t use light and shadow as dramatically as Erwin Hess. You can definitely see the connection to comic book illustration in these examples.

The other books in my collection, from 1954 onwards, have laminated hard covers. By the mid-50s, the books were two-colours throughout — some layouts used a dominant black with a spot green, others with a dominant black and a spot orange/brown.

Roy Rogers and the Enchanted Canyon 1954.
Jim Rivers, author; Roy Schroeder, illustrator
Roy Rogers on the Trail of the Zeros, 1954. Packer Elton, author; Al Gleicher, illustrator
Roy Rogers and The Brasada Bandits, 1955. Cole Fannin, author; Michael Arens, illustrator

Besides the dynamic use of illustration in all these books, there are other consistent uses of visual language that contribute to the overall visual vocabulary of the 1940s-50s cowboy genre. The typography uses typefaces that were well known wood type specimens in the late 1800s, but the type was used in a new context. The 1950s placed these old typefaces into a new format (books, comicbooks, television program titles, movie titles and movies posters), creating a nostalgia for the days of the adventurous cowboy without replicating any of the real grit, dirt, hard labour and violence that may actually have occurred.

The interesting thing to note (which I hope to find time to expand on in the near future) is that historical cowboy culture in the American Old West was indeed different than the historical cowboy culture in Canada in the late 1800s, particularly when it came to law and order. However, like so many movies, books, and television programs regaling the American folkstories, Canadians tend to absorb these stories into our cultural milieu. Roy Rogers was an American personality acting out American myths, yet his legacy is firmly embedded in Canadian popular culture.

King of the Cowboy Brand (pun somewhat intended)

Roy Rogers Pins from Post’s Grape Nut Flakes, circa 1953

My Dad was and still is a Roy Rogers fan. He collected Roy Rogers Comic Books, Roy Rogers Story Books, and Roy Rogers pins. I’m sure he collected more than that, but that is the gist of the collection that now resides at my house. The books and pins are all from the late 40s to late 50s (there may be some early 60s comic books in there as well), which was the height of the cowboy craze in the 20th century.

The cowboy craze of 1950s television and radio extended from the cinematic genre of the 1930s. I’m not certain what the source of this preoccupation was, but it is clearly evident that cowboys took a prominent place in popular culture for a number of decades. Tom Mix and Tex Ritter are two major figures who starred in early Westerns (I have a wonderful and very large Tex Ritter movie poster, Man from Texas, hanging in my living room) and seemed to be enormously successful as a result, but nothing came close to Roy Rogers and Gene Autry for the sheer variety of media used to infiltrate everyday culture. They both used film, television (programs as well as product endorsements), print, restaurants and toys to promote their image. They would have had a heyday with online media given the chance.

These pins could be found in cereal boxes in 1953. It appears that although the pins are found in Post’s Grape-Nuts Flakes, Roy Rogers (“R.R.”) owns the copyright to the pins/his image.

Back of small Roy Rogers pins

Roy let you know what his horse’s name was (Trigger), what his cowboy brand looked like (red pin, above), who his wife and cowboy-companion’s name was (Dale Evans, another famous personality in the western genre of the time), what his guns looked like, what Dale’s brand looked like, etc. If you ate enough Grape-Nuts Flakes and collected enough buttons, you would already be familiar with Roy Rogers before you turned on the television or watched another film.

Some of the pins available in cereal boxes in 1953
Some of the small Roy Rogers pins from 1953

Roy Rogers was the name of the character in films and television programs and it was the name he used in real life. Any attributes his character represented transferred to his real person — if the Roy Rogers the character was morally upright with a clear sense of justice, then so was Roy Rogers the person. He clearly had a strong business sense, forming Roy Rogers Enterprises to control all his various assets (most importantly his own image) and understanding that diversity — from media to restaurants to charities — means that his brand reaches a multitude of cultural consumers.

A reminder in case you didn't already know: Roy is the King of the Cowboys

Finally, Roy Rogers worked very hard to earn his title King of the Cowboys. The backs of these larger pins are blank (with the exception of the one that repeats “Made in the USA”), but the rim of the pin simply states “©Roy Rogers Enterprises MPG.” Roy may have referred to himself as King as a brand strategy, but by becoming a household name it’s plain that the Roy Rogers Brand ruled as king of the popular culture landscape for decades.

I hope to show some of his books in my next few posts.