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Belles lettres et de belles choses: A wanderer's gallery


Beautiful letters and beautiful things...This is another shoebox selection, focusing on well-made signs and well-wrought details that just don't really fit somewhere else. You know the kind, I've got these lovely pictures of London...but you're kind of fond of one that doesn't tell the story, it tells its own. 


That's what I've got here...a selection of the ones that demand attention but didn't fit when I wrote about their home towns. Where in a piece on Budapest, historic or modern, do you drop in a picture of ornamental ironwork on an otherwise utilitarian bridge, mostly notable for the politically-appropriate names it's had since it was opened in honor of the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Josef?


So now is their time. I've left out buildings in favor of details, statues in favor of signs. Some of the signs make it on content as well as appearance, but I was mostly interested in, as the title says, beautiful letters. Years of working in typography will do that to you, I hope you enjoy them as much as I did revisiting them!




Here, with two samples from the Arsenale in Venice, and one at the top from Madrid, we see style long since out of style, of nesting letters in inscriptions. Sometimes, as in the San Gines parish name, it's easy to follow. The Venetian samples, not so much! 


Another Venetian picture, from the island of Murano, known for its glassware. The sign here dates from the 1920s. Below, another modern sample, this one from a labor insurance agency in Madrid.




Here, it's not only some nicely-done's also the artfully done wooden storefront. This one is in Seville, as is the carving below, above the doors of the iconic state-owned cigarette factory where Carmen works in Bizet's opera.




And then there's the matter of light. Lanterns by the door seemed logical in the days before electricity, but making them into artistic and somewhat puzzling forms is something else. These three examples are from Budapest, Oslo and London. I admit my first thought on seeing the London one was "Harry Potter!"







Sometimes the intriguing detail is underfoot, as in these manhole covers from Stockholm Granada and Bergen. (If you like manhole covers, check out our blog on them!)






Turning to some purely decorative the National Art Museum in Budapest and on two buildings in Seville.







I know I said no statues, but I had to make an exception for this one, poised on tiptoe atop the Copenhagen Post and Telegraph building. Not only graceful, but some job of engineering!






And some more lettering, this time with a back story. These two signs mark the historic home of the science of materials testing. Before David Kirkaldy developed hydraulic machines to put measured stress on materials used in building and mining, there was no way to know whether beams, cables and more were up to the task. Kirkaldy's lab, with the original machine still functional, is now a museum in London.




Here's a pair of commemorations, in quite different styles. Left, Madrid, right Prague.


Alright, another statue, in Lisbon. It was just too odd to pass up. And a well-written tombstone for the man who invented the motorbike.




 More lettering, in Paris, and from Marseille a last piece, selected because of its truly confusing but accurate English translation.






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The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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