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London Transport ad: Edward Johnston

Photo(s) by mikeyashworth. Imported from Flickr on Jan 12, 2016. Artwork published in .
London Transport ad: Edward Johnston
Source: Uploaded to Flickr by Mike Ashworth and tagged with “johnston”. License: All Rights Reserved.

A remarkable 1937 advert issued by London Transport and extolling the organisation’s long-standing policy regarding presentation and design, emphasising the use of the Johnston typeface — a variation of which we in London Underground still use today. Interestingly the text claims 1917 as the date of commissioning. We currently say 1913 for commissioning and 1916 for delivery — an interesting discrepancy! The use of the typeface, that is as noted the forerunner of the “modern” sans-serif typefaces, looks very “clean” and simple here on the page.

That Edward Johnston was commissioned in 1917 to design the sanserif type in which this announcement is set (the forerunner of the twentieth-century revivals of this letter-form) — that Feliks Topolski was commissioned last year to draw a series of character studies — these are but two examples of London Transport’s consistent policy of a keen and practical intererst in sound presentation. Advertise, therefore, in good company through London Transport’s vehicles, stations and publications to 9,500,000 people.


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5 Comments on “London Transport ad: Edward Johnston”

  1. Mind the gap. I’ve always been fond of Johnston — so ahead of its time, and never got the attention of its follower Gill Sans. One downfall: The audacious ‘l’, with its wide, sweeping tail doesn’t work so well, and the tighter lines in this ad prove it. It needed a lot of room to prevent tripping its neighbor, but if you do that the spacing is off. You have either a jumble or a gap.

  2. Blythwood says:
    Jan 16th, 2016 1:17 am

    Fascinating handbill. This was near the end of the Pick presidency that created the modern idea of the Tube as one network. How many other pieces of corporate branding have lasted a century? 

    Of course, Curwen Sans (a.k.a. Curwen Modern) a few years later was very similar. And London Underground’s use of Johnston at this time was more restricted to prestige jobs than people today might think - look on Flickr and you see that much of the workaday printed material (timetables and so on) was printed in Gill Sans for many years – at least until the late phototype period and possibly in some cases later.

    Are there any good sources for what Johston thought about Gill Sans? I’ve read that they drifted apart rather since Johnston’s wife was somewhat anti-Catholic.

  3. Moquette says:
    Jan 24th, 2016 2:10 pm

    Indeed – that 'l’ does prove what we’ve often said in the office – that in Johnston the space inbetween is as important as the letter itself. Its interesting seeing how the Underground Group and Johnston tried so hard in the 1920s and '30s to reconcile the typeface to other uses (bus destination boards and blinds are a case in question) – and I’m re-reading some of the stuff about the post-1935 Barman experiments on ticket and timetable design (acknowledging that Johnston may have to give way to other faces for such 'close up’ work and the involvement of the Curwen Press gang in that). MInd you, when I look at our current 'Signs Manual’ I’m often minded to think that good as it is, it isn’t perfect.

    Yes, Curwen Sans was close – let alone Gill Sans. Don’t forget S&B Granby – so close that even London Transport bought some and 'dropped in into’ the Johnston cases we still have!

  4. Thanks, Moquette! What do you do at the Transport office?

    Granby: yes, we include that on our list of related faces on the Johnston page. I am a fan of Granby, and it’s lesser known than it should be, especially in the US.

  5. Incidentally, it’s very much worth noting that for anyone who wants to see the LPTB’s wonderful design work of the 20s, 30s and 40s (and beyond), the London Transport Museum at Acton is really very much worth visiting for a tour, with very well-informed guides who are often retired LT staff themselves. (No, it’s not all Johnston – much of their poster art was handlettered.) I think I’m on my fourth visit? Anyway, for those who can’t make it, the poster archive is online although the reproductions are quite small, and many are available to purchase in reprint.

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