The Typography Of Skagway

If you noticed that there were no posts last week, its because I’ve been in Alaska with only intermittent access to the internet. Those brief glorious moments of connectivity have been reserved principally for communication with clients and the office. But just because I didn’t write doesn’t mean I wasn’t thinking of you. I have been — and never more so than during our stop in Skagway, Alaska.

If you haven’t heard of Skagway, you’re probably not alone — it’s a tiny little town in Alaska’s northernmost fjord (although those with a keen memory may recall it as the setting for Jack London’s The Call of The Wild). What makes it memorable today is its abundance of hand-lettered typography.

Besides the post office, which is set in Futura (1927), virtually every other sign in Skagway is hand-lettered. Most are painted on board or directly on the facades of wooden buildings. Some are in a freeform vernacular style but most opt for a “vintage” wood type aesthetic. It’s the kind of town you want to set Stephen Coles or Mark Simonson loose in — while the sign painting is certainly skilled, historical contradictions abound. Several of the signs favor Algerian, for example, and while it does give the type a Victorian-era feel, Algerian was wasn’t created (for Letraset and Linotype) until 1988. Copperplate (1901) is a bit more on target for those wishing to reference the typographic landscape of the town’s booming gold rush days, but Optima (1958) is about a half century too late. The one bank, Wells Fargo, still sports its venerable Clarendon (1845) roots and looks more or less at home.

Bonus points to anyone who can identify any of the myriad* of faces lurking about town.

*I checked, there is no Myriad.