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Atelier für Malerei

23 October, 2010

"Studio for Painting and Calligraphy" Can anyone tell me what those three red things in the shield are?

Anna, of Rifle Paper Co., in Florida, wrote up a nice thing or two about us on her blog, a few weeks back.  In the same post, she shared some clips from a book, Der Schriftenmaler, by Wilhelm Arrenbrecht, which was also mentioned, a couple weeks earlier, in the Sign Painter Movie blog.  My attempts to re-translate from Google-translator-ese suggest the book’s title means something like “the letter painter”.  The book is from around the turn of the 19th-20th centuries, and is on sale from a rare book dealer, for $1,250.

A few years back, a journeyman sign painter, Doug, moved out to San Francisco, after some gigs in, I think, New Jersey, Vermont, and Colorado, and worked with us here, a bit.  Somewhere along his travels, he’d tracked down a similar book, Der Praktische Schildermaler (near as I can tell, “the practical sign painter”), a set of prints by one Hans J. Jedlitschka, for which Doug apparently dropped something not unlike the amount listed above.  He wrote in to a hand letterers’ forum, saying that he’d like “to share this book with everyone because of its rarity and beauty”, soliciting ideas for how best to do so, and he decided, in the end, to take some decent pictures of the color plates in the collection, and pass CDs of those on to fellow sign painters he met.

He gave me one, and told me I could share it with the letterers in my shop.  Since then, I’ve urged him to put his pictures of the plates online, for all to see, but he’s very resistant to the idea that “sticker hacks” might take these designs and adapt them into vinyl wraps for Honda Civics.  I respect that that’s a very valid concern, but I also feel that raising the caliber of design resources available to the sticker hacks of the world might only (if they’re even noticed) improve the overall results of their hackery.  I mean, true, you can’t teach taste…  But I’m not so interested in dictating taste, for that matter.  I just think this stuff looks cool, and y’all should see it!

So, last week, after admiring Der Schriftenmaler, an impulsive Google search for “der praktische schildermaler” happened to turn up a listing on German ebay, and, being in an impulsive mood, I impulsively clicked “buy now”.  It was ridiculously expensive, although not anywhere nearly as ridiculously expensive as listed elsewhere.

Anyway, it showed up this past Thursday, and, yeah, they’re some pretty impressive designs.  There are 32 very large plates, loose-bound in a folder, printed in full, rich colors with gold and silver foil (or ink?) accents.  There are a few mars here and there, some of what look like watercolor stains on a couple pages, but that barely diminishes the glory of all the layouts, letter designs, and line work.

What I bought is actually only half of a double set, a total of 64 plates, in Series I and II.  Other than the set of both for sale at the link in the paragraph before last, the only other mention of any copies of Series II that I’ve seen online is of a set in which only 22 of the 32 plates remain. I just know that if I’d spent whatever they’re asking for it, and this plate was missing, I’d be gutted, regardless of whatever other prizes remain in that section.

But regardless, given what I’ve got, I now have the same question Doug posed to the forum, earlier: what should I do?  I mean, the whole collection is just neat-o keen (to put it mildly), and I don’t see a reason to keep it under wraps.  My first thought is to just put good photos of it up as a Flickr set, and whoever wants a look can have it.  But then, having already had photos of these prints on my hard drive for a while now, I’d assert that, alluring as the images are, they’re all the more engrossing in a tactile format.  I suspect they’d still retain a good deal of their charm as smaller printed duplicates…

However, even if I were just gonna make available some quick ‘n’ dirty comb-bound set of Kinko’s color photocopies, that’s, what, like a dollar a page, right?  So, it’d cost me no less than $32 a set, prob’ly more like $40, with a binding.  And at that price, wouldn’t you rather have something a bit more durable than I’m given to believe color Xeroxes might be?

Anyway, print yourself out a page, and tell me if a book of higher res versions of those is worth $40.

I’ve sent an email to an old sign client, involved in art book publishing, and asked about making some decent quality print version available, as inexpensively as archival quality might allow.  I haven’t heard back yet.  I’m hoping they might have some wisdom to impart, not least regarding international copyright, and/or the expiry thereof.  A Googling of the printer, Friedrich Wolfrum and Co., of Vienna and Leipzig, doesn’t yield much, beyond a Dover catalog of art nouveau patterns and designs (hmm, maybe I should get hold of Dover?).  Googling “Jedlitschka” indicates there may be some descendants of the artist, in the German film industry.  Not sure.

Leaving those questions aside, maybe I should do myself the favor of getting intimately familiar with each page, and producing vectorized versions thereof–sure to be all the more alluring to the lurking “sticker hacks”…  Along the way, I might put some meat on the bones of my oft-postponed plans to dabble in digital type design.

Anyway, I guess for now I’ll just post to Flickr, these mid-res pics from my point ‘n’ shoot, not bothering with any technical lighting, or whatever it is that makes proper art photos.  I figured the oblique morning light through the living room window will give a little hint of the lustre in the gold and silver bits, although a few of the plates aren’t really done justice.  Meanwhile, I’ll gather and sort through advice on how they might be best presented.  Maybe just some well-lit hi-res files in a .zip package?  Tell me what you think.  And until someone convinces me I’m a fool to just show everybody, enjoy the photos!

25 Comments leave one →
  1. Johnny D permalink
    26 October, 2010 20:07

    Really love this art nouveau stuff, anything antique-y, really. Thank you so much for posting the photos. What an amazing book!

    • 28 October, 2010 06:07

      You could offer them for sale in a print-on-demand format for somewhere like or They do a decent coffee table book for not a huge amount of money. We’ve had great success with our print-on-demand books. Great thing is – no money up front and you could make a few quid back to help pay for them. Lots of other peeps would be interested in buying a copy I’m sure. Scan, layout, upload. Kerching!

      I could give you hand with layouts if you wanted – I’m a dab hand now!

      (In no way affiliated with any POD web service!)

      • 28 October, 2010 08:11

        Ah, now that’s something I haven’t looked at, lulu, and the like… Yeah, POD intrigues me, just ’cause I have no way of assessing what kind of demand might exist for these. The money up front comes in setting up for decent, well-lit photos. I imagine it’d be courteous to put in some time Photoshopping out a few things, like the big stains on Plate 8–I’m not trying to produce a record of these prints’ history since their printing.

        Yeah, thanks, Dee, I’ll look into this.

  2. Peter G permalink
    28 October, 2010 05:46

    Copyright is most likely life of the artist + 70 years. If Jedlitschka did these when he was young, and lived to a ripe old age, they could well still be under copyright. You’d have to find a date of death to be sure.

    • 28 October, 2010 08:20

      This resource, provided by a commenter in BoingBoing, seems to suggest that works published prior to 1923, outside the US, by foreign nationals, are in the public domain, although there does seem to be a “special case” that might fit into the life +70 rule. Y’know, I think, regardless of what I do with this, the appropriate course of action is to put a bit more effort into trying to find out who Hans Jedlitschka was!

  3. 28 October, 2010 05:52

    those three red things: I would guess on little (and empty) coats of arms. Similar to #10 in this pic: or here:

    • 28 October, 2010 08:31

      Thanks, matin! That certainly seems the most sensible interpretation. Still: what an odd little feature! I mean, I understand the concept of a grouping of several coats of arms in the center of a logo, but to just suggest that, while leaving the shields blank, and then, rather than drawing in plain-as-day shield shapes, to put the place-holders in the form of, what, scraps of parchment with curling edges? Like little spat-out bites of orange peel! I love seeing how ornate all these plates are, and then finding the spots of mystery, where the artist says, “I’ll leave it at that, that’s enough”.

      • 29 October, 2010 07:15

        Well, I think about it like this: by keeping the coats of arms empty he’s saying that that’s his skill: to fill in the blanks with *your* information. I believe we’re looking at an earlier (and much classier) version of “your logo here”. Also: thank you for the images and the story. It was my design pr0n fix of the morning.

      • 29 October, 2010 09:01

        Excellent interpretation! Thanks, and glad you enjoyed the pictures!

  4. 28 October, 2010 07:09

    Whatever you do, please please please put the results under a Creative Commons BY-SA license. Even if copyright on these things is expired, and you have no copyright on images of the plates, stating that your images are CC BY-SA sends a clear signal of your intent, so that nobody has a doubt and doesn’t use the image.

  5. 28 October, 2010 09:26

    I would love hi-res photos, but would ADORE vectorized versions.

    I’d even pay. Hopefully as a set.

  6. 29 October, 2010 00:20

    Hi Damon,

    Beautiful collection!

    One of the services I offer is digitization and restoration of old documents, maps and photographs. This is what I would do:

    1- photograph each plate at 15 mp, RAW format (depending on the plate size, and in order maintain fine detail, each plate may be photographed with two or more images)
    2- burn that set to an archival quality disc
    3- create a second set from the originals
    4- convert from RAW to TIF using both color correction (white balance) and optical correction (lens distortion). The TIF files should be 16 bit, 300 dpi, 24 bit color depth
    5- burn that set to an archival quality disc
    6- resize each image to 1:1 (actual size of each plate) and correct for any physical distortion of each plate (if off-center, curled or out-of-square)
    7- apply any needed brightness correction equally across the entire set (may be done in step #4)
    8- burn that set to an archival quality disc. This is the final museum-quality set (no restoration)
    9- Restore each plate to the degree desired (remove only major damage to restore to near-new condition)
    10- burn that set to an archival quality disc. This set could be used for printing, etc.

    Up to and including #8 (and dependent on the actual size of each plate), I’d start pricing at around $750. The cost of final restoration would vary with the result desired. However, I’m not accepting any new work at present.

    Best regards,

    • 29 October, 2010 09:12

      Thanks a lot for the tips and instructions, Phil. Between this, and a very long comment over on BoingBoing, I’m feeling like i have a quite resourceful set of Best Practices for Rare Document Photography.

  7. Rainer permalink
    29 October, 2010 00:32

    About the “Bruder Kunz” sign: This company still existed in the 1960’s in Vienna. I grew up in the First District and there was one of their shops, like a supermarket but with full service, just around the corner and I can remember being sent there by my mother to shop from a young age (there was no main road to cross). They were taken over by “Julius Meinl”, which has been pushed off the market by large supermarket chain.

    • 29 October, 2010 09:04

      Thanks, good to know! A commenter over on BoingBoing pointed out to me that, for a number of reasons, it’s obvious (to him/her) that these are Austrian sign designs, as opposed to German. So, what you say makes perfect sense.

  8. Bernd permalink
    29 October, 2010 18:30

    You might get further information about the designs from the printer’s family:

    They still run an art shop in Vienna. (Unfortunatley, their website is only in german)

    And the designs are very, very austrian in their own way ^_^

    • 29 October, 2010 21:59

      Yes, I’ve read from comments elsewhere that these are fairly obviously Austrian, as opposed to German. I apologize for my ignorance. But–I’m thrilled that you’ve provided a link to the Wolfrum people, and I’ll certainly send them an inquiry about Jedlitschka! That’s great! (I have the impression that many German speakers are pretty damn fluent in English (while we anglophones remain mired in ignorance of such exotic eastern tongues). I bet, if I shoot ’em an English email, they’ll be capable of responding! Anyway, I’ll find out soon, not tonight.

      • John Beal permalink
        11 February, 2011 21:27

        Austria did not have an “Art Nouveau” but a sezession (I think that’s how they spelt it) just as Nederlands and Belgium had de stil. Alphonse Mucha in neighboring Czech/Bohemia was the famous commercial graphic artist whose work had a new lease in the 60s. These graphic/applied arts movements had a big influence on the biomorphism popular in the “Psychedelic Art” of the 60s. Just thought I’d let you know.

  9. Rustybadger permalink
    30 October, 2010 08:54

    I’m curious about a couple comments I’ve seen suggesting photographing the plates, rather than scanning them. Is there a reason it’s better? I do document and photo archiving, and in our training we were only told to scan such items. Admittedly, I don’t deal with rare items, and I can see from a conservator’s perspective how the less one has to handle an item, the better. But I’d love to hear an expert’s view on this.

    My concern with photography vs scanning would be resolution (I usually scan photos at 3000 dpi), distortion, and lighting. With scanning, there’s no distortion, and perfectly even lighting throughout the image (of course, some colour correction is usually necessary in post, even with scans). But having never actually tried doing it the way described by Phil, I’m beginning to question my own methods! Is Phil’s technique really only used for rares? Or is it actually faster, once you have the equipment set up, and can pop items in and out rather more quickly than a scanner works?

  10. 31 October, 2010 13:35

    Thank you SO MUCH for sharing this with us. I’ve downloaded every one of the images from your set to give them a closer look.

    What to do with them? If I were you, I would assembly a single PDF containing all of the images in hi-res, including links in the content table to each one of the images. Then I’ll just publish it here for a free download. You can put a “donate” button so people could pay a buck, or 5, or 10… or anything they want, in appreciation for your efforts.

    Also, you could made two versions: one (free) in a lower resolution (for example, as it is now) and a different one (paid) in higher res. The paid version is intended as a retribution for your expenses in the digitalization process and the cost of the original book.

    When you achieve an X ammount of money, you could donate the originals to a museum who could exhibit it and preserve it properly. At the end, you’ve just recovered your investment and made the artworks available for everyone.

    Too altruistic?

    • 2 November, 2010 09:20

      Thanks, Dan. Yeah, something like that formula, is what I’ll prob’ly end up doing. At any rate, sometime soon, there’ll be better pictures to study. I’m not sure what they’ll cost me, or anyone else, yet. And I’ve got to get some advice from a pro on best handling/preservation practices, in the meantime. I’m not sure where along the spectrum of altruistic and/or foolish and/or opportunistic and/or greedy, my eventual plan will fall, but it’s likely to tend slightly toward the earlier end in that list.

  11. Golden Signs Scranton Pa permalink
    23 January, 2014 10:01

    Hi Damon thank you for sharing these great pictures, I would pay $100.00 for a book that is professionally printed ( like some of the reprints Signs of the Times did with the old books, but maybe a little bit better Res.)
    Thanks Bill Masters Golden Signs

    • 6 February, 2014 10:22

      Thanks, Bill, that’s good to know! I’d dropped the ball on this for a long time, but recently heard from someone in Europe who owns the other set of 32 prints, and I just last week sent an email to the original Austrian publisher, looking for more info about Hans Jedlitschka. Haven’t heard back yet. I’ll try to keep you posted.

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