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James Clough: Signs / 2

Lazy Dog is reposting a series of all the articles written by James Clough, about Italian signs, for Robinson, – la Repubblica. These texts extend his 20-year research published in the volume Signs of Italy. James Clough is a typography historian focused on history of signs.


With the disappearance of so many artistic crafts, it is only natural that we return to an appreciation of what was handmade and has survived. The Italian sign painters invented many different styles of lettering, partly because there were no manuals prescribing canonical models – unlike in other countries such as France and England.

The craftsman responsible for this Florentine sign demonstrates that he was familiar with one of the many stylistic trends that influenced the letterforms of his time (perhaps the 1920s) and he interpreted it in his own way, without overelaborating. Only the wavy lower arm of the two ‘E’s and the ‘M’ with its slightly curved diagonals are specifically Art Nouveau stylistic features. The three-dimensional effect is achieved with skillful handling of the ‘shadows’ with nuances from light to dark.

Sign: “Mercerie”

Although the items for sale in the shop are not exactly those of a traditional haberdashery, the owner, Mrs Silvia Franciosi, who took over the shop in 1993, claims that her jewellery and necklaces made from fabric are nonetheless similar. So she is happy to keep the sign, which she also appreciates for its historical and artistic value.

Location: Florence
Address: Via de’ Ginori 34R
Technique: painting on glass
Writing: Art Nouveau shaded capitals
Year: 1920s (?)

Originally published by Robinson («la Repubblica») on Feb 4, 2018.
Courtesy of James Clough.

James Clough is a Milan-based calligrapher and scholar. Check his Bio.