Monday, November 25, 2013

Lettering: 100 Ampersands, Part 1

The Printer and Bookmaker
July 1898
Some Queer Ampersands.

What is the legitimate form of the ampersand? Ringwalt’s American Encyclopaedia of Printing says that it was not adopted in its present form until about 1750. It was originally the Latin et surmounted by a ligature, and the type founders give it to us in Roman in this form (&), and in old-style italic in this form {&). There is a wide difference between the two, and there exists a still wider difference in various display types, while the sign painter takes all sorts of liberties with the figure. The word is a contraction of “and per se and,” signifying “and by itself and.” It is occasionally spelled ampersand, and is found in old books in the form ampusand, amperse-and, ampassyand, amperzed, etc. Having for many years received recognition in primers as a tailend to the alphabet, and being apparently of fixed use in the language, it becomes interesting to discover what forms it becomes interesting to discover what forms it has taken on in arriving at its present shape, if indeed it have any present legitimate shape.

From the Railroad Car Journal we unexpectedly find light on the subject, through a contribution from Warner Bailey, whose connection with the Boston and Maine Railroad has caused him to travel over most of the territory between the States of Maine on the East, Kentucky on the South, and Illinois on the West. During these trips Mr. Bailey made it a pastime to copy all the forms of ampersands he saw painted on railway cars. He discovered no less than one hundred and forty different styles, of which there are reproduced in the accompanying illustration one hundred of the most peculiar. They are certainly worth studying as curiosities, and it is difficult to judge by what mental process some of the more outrageous forms were arrived at by the paint-brush artists.

Related Posts

100 Ampersands, Part 2
100 Ampersand, Part 3
100 Ampersands, Part 4
Wood Type Ampersands

(Next post on Thursday: Thanksgiving 1905)

Monday, November 18, 2013

Creator: O.A. Olson, Ames Lettering Guide Inventor

Oscar Anton Olson was born in Norway on December 12, 1883. Olson’s birthplace was found on census records and his birth date was recorded on his World War I draft card. A record of his arrival in the United States has not been found. Who’s Who in American Education (1956) said he was the son of Nels Edward and Louise Annette. According to the Naturalization Record Index at, Olson became a citizen on October 27, 1884.

In the 1900 U.S. Federal Census, Olson was a servant in the Mickelson household, which consisted of the parents, their four children and a female servant. Mr. Mickelson was a dealer in dry goods and groceries. Apparently, Olson worked for him as a salesman.

Olson attended Iowa State College. The photograph of Olson (left) is from the 1907 yearbook, The Bomb. He graduated in 1908.

Olson has not been found in the 1910 census. Who’s Who in American Education said he married Goldie Payne of Lincoln, Nebraska, on January 23, 1911.

The Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts 1914 named the graduates of June 1914. Olson received a degree in mechanical engineering. According to Who’s Who in American Education, Olson received his masters degree.

The 1915 Iowa State Census recorded Olson and his wife in Ames. He was a draftsman who had four years of high school and four years of college. And he was a Lutheran.

The Iowa Official Register for the Years 1915–1916 had information on Iowa State College. In the category of instructors was “Oscar Anton Olson, B.M.E., Mechanical Engineering.” The State of Iowa 1916, Report of the Iowa State Board of Education said: “Oscar Anton Olson from Instructor to Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering.”

On September 12, 1918, Olson signed his World War I draft card. He was an assistant professor in mechanical engineering at Iowa State College. Olson and his wife, Goldie, resided at 617 Clark Avenue in Ames, Iowa. He was described as medium height and build, with brown eyes and hair.

Olson was at the same address in the 1920 census. His occupation was college teacher and he had a four-year-old daughter, Louise.

Five years later, the Iowa state census listed Olson, his wife, two daughters and mother-in-law at 706 Wilson in Ames.

All of them were found in the 1930 census in Ames at a different address, 712 Tenth Street. Olson continued as a college teacher. The 1936 Ames city directory said Olson was the acting head and associate Professor of Engineering Drawing at Iowa Sate College.

The photograph of Olson (above) is from the 1938 Iowa State College yearbook, The Bomb.

Olson’s address was unchanged in the 1940 census. Olson’s job was drawing engineer at the state college. He retired in 1948.

According to the Social Security Death Index, Olson passed away in March 1971. His last known residence was Ankeny, Iowa.

Engineering Design Graphics Journal (1971) reprinted the following article from the Ames Daily Tribune, March 18, 1971.

“One of the many reasons the name ‘Ames’ is known far and wide is a little device developed by O.A. Olson. Called by him the ‘Ames Lettering Guide’ the small instrument probably has been used by nearly every aspiring engineer or draftsman who was ever enrolled in a mechanical drawing class.
“Simple in its design, the device allowed the draftsman to put precisely-spaced lines on his drawing as a guide to the lettering required to identify various parts and the plate itself. For more than half a century, Mr. Olson’s invention has been in widespread general use.
“For many years, the manufacture of the lettering guide was carried on in the basement of his home, and the work of assembling, packing and shipping furnished employment for several generations of college students and student wives.
“Mr. Olson took great pride in his little manufacturing operation, showing visitors around with detailed explanation. He ducked under furnace pipes with comments about the ‘low overhead’ and explained that the assembly area was below ‘the kitchen upstairs, where we make the dough.’ 
“The Ames lettering device was not his only invention. He also perfected a number of items intended for use in teaching geometry and for other mechanical drawing applications, including the Draft-pak used by school students here and elsewhere.
“He had a great imagination, enetrprise [sic], practicality and with it all, a great love of life. Along with many other people here, we held a great affection for him.”
O.A. Olson, 87, died at his daughter’s home in Cedar Rapids on Monday, March 15, 1971.
Born on December 12, 1883 at Tonsburg, Norway, he came to the United States as a small child. He graduated from Iowa State University in 1908 with a B.S. degree and in 1914 earned the M. E. degree. He was appointed to the staff of mechanical engineering in 1913 and served with the department until 1935 when he became head of the engineering drawing department. He retired in 1948. Professor Olson founded the O. A. Olson Manufacturing Company in 1919 to produce the Ames lettering guide which sold all over the world. He is also the inventor of a valve seating machine as well as developing a number of graphic design teaching aids.
Besides being a member of the Ascension Lutheran Church, he was a charter member of the Sioux City Rotary Club and held membership in the Ames Rotary Club. He aided many engineering students by offering them work in his plant, thus enabling them to graduate. Professor Olson is named in “American Man of Science”, “Who’s Who in Iowa”, “Who’s Who in America”, “Who’s Who in Education of Norwegian Origin” and “Who’s Who in American Education”. He is survived by two daughters, Mrs. Wright of Cedar Rapids and Mrs. Huston of Ames, a sister, Anna G. Olson of Fergus Falls, Minnesota, a half-sister, Mrs. Nettie Mattison of Bingham Lakes, Minnesota, seven grandchildren and one great grandchild.
He was preceded in death by his wife, Goldie Payne O. Olson, and a brother.

The Spring 1993 issue of Engineering Design Graphics Journal published a recollection of a meeting with Olson.

...I had the pleasure of meeting Professor O. A. Olson, the inventor, manufacturer and distributor of the Ames Lettering Instrument, at the ASEE Annual Conference in 1956 at Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. I don’t know that Professor Olson ever peddled his product door-to-door, but it was always available in college bookstores and on display at ASEE conferences where samples were freely distributed. The Ames Lettering Instrument is among the most useful and long lived of many such devices appearing during the past fifty years. In the original Ames Lettering Instrument, the rotating plastic disk was secured in a bent-wire frame. The wire frame tended to rust and get out of shape, and was soon replaced by a plastic mount, a great improvement. It is possible that some of our younger members have never used, or before heard of, the Ames Lettering Instrument. Back in the “old days” when drawings were annotated with hand-lettered notes, light guide lines were ruled as an aid to maintaining straight evenly spaced lines of letters. The Ames Lettering Instrument greatly simplified the rather tedious and boring task of ruling guide lines. It is my understanding that the Ames Manufacturing Company has provided jobs for countless Iowa State University engineering students over the past half-century.
• • •

Draftsmen were using lettering triangles to draw guide lines. The Iowa Engineer, May 1912, published a version (below). 

The 1921 Catalogue of Keuffel & Esser Co., Manufacturers and Importers Drawing Materials featured their Xylonite Lettering Triangle (below).

The Pease Unique Lettering Angle was advertised in The American Stationer and Office Outfitter, October 22, 1921 and Industrial Arts Magazine, December 1922 (below).

In 1925 the Keuffel & Esser Company submitted a patent application for a “Drafting Instrument” which was published in 1929.

Another tool was the Draftsquare in The American Stationer and Office Outfitter, July 30, 1921.

Olson invented a lettering-triangle and wrote a description March 9, 1917. His innovation was the rotating disc. A technical drawing, description and application were sent to the United States Patent Office which filed it on March 29, 1917. Olson’s lettering-triangle was patented April 16, 1918 and assigned number 1,262,971. The document can be downloaded here.

The Iowa Engineer mentioned Olson’s inventions, including the lettering device, in its May 1917 issue:
Prof. O. A. Olson of the M. E. Department has in the past six months come into especial prominence by patenting three labor saving devices. These three latest additions to the industrial world are a lettering triangle called the “Ames Triangle,” a thread cutter and end holder for hand sewing, and an advertising novelty in the form of a pencil which contains, instead of the lead, a strip of paper three inches wide and twelve inches long. These are not his only inventions, for he now holds nine patents three of which are foreign.
A new design, called the Ames Lettering Instrument, was featured in The Iowa Engineer, February 1920, and advertised in The Iowa Engineer, October 1920 (below).

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Museum has the 1922 Ames Lettering Instrument in its collection.

Manual Training Magazine, September 1921, touted Olson’s drafting device.
Teachers and students of mechanical drawing will be glad to learn of a new and distinctly practical tool for use in lettering.
It is called the Ames Lettering Instrument, having been originated by Prof. O. A. Olson of Ames, Iowa. Among the many devices for lettering, this instrument is unique, being extremely simple in design, light and compact. It consists of a celluloid disc held so as to rotate on a U-shaped retaining ring on which is attached a bar, which serves as a base and straight edge.
A series of holes in the disc enable the user to draw with accuracy and ease the guide lines for three systems of lettering and for letters of any height. By turning the instrument, the bar can be used as an angle enabling one to draw guide lines at either 75 or 68 degrees. Altogether it is a compact, convenient and practical instrument.
A classified advertisement for the Ames Lettering Instrument appeared in Industrial Arts Magazine, December 1922.

The Ames Lettering Instrument was part of a drafting set advertised in American Machinist, December 28, 1922. The description said: “The Ames lettering instrument is a steel frame holding a celluloid disk which may be rotated in it. In the disk are three parallel rows of tapered holes for drawing guide lines for lettering.”

An excerpt from Olson’s entry in American Educators of Norwegian Origin (1931) said:
…Inventor and manufacturer of the Ames Lettering Instrument. “There is no lettering device of which I have any knowledge, that approaches it in simplicity, neatness, accuracy and range of work. It is a satisfaction to know that the instrument is carrying the word ‘Ames’ to all parts of the United States, and to every country of the world where engineering work is being done.” Prof. Warren H. Meeker, Head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Iowa State College. 
A 1945 issue of Plastics and Resins published this article: 
Lettering Instrument Before the largest or the smallest airplane, ship, jeep or tank can be built, complicated and detailed diagrams, charts and blueprints must be drawn, and lettering instruments have assumed an importance perhaps greater that they have ever known before.
The Ames Lettering Instrument is the only instrument of this type that provides for the spacing of guide lines for the three different systems of letters most commonly used by commercial draftsmen. It is the only instrument that provides a means of drawing, without adjustment of parts, the two slope lines usually used for notes on drawings. The instrument also provides a means of drawing guide lines for letters of any height from 1/16 to 1-1/2 inches and for the four guide lines required by students learning to letter.
This lettering instrument is made in two parts, the circular center piece revolves by means of a groove in the outside piece permitting simple adjustment. The transparent Lumarith from which it is made allows lines already drawn to be seen clearly through the instrument. Its L-ipse fitting construction guarantees against slipping and subsequent distortion of the letters while the instrument is in use.
The Ames Lettering Instrument is manufactured by the O. A. Olson Manufacturing Company, Ames, Iowa. Lumarith is a product of Celanese Plastics Corporation.
Olson’s lettering instrument continued to evolve. In 1951, Olson received a patent for new version of his lettering instrument.

The date of the instrument below has not yet been determined.

Years later, the Ames Lettering Instrument would be known as the Ames Lettering Guide; the one below was purchased in the 1980s.

For decades, the Ames Lettering Guide was an essential tool used for lettering comic strips and comic books. Examples can be found in The DC Comics Guide to Coloring and Lettering Comics (2013) and Drawing Comics (2012).

The Ames Lettering Guide continues to be manufactured, although, no longer in Ames. The Kansas City Business Journal, October 31, 2004, said Olson’s grandson, David Huston, was producing the lettering guides.

(Next post on Monday: 100 Ampersands, Part 1)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Street Scene: The Jack Kirby Museum Pop-Up

The Jack Kirby Museum was the first of seven pop-up storefronts scheduled to appear at 178 Delancey Street, just three buildings away from Kirby’s residence at 172 (1930 census), and not far from his birthplace. The museum was there from November 4th to the 10th. A New York Times article covered the event and Eric Ho, who conceived the project.

(Next post on Monday: O.A. Olson, Ames Lettering Guide Inventor)

Monday, November 11, 2013

Lettering: IF

September 6, 1907

“IF: The Grave of Our Dreams”
Illustration by Art Young

The drawing is mentioned in

Life volume includes Young illustrations from

The Inland Printer
September 1909

8th Edition, 1911

The Judge

December 25, 1915

Selling Arts
January 1932

Frontline Combat
#5, March/April 1952
EC Comics
Story and art by Harvey Kurtzman

Worlds of Science Fiction

(Updated January 2, 2017; tomorrow: The Jack Kirby Museum Pop-Up)

Monday, November 4, 2013

Typography: Axel E. Sahlin

According to the Sweden, Indexed Birth Records, at, Axel Edvard Sahlin was born October 13, 1877, in Lund. His parents were Nils Edvard Sahlin and Anna Anderberg. In 1911, Sahlin emigrated to the United States where his work caught the eyes of several graphic arts magazines.

September 1912

The Inland Printer
November 1912
Sahlin profile

The Printing Art
December 1912

To Axil Edw. Sahlin, East Aurora, N.Y., was awarded third prize in this month’s contest It will be recalled that Mr. Sahlin was also awarded first prize in the September contest His work is always interesting, the designs submitted this month being no exception. These are all advertisements from Elbert Hubbard’s magazine, The Fra, and possess much distinction. It is fair to presume that many of these were written by Mr. Hubbard, and into their typographic dress Mr. Sahlin has incorporated a style somewhat in keeping with the Hubbard fashion of advertisement writing. A characteristic example is here reproduced. This would have perhaps presented a better appearance if the outside rule border had been omitted. Nevertheless, it is an attractive, readable advertisement and one that is sure to be noticed. In its original form it was printed in two colors.

July 1913
Cover-Page Contest
Contestant: Sahlin, Axel E., East Aurora, N.Y.

Typography by Charles J. Rosen and Axel Edward Sahlin
W.H. Wise & Company, 1916

Buffalo Courier-Express
(New York)
July 31, 1916

World War I Draft Card
Sahlin signed his draft card on June 5, 1917. He resided in East Aurora, New York. Born in Lund, Sweden, October 13, 1877, he was a naturalized U.S. citizen. Sahlin was the composing room foreman at “The Roycrofters”. His description on the card was tall, slender, light blue eyes and light brown hair.

Buffalo Courier-Express
September 16, 1917

February 1919
Sahlin’s Typography, Volume Two, 1919

1920 U.S. Federal Census
Sahlin, his wife, Esther, and their daughter, Anna Greta, resided in East Aurora, New York, at 210 Willow Street. His occupation was printing shop foreman. According to the census, Esther emigrated in 1917, and Anna Greta was 14 months old.

Buffalo Courier-Express
May 22, 1920

May 22, 1920
Annual meeting of the Canadian Weekly Newspaper Association; June 3 afternoon address: “A Tallk on Typography,” A.E. Sahlin, typographical artist for the Roycroft Print Shops, East Aurora, N.Y.

The Pacific Printer
December 1920

The American Printer
August 5, 1921
Sahlin’s Typography

The American Printer
September 20 1921

The Inland Printer
October 1921
Sahlin’s Typography, Volume Four, 1921

The Inland Printer
January 1922

The Inland Printer
March 1922

September 5, 1922

Passenger List
Sahlin and his family returned from Copenhagen, Denmark, on September 4, 1922. A photograph of Sahlin, holding his son, and his father appeared in The American Printer, October 20, 1922 (below).

Typographer Returns from Abroad

Sahlin’s Typography
Volume 5, 1924

1925 New York State Census
Sahlin, his wife, daughter and son, Axel Jr., resided at 127 South Street in East Aurora, New York. Sahlin’s trade was typographical designer.

Buffalo Courier-Express
July 2, 1925

Buffalo Courier-Express
July 8, 1925

1926 copyright

Buffalo Courier-Express
June 26, 1927

Buffalo Courier-Express
February 23, 1928

Buffalo Courier-Express
February 24, 1928

1930 U.S. Federal Census
Sahlin‘s home was in Tonawanda, New York at 29 Linden Avenue. He was a printer at a printing company.

Passenger List
Sahlin and his family returned from Gothenburg, Denmark, on September 1, 1930.

Buffalo Courier-Express
June 10, 1938

Buffalo Courier-Express
July 11, 1939

1940 U.S. Federal Census
Sahlin and his family remained at the sane 1930 address. According to the census, Sahlin’s highest level of education was the seventh grade. He was a self-employed typographer and his son was an apprentice typographer.

Buffalo Courier-Express
July 14, 1940

Buffalo Courier-Express
October 20, 1940

Buffalo Courier-Express
May 4, 1945

Buffalo Courier-Express
August 12, 1945

Buffalo Courier-Express
September 13, 1945

Passenger List
Sahlin and his wife returned from Gothenburg, Denmark, on August ?, 1947.

Buffalo Courier-Express
December 11, 1949

Buffalo Courier-Express
May 18, 1955

Buffalo Courier-Express
March 9, 1956
Death Notice

Sahlin—Axel E. Sahlin of 50 Rankin Rd., Synder, March 8, 1956, beloved husband of Esther Kristerson Sahlin; father of Mrs. Graydon Grinnell and the late Axel E. Sahlin Jr.; grandfather of Terry Lee Grinnell; son of Anna Sahlin of Malmo, Sweden; brother of Emil Sahlin, Mrs. Signe Darling of East Aurora and Anna Carlson and Hudda Hansson, both of Sweden. Friends may call at the Bury Funeral Home, 3070 Delaware, corner Kinsey, where funeral services will be held Saturday afternoon at 3 o’clock. Friends are invited. Mr. Sahlin was a member of Blazing Star Lodge, 694, F.&A.M., East Aurora, East Aurora Chapter 282, R.A.M., Swedish Club of Buffalo and Buffalo Club of Printing House Craftsmen.

Buffalo Courier-Express
March 9, 1956

Axel E. Sahlin, 68, owner of the Sahlin Typographic Service, 296 Delaware Ave., who had learned typography from the late Elbert Hubbard, died yesterday in Buffalo General Hospital. He lived at 50 Rankin Rd., Snyder.
Mr. Sahlin became a pupil of Hubbard’s in his Roycroft Shops in East Aurora after coming to this country at the age of 23 from his native Malmo, Sweden.
He established the business bearing his name about 25 years ago.
Active in Swedish cultural activities here, he had served as president from 1942 through 1944 of the Swedish Club of Buffalo.
His other activities included membership in the Buffalo Club of Printing House Craftsmen, Blazing Star Lodge of Masons of East Aurora, and East Aurora Chapter of Royal Arch Masons.
Survivors are his wife, the former Esther Kristerson; a daughter. Mrs. Graydon Grinnell; his mother, Mrs. Anna Sahlin of Malmo; a brother, Emil. and three sisters. Mrs. Signe Darling of East Aurora and Mrs. Anna Carlson and Mrs. Hulda Hansson of Sweden.
The Rev. Russell Swanson of Trinity Augustana Lutheran Church will conduct services at 3 tomorrow afternoon in the Bury Funeral Home, 3070 Delaware Ave., Kenmore. Burial will be in Elmlawn Cemetery, of Tonawanda.

June 1956
Axel Sahlin, Typographical and Layout Specialist, Dies
Axel E. Sahlin, 68, owner of the Axel Edw. Sahlin Typographic Service, Buffalo, N.Y., died recently. He was a nationally-known typographic artist. He served his printing apprenticeship in Sweden in his father’s shop and worked in several book printing plants there. He came to the United States in 1911 and went to work for Elbert Hubbard in the Roycroft Shops in East Aurora, N.Y. He rose from typographer to foreman, then to superintendent of typesetting, and later became a typographical and layout specialist.
Mr. Sahlin had designed extraordinary books, some costing as high as $1,000 each. He had won 22 prizes in this and other countries for his work. Mr. Sahlin established the business bearing his name about 25 years ago. He was a member of the Buffalo Club of Printing House Craftsmen. The craftsmen he trained throughout the years will continue the business. A brother, Emil Georg Sahlin, is also nationally known as a typographic artist, and has won several Printing Week poster and stamp contests.

Buffalo Courier-Express
March 10, 1957

Works by Axel Sahlin are here and here.

(Next post on Monday: IF)