I spent the May long weekend in Haines, Alaska, with my family. It was a beautiful, sunny weekend (far removed from the snowstorms happening in Whitehorse), and we spent our time bear-gazing, eating salmon sandwiches, and snooping around parts of Haines we hadn’t explored before.
We found ourselves in a pretty little graveyard close to the wooden playground, and I was delighted to find some unique lettering on the tombstones. Most of the graves dated from around the turn of century—an interesting time in the history of typography. Back then, advertising was undergoing great changes, and type had to evolve rapidly in order keep up. The engraved letters I found on these Haines tombstones are a great example of the diversity and innovation (some good, some bad) that existed in the world of lettering over a century ago.
One of the first gravestones I came upon was that of Rose Paddy. The top half of the stone has an attractive example of a humanist sans serif. The letters have a square shape, with rounded corners, and a crisp, even rhythm. The arch of letters spelling Ms. Paddy’s name is well-positioned, and each letter widens slightly towards the top to fill the curved space better.
The gravestone of George Paddy, whom I assume is the brother of Rose, displays an interesting mixture of different lettering styles. At the top there is a sans serif very similar to the one we found on Rose’s. Two lines further down the date is displayed in a modern serif style. It has a bubbly, flowing appearance with ornate serifs curling off of the capitals, which gives the stone a friendlier appearance. This font would be considered modern because it has extreme contrast between its thick and thin stokes.
The slightly menacing passage at the bottom of the stone is written in a radically angled italic modern. Italics were originally created to fit more letters into a given space, but these ones are so angled that they don’t achieve much spatial efficiency. The engraver probably put this passage in italics to make it seem like it is being declared by the deceased.
This next gravestone, carved from white marble, was done in a very different style than the others. The space around these letters was carved out to make them protrude from the stone, unlike the recessed letters on the other stones. The font is also quite crude, with many irregularities. While it lacks the mechanical precision found elsewhere in the graveyard, I think this bold sans serif has a lot of character.
Frederick Godbolt’s (awesome name) gravestone has an example of lettering that I have never seen before. The word "died" is written in what one might call a ‘reverse italic’. Most italics slant to the right, but this one bucks the trend and slants to left. I think it was a bold decision that paid off, as it gives a sense of balance and movement to the inscription.
The distinct shape of this tombstone is of more note than its typography. It is quite an elegant shape, with large studs along its perimeter, but I have absolutely no idea what it represents. If anyone reading this has an idea, I would love to hear about it in the comments section!
To conclude this blog post, I’ll leave you with an interesting piece of typography I found in a Haines sports store—The Cluster Pooof! It is a painfully bland bit of design using a bold transitional serif (it has moderate contrast between its thick and thin strokes: less than the modern we saw before, but more than an old-style typeface), but I must say that the extra ‘O’ really redeems it.