Tuesday, May 18, 2021

American Alphabets #21: License plate

ABCs of the USA: The stories behind America’s most distinctive calligraphy styles.  

   I love the letters on license plates. Everything about them is engineered to resist the mud, salt, rust, bumps. and flying gravel that they encounter 8 inches above the road. Although designs varied widely from state to state in the early decades of "motoring," license plates now share many standardized visual traits: 6" x 12" size; baked enamel finish; embossed letters and raised borders; letters and numerals 3" tall; state names and mottoes in smaller letters.  
    Numerals may have extra serifs to distinguish them from each other and from letters; also they are generally separated from the letters by a hyphen. Special number-selection protocols designate state officials, police, veterans, rentals, electric cars, or counties. Vanity plates are popular with drivers (1%-16% varying by state) who pay extra for the privilege of spelling out messages in tiny graphic gems as terse as haiku. 
Children who travel on long journeys can collect an alphabet of letters  from license plates, or look for all 50 states. 
Today, New Hampshire's "Old Man of the 
Mountains" continues as the state's symbol even
though in reality the cliff side collapsed in 2003. 
    Calligraphers who want to spoof this robust, eye-catching alphabet can practice it with a bull-nose marker or Speedball B nib. Its basic rounded-rectangle shape requires a little practice, but then it also can form the backbone of other distinctive styles. Anywhere you want to create a style that feels indestructible, use these letters.  

Writing dark letters on a gray background (above left) lets you add white highlights to mimic raised letters.  

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