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American Cinema Style Signs

By 17th May 2019May 22nd, 2019fresh news

American Cinema Style Signs

American Cinema Style Signs first appeared between WW2 war effort years and raging 1960s. This period of time, therefore, was a cinematic era of huge changes with vast crowds and mobility. The signage from this time reflected this mood in America of a new world with opportunities and free time. This, therefore, was the precursor to leisure and more importantly, a constant reference point to us at readerboards. Consequently we have produced a picture board here for you to get your own inspiration from.

The Light Bulb.

A Cinema sign or marquee sign as they became known, would be nothing without the hundreds of light bulbs surrounding them. It’s hard to believe that such a small object like a common light bulb could have had such a huge impact. The incandescent light bulb had been around for almost 100 years by the 1940s. However, expired patents and technological improvements, meant the bulb was now widely available to the masses. Consequently cinemas or theaters, jumped at the opportunity to grab the ‘passer’s by’ attention. What possible better tool to do this with, than a flashing light bulb. Moreover, unlike the gas lamps of the 1920’s the incandescent light bulb could be as easily replaced as the letters that sat in the sign itself!!!

Marquee Signs.

Moreover, at this time, the motor car was gaining popularity, so cinemas, not wishing to miss any opportunity, started building canopies over their entrances. These became known as Marquee Signs. It was a simple strategy. In essence, the wider the marquee extended beyond the building, the greater chance a driver or passenger would notice what film was showing. With a combination of presence and shinning, flashing light bulbs, these signs really would have packed a visual punch. Add to this the name of a rising star as the main billing and the young affluent American’s resistance would have been futile!! So let’s have a look at the lettering that went onto these signs.

Sliding Cinema Letters.

In fact, the majority of cinema or marquee signs’ lettering were not sliding letters at all. Most would have been attached with a ‘hole and peg’ system. It would have been a very common sight right across the America during the 1940’s, of a man up a rather rickety ladder with a handful of letters, a light hammer and a bag over his shoulder. Add to this, below zero temperatures in cities like Chicago and New York and you soon get the idea what would have been involved in changing the cinema’s headlines!!


The very same man with the ladder, hammer and bag, would have been the typographer. Very little time would have been given to typographic niceties, particular on cold days. Letters, were neither ‘ranged left’, ‘ranged right’ of ‘justified’. This also meant fonts and colours were random with different sizes. Certainly, in today’s age, these would have been called a ‘mess’ at very best. But this approach is exactly what modern signage lacks, with all its consistences and brand guidelines.  However, given this lack of detail and finesse, every marquee sign was unique, crafted and presented by individuals in a wonderfully ‘brand’ innocent era. Long may they live on!!!!

Further Reading.

Letter sizes