Thursday, April 16, 2015

Waybills, Part 39: SP typography

I’ve recently received what are to me some fascinating Southern Pacific paperwork examples. They date from the late 1950s (more on that in a moment) but are very revealing of the way many railroads, including SP, managed paperwork. And yes, I will touch on typography. I introduced the foundations of this topic a few years ago, including commentary about the uses of typography on the layout (you can read that post at this link: ).
     The documents were part of the course materials from an SP employee course on “Functions of the Freight Traffic Department, and Related Departments.” Pretty dull stuff, I hear you mutter, and much of it is indeed fairly boring. But there is a clear description of the rules for waybill preparation (entirely consonant with what I have described elsewhere), and included are examples of blank forms. In this post I discuss those forms.
     One interesting feature of many SP forms is that in the upper left corner is printed the date of printing the form, and the amount printed. For example, it might read “1-51-50M.” That means January 1951, and 50,000 copies printed. Accordingly, one can readily date any SP form which contains this notation. Also, the official SP number of that form is printed in the upper right corner. Here is the upper left corner of such a form, and you can see the corner notation, “11-59-10M” (you can click to enlarge). The same form is shown in full just below.

     I will begin with two examples of a Memorandum Bill of Lading. This is not the original Bill, but is intended to contain the information of an original, and can be used as a file record. This one is for normal shipper-billed cargo. It was originally green, though edges have faded toward yellow.

The companion one is for COD freight, and the parts relating to the COD are printed in red.

These two documents, both copy no. 3 of the complete document, are typographically interesting in that both include an SP emblem (the circle-and-bar at upper left) and the road name in a distinctive typeface. Being something of a typeface geek, I was pretty sure I recognized it, and it turned out I was right. It’s a face very popular in the 1920s and 1930s, called Cheltenham, affectionately known among job printers as “Chelt” because it could be used effectively for most any task.
     Since both these forms have 1959 printing dates, and because former SP employees have told me that they were directed to use up all of an old form before starting on the new batch, I believe there may well have been SP waybills in use in my modeling year of 1953, still with Chelt headers. I plan to have some examples among my model waybills.
     But in the 1950s, SP was changing many parts of its public image, including the substitution of sans-serif for serif typefaces. Here, for example, is a Damaged Freight Inspection form, dated 1957.

This is a quite different typeface for the road name than Chelt.
     And here is an actual waybill with a 1958 printing date.

Here the road name and number is a much lighter sans-serif face than on the Damaged Freight form. I will use these sans-serif headers on some of my waybills also.
     These examples are of course mostly of interest to SP enthusiasts. But they do illustrate that before the days of “corporate image” created by graphics consultants, in which typography throughout a corporation would be squeezed into a single mold, different forms even in the same department could have different looks. This is a cautionary tale for those hunting waybill headers, because it reminds us that they could and did change from time to time, and at any one time, a freight form other than a waybill might well not have the same typography as would a waybill.
Tony Thompson

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