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Lost Type


Lost Type A Study of Rural Public Typography Troy, Kansas Fanning, Kansas White Cloud, Kansas

A warm beginning. PUBLIC TYPOGRAPHY EXISTS EVERYWHERE PEOPLE DO. Public type is a necessary addition to any town, no matter the size. Public type ages, decays, lives, and breathes inside the communities it was commissioned to serve. Towns don’t always last, people don’t always need them in the same ways they once did, and as times change the citizens of a town may move on to places more suited to their needs. Whilst a town may empty, dwindle, disappear, public typography does not. Typography always remains behind, a reminder of the life a town once had. What happens to this public type when glory days are long gone and the purpose for existence is but a fleeting memory?


1 Main Street


1 Main Street WELCOME TO TROY, KS POPULATION 1,010. The ebb and flow of traffic down Main Street is consistent, except on Sundays. The public typography found upon the local signage, is not fancy, iconic, or particularly beautiful, but it does serve its purpose. Simpson Hardware has been out of business for many years, but its elegant brick exterior is easily one of the most lovely on Main Street.

Simpson Hardware has long stood at the corner of Walnut and Main in Troy, Kansas.


Situation, scale and material can dictate the forms of the letters themselves giving them an unexpected beauty. – Phil Baines


SQUEEZED TIGHTLY ALONGSIDE the graceful and old hardware store squats the Hair Corral. Though the façade of the Hair Corral constantly changes color, the sign has always stayed the same. A typeface chosen to reflect the salon’s name, the letters have a distinct western flair, unmistakable from across the street, or across the square. Stenciled in bright white against the burnt orange face of the Hair Corral, this public type exercises very little subtlety.



Standard Oil sign contrasts sharply

stands alone, guarded by a vintage

and beautifully to the modern signage

Standard Oil sign. The iconic sign

attached to the front of Davy’s. These

boasts a sans serif typeface in all

new signs glow flashily, incongruous

capital letters. The crisp navy font is

upon the weathered exterior of the

as bold and current as it was upon its

old gas station. The neon signs may

creation in 1940. Though Standard

allude to a contemporary society, but

Oil is long out of business and the

the Standard Oil sign seems more

gas station has no need for the sign

suited to the surroundings, comfort-

anymore, it still stands untouched, a

able, beautiful, and timeless.

landmark of sorts, marking the northernmost point of Main Street. The

Though Standard Oil has been out of business for many years, Troy still has one of the metal signs from Standard’s past.


TROY, KANSAS geographically located in the northeast corner of the state, was incorporated on October 12, 1855. The first building erected was a blacksmith’s shop, still standing and now occupied by Dr. Dennis Meyers, local dentist. Troy was the first stop along the Pony Express route out of St Joseph, Missouri. The brick sidewalks and streets are on of Troy’s loveliest features. These bricks were manufactured in the late 1890’s south of Troy in the town of Coffeyville.

The Western inspired typography upon the facade of the Hair Corral has never changed since its opening in 1984.



The alley behind Main Street is full of neglected signs and an unusual variety of cast offs.


SNAKING BEHIND MAINSTREET is one long dirt and gravel alley. The alleyways in Troy are not dark and frightening like some in a larger city. Main Street in Troy reflects the quaint small town stereotype with tidy buildings and flowerpots. The alley behind it however paints a much different picture. Tucked away here is sloppy typography, slapped upon wooden planks, garbage cans, and even old vending machines. No one loves or tends to this type; it lives alone, quiet and unwanted. Is this typography a harbinger of Troy’s future? Might this alley be the unsettling segue between bustling Main Street and dying town?


2 Unincorporated


2 Unincorporated ONLY SIX MILES DOWN THE ROAD FROM TROY rests Fanning. Fanning was never a large town, but as the years move by so do the townspeople. With a population of about thirty Fanning has gone from a town, to unincorporated. An unincorporated town is technically not even a town any longer, but a “populated area” or township. The township of Fanning clings to its typography, leftover from a time when type was needed and many eyes passed over it.

Campbell’s gas station usually harbors a collection of tires and ancient gas pumps.


THE MAIN STUCTURE IN FANNING IS CAMPBELL’S, an old gas station without the actual petroleum. To a passerby everything about Campbell’s is foreboding, the squat brick building, the peeling paint, the dried up gas pumps, and the ancient typography lurking under every eave. Each sign is weathered and muted. A vintage Rainbow Bread sign fades upon a screen door. Painted letters peel away from the surface of hot metal gas pumps.

The typographer has worked consistently and quietly throughout time. We have also called him scribe, calligrapher, brother, abbe, and stonecutter. His lineage is long. – Chris Meyers

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and intent of the letters are still the

A stream of costumers stop by Camp-

same. Having grown accustomed

bell’s every day. Strangely enough the

to the faded words, the people of

foreboding and decaying typography

Fanning are not deterred, but seem

does not stop these visitors in their

to regard the woebegone typography

tracks. Visitors ignore the fact that the

as friends. With purpose the public

Campbell’s Oil Co. is nearly unread-

type of Fanning still lives, but for how

able on a sign so rusted the type can

much longer no one can tell.

barely peek through. While the type still serves its purpose the meaning

The typography of a Rainbo Bread sign takes on an interesting quality as mesh from the screen door pokes through.


FANNING, KANSAS was found in 1870 by Jesse Reed and James Bradley. A train depot was built the same year along with a small post office. Fanning founder, Bradley became the postmaster. Two years later a flourmill was constructed by a Mr. William Hedrick. Fanning’s population has declined steadily but slightly in the last one hundred years. In 1910 only fifty-four people were reported living in the town.

Clean sans serif typefaces cover the front of abonded gas pumps scattered in the weeds surrounding Campell’s.



Nostalgia An elegant script M is an unexpected surprise among a sea of retro typefaces.


Today, we are nomads again, members of unsettled society. We roam in constant communication with others across fractured time spans. We seem to be always looking for acknowledgment of ourselves; announcing our arrivals, departures, and potentional departures. – Chris Meyers


Ghost Town


White Cloud

3 Ghost Town FURTHER DOWN THE ROAD HIDES WHITE CLOUD. Now a ghost town, many years ago White Cloud grew up as a stop for steamships on the Missouri river. Local legend has it that Lewis and Clark carved their names on a rock in a bluff above the town. Though those names would be a typographic treasure, White Cloud holds a few gems still. The town is devoid of people but full of empty houses and buildings. Nothing lives here but weeds, rodents, and typography.

Abandoned buildings mix with signs, both covered in typography crafted by hands long gone.




SOME OF THE SIGNS that appear in Troy and

type is hand painted, friendly once, but

Fanning crouch hidden in the weeds in

miserable now. “Come Back Soon,�

White Cloud too. The Rainbow Bread

the sign says, calling to its people.

sign pops up here over and over just

A message once intended for family

as it did in the other towns. The hands

members and friends, the type has

that crafted this typography have

taken on a completely different mean-

moved on. The typography is a road

ing now that White Cloud is empty.

map of sorts, a visual memory, and a record of the people and of the times in which it was created. A final sign stands at the exit of White Cloud. The

A wooden G barely hangs on to a long sign. The Green Implement building was erected in 1864.


WHITE CLOUD, KANSAS was one of the earliest and largest towns in the new Kansas territory when it was founded in 1857. Named after Chief White Cloud of the Iowa people, the land surrounding the town belonged to the Iowa tribe. White Cloud was a major stop for steamships traveling down the Missouri River. In 1883 the town had four general stores, three drug stores, two hotels, and numerous other businesses.

This dragline excavator was once used to remove sand and other material from the depths of the Missouri river



Each paint color on this Pepsi Cola sign has run into the other one, creating a jumbled almost erie whole.


Regional and professional vernacular type and images usually overlap, since most signage tends to be commercial in nature. We also most often associate ‘true’ vernacular as coming from rural areas. – Paul Tosh


The last type. WE NEVER CRAFT TYPOGRAPHY, fresh and new, to be unappealing. The intent is not to instill a sense of unease in the passerby. So while our typography is still in use, brimming with life and purpose, it’s lovely. The type we leave behind however is another story altogether. Why do we find this lost type so uncomfortable? Perhaps this typography is a shadow of all of us from some other time. Lost type alone and forgotten.


Credits Lost Type was typeset in Century Schoolbook and Univers. All photos were taken with a Canon 40D the processed in Adobe Photoshop. Designer as Author, Patrick Dooley, Fall 2012 The University of Kansas

Sources Baines, Phil, and Catherine Dixon. Signs: Lettering the Environment. London: Laurence King Pub., 2008. Tosh, Paul. “The Uncultured Word: Vernacular Typography and Image.” (2007). Meyers, Chris. The Value of the Narrative in the Education of a Typographer. Weiser, Kathy. “Kansas Legends.” Legends of America. 2003.

Public Typography: Lost Type  

A study of rural public typography